Priests get used to public speaking, even if they're not particularly good at it, but I must confess feeling rather apprehensive yesterday when I spoke at a meeting of religious archivists at the swish British Library Conference Centre near King's Cross. There were about 70 in attendance, including the Chief Executive of the National Archives, and I felt very aware of my lack of professional training. Still, it seemed to go OK and I was able to avoid any difficult questions! It was a good day, despite all the ghastly jargon (eg 'profile raising advocacy,' 'visibility levels,' 'collection level descriptions,' etc), which began to get rather confusing.
It was interesting, though, to hear about the archives of other religious groups - for example, the sheer number and anti-hierarchical nature of many nonconformist sects (with curious names like the 'Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion') makes centralised archiving very challenging.
One of those present was a Mormon from Utah. The Mormons are well-known for their interest in family records; in fact the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is the world's largest genealogical library, with information relating to over two billion people. The Mormons run over 4,500 family history centres and mega websites like familysearch.org. Their motives? These records allow them to perform 'sacred ordinances' on behalf of the dead - including baptism, confirmation and even ordination. According to the Wikipedia:
Latter-day Saints perform these proxy ordinances because they believe deceased non-Mormons are in a condition commonly referred to as "Spirit Prison." They believe that Christ went to the righteous spirits and organized a great missionary force to teach the gospel to others of the dead who, in turn, may be baptized by proxy in a temple. It is believed that the dead may accept or reject the other ordinances done by proxy on their behalf prior to the final judgement.
It's important to point out that Catholic institutions need to be very careful when approached by agencies from Utah offering to copy baptism registers and the like! Their purpose is not as straightforward as it might seem.