Coming soon to Mormon genealogical database: records of gay couples and same-sex parents

Three years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in every state, but the LDS Church still hasn’t listed same-sex couples in its massive genealogy databank.

Not surprising, perhaps, given the Utah-based faith’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

But change is coming to the genealogy resource — and soon.

The church’s genealogical arm has been planning for several years to expand its services to include “same-sex parents and same-sex couples,” according to a statement on the FamilySearch website, but that requires several systems to be “significantly redesigned to support same-sex relationships before Family Tree can release this capability.”

The group expects to “finish this work by 2019,” it said. “Following this work, the FamilySearch Family Tree application can then allow same-sex information to be recorded.”

Owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch is “one of the world’s largest collections of genealogical data, drawn from civil, ecclesiastical and other sources to assist researchers,” church spokeswoman Irene Caso said Wednesday in a statement. It makes no judgment “as to the legitimacy or character of the relationships found in these public records. … They are simply collections of data to be assessed for their genealogical value by each researcher.”

Still, don’t expect the church to perform temple rituals for gay couples.

Mormons “who use these same records to request temple services for their ancestors and families understand that the church solemnizes or seals marriages,” Caso said, “only between people of the opposite sex.”

Even when the new software is available for patrons to provide records for gay couples, there will not be any kissing photos allowed.

FamilySearch updated its policies last year to block the posting of any “images of people kissing [or about to kiss] on the mouth … regardless of gender, age or relationship.”

Connell O’Donovan, a freelance genealogist in Salt Lake City, welcomed FamilySearch’s move to include same-sex couples.

“It’s a major step into honesty,” the researcher said, “something that is vital in historical research of any kind.”

Many Mormon clans “have family members who have married same-sex partners and even had children by one means or another,” O’Donovan said. “Same-sex couples have existed for millennia, basically in all cultures, and have been engaging in marital rituals, whether legally or ecclesiastically approved or not.”

It is “appropriate,” he said, for a genealogical site “to recognize these relationships, past and present, drawing all these relationships that were formerly considered ‘beyond the pale’ back into our shared human family.”

FamilySearch is not the first genealogy site to allow for recording same-sex relationships, the genealogist noted. Both FindaGrave.com and Ancestry.com made that move about three years ago.

O’Donovan has been doing genealogical research on gay couples since 1973, and FindaGrave provided a clue to one of the most unusual public recognitions of such a relationship he has seen — the gravestone of Maude Adams and Louise Boynton.

Adams was a famous actress from Salt Lake City, who played Peter Pan on Broadway beginning in 1905, O’Donovan learned. She also was a lesbian, who had many relationships, before settling down with Boynton in 1930.

Boynton died in 1951. Adams followed two years later. They were buried side by side, with their names and dates engraved on a single headstone, like a married couple.

“This is the only example of a same-sex couple I’ve ever seen,” O’Donovan said, “with a shared tombstone.”

In the future, the couple also may be listed that way in records for all to see for generations to come.