Donald Harman Akenson's new book—Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself—gets reviewed in today's Globe and Mail. It's going on my Christmas wish list.
"The Saints," [Joseph] Smith wrote in 1840, "have the privilege of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead, whom they believe would have embraced the Gospel, if they had been privileged with hearing it." This sent the faithful back to their family Bibles for the names and dates of their ancestors. The great genealogical treasure hunt had begun.
In 1918, the Mormons expanded their mission, trawling for names among non- Mormons and baptizing them once their exact place in the tree of life had been determined. The practice continues to this day, spurred on by the wish to save as many souls as possible.
Though the Mormons have instituted an admirable double-blind system for vetting new names, slipups are inevitable, and Akenson gives a few that are absolute howlers. The most laughable by far are the attempts to find a genealogy for the Norse gods Odin and Frigg, reported as having lived in "Asgard, Asia, or Eastern Europe." [Link]