They looked high and low for their family records but couldn't find them. And so they were barred from priestly work as ritually unclean. Nehemiah 7:64 (MSG)
For most people in the world, our family records have little real value. There are those of us who scour family records on a personal quest to better understand ourselves, where we came from, and how that made us who we are today. Yet, with the exception of a few who trace their lineage into some dusty old position of noble status or the rare family fortune, our family records have little tangible affect on our day-to-day life.
For the Israelites, family records were essential. The priestly duties of the temple and the sacrifices were to be done by members of the Levite tribe alone. As we read in today's chapter, if you couldn't prove you were a true Levite, you couldn't perform the priestly duties. It's a small footnote with major implications.
Fast forward from Nehemiah's day (around 400 B.C.) to 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and tore down the temple. Just 40 years before, Jesus the "lamb of God," had given himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. As part of the destruction of the city, the Romans burned all of the genealogical records. Without adequate recorded proof, no one could prove they were a lawful temple priest. One generation after Jesus had "fulfilled the law and the prophets" the sacrificial system of Israel was effectively over.