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Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel: Finding your LDS Ancestor

In researching your Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) ancestor a variety of online and library resources exist to help you learn not only when they lived but about the lives they lived.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 1484 (approx.)
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began with a question a 14-year-old farm boy named Joseph Smith had about which church he should join. Over its 175-year existence the church has had a rich history that includes oversea immigration treks to the pioneer trail through the United States ending in the Salt lake Valley.

As we look at resources available to those wanting to know more about their Mormon ancestors, please know that even if you are not Mormon, that does not preclude you from having Mormon ancestors. The early church, prior to the exodus to Utah, had many converts that left the church due to the extreme persecution of the Mormons by their neighbors. Also, after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the church was split in beliefs. Some followed Brigham Young to Utah while others stayed and built a new church with the belief that Joseph Smith's son, Joseph was to be the new leader. This church, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ, has its own archives and headquarters, separate from the Mormon Church.

Beginning Your Research

First, it can be helpful to place your ancestor in the context of a timeline. Some Mormon records cover only a short period of time, so if at all possible you will want to know when your ancestor joined the Mormon Church and where they joined. Knowing your ancestors place in Mormon history can also help you learn more about what their lives were like in the midst of persecution and the exodus to the Salt Lake Valley.

Websites

Several websites, common to all genealogical research, can help you jump-start your Mormon pioneer research. The very first website you should use is familysearch.org. Use the "search for ancestors" feature to search the Ancestral file, the International Genealogical Index, the 1880 U.S. Census, Social Security Death Index, Pedigree Resource File, Vital Records Index and Family History Websites. The Ancestral File is an important resource for church members in that it includes family group sheets and pedigree chart submitted by members of the church.

At the official website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, lds.org, you can look for your immigrant pioneer ancestor in their database, Mormon Overland Pioneer Trail 1847-1868, located in the section entitled "Church History". This database allows you to search by your ancestor's name or the company that they were a part of as they made their way to Utah. Although this database is incomplete, you can add or correct information about your ancestor. I used the database search engine to locate my ancestor, John McNeil. He is listed as part of the John McNeil Company of 1859. Clicking on the company name leads me to a page with information about the company and when they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. A picture of John is an added bonus. I can then click on a link to see a list of everyone who traveled with this company. That link leads you to information about that person and where the information was obtained. You can use this information to search for the corresponding primary sources.

Tracing Mormon Pioneers at www.xmission.com/~nelsonb/pioneer.htm will help you trace ancestors who belonged to the Mormon Church during the years 1847-1868. Using the Mormon Pioneer search form, I entered one of my ancestor's, William Atkins. A list came up that included the ship he sailed on to America, mentions of him in the Deseret News and in the book, Handcarts to Zion. Other resources you may find, include references to your ancestor in Salt Lake City directories, Utah census', and other books about Mormon pioneers. What I especially love about this search engine is that it provides you with the Family History Library microfilm number so that you can look up the original source.

The International Society of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, www.dupinternational.org, is a membership organization dedicated to "perpetuating the names and achievements of those men, women and children who founded our Utah commonwealth." Members submit pedigree charts with the names of their Utah pioneer ancestors who arrived in the Utah Territory prior to the completion of the railroad in 1869. Members also submit life histories of these ancestors. You can search their History Card Index from their website, under the "History Department" tab. Use their search engine to locate your ancestor and then download a request form to obtain a copy of any ancestor history that is on file. Price for the history is .25 cents a page and a bill will be sent to you along with the history.

Records

The following records are available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can view the microfilm at your local Family History Center. To find the appropriate microfilm number, search the Family History Catalogue, available online at familysearch.org. Use the Title search feature and then type in the title of the record. That will lead you to a screen where you can obtain the appropriate microfilm number you will need to order at the Family History Center.

The first source you should check for your Latter-Day Saints ancestor is the Early Church Information File. This index is an alphabetical listing of individuals covering the period from 1830 to the mid 1900's. Over one million names from 1,000 sources are represented in this file. Sources used to create this record include journals, periodicals, cemetery listings, immigration records, family histories, church histories and membership records. While this is a largely a source for church member's names, there are also some non-members included, those individuals who lived in areas heavily populated by Latter-Day Saints.

Membership of the LDS Church, 1830-1848 is a 50-volume work compiled by Susan Easton Black, captured on 95 microfiche, that contains information on early members of the LDS church who lived in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. This work does not include every member of the Church, but it can be a great starting point for finding out more about an early church convert. Use this resource to discover more about an individual ancestor and their family, obtain biographical information, and locate your family in a specific geographic area. This set is microfiche number 6031596 in the Family History Library catalogue. The exact microfiche you need will be listed alphabetically.

A resource that may not include reference to your ancestor but can provide you with insight about their life in the early Church is the Journal History of the Church 1830-1973. This is a day-to-day scrapbook of events in the early Church. You can use the index to find specific dates or to look for your ancestor's name. Unfortunately, this resource does not circulate to family history centers and must be reviewed at the Family History Library.

Additional Resources

In researching your LDS ancestor, one of the most important resources are the Resource Guides published by the Family History Library. These Resource Guides tell you about the specific resource and what you need to know to start your research. Three Guides that will enhance your research are, Early Church Information File, Tracing LDS Families, Membership of the LDS Church 1830-1848. These Guides can be obtained through your local Family History Center or through the LDS Church's Distribution Center. To order from the Distribution Center go to the Family Search website, familysearch.org, and from the homepage, click on the tab labeled "order/download products". Then select "family history research products". The Tracing LDS Families Resource Guide includes many more sources not listed here.

Another source that might be of use to researchers who want to know as much as possible about the lives of their Mormon ancestors is the book, Mormon Americana: A Guide to the Sources and Collections in the United States, Edited by David J. Whittaker (published by BYU Studies, 1995). This 695-page book dedicates individual chapters to various repositories through the United States and what their collections on Mormon history and Mormons include. While Utah libraries and archives are well represented, there are also important non-Utah repositories included. Some of them are Harvard University; New York Public Library; Princeton; Yale; the Huntington Library in California; and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Additionally, this resource is invaluable because it includes articles on Mormon culture, emigration, and literature.

If you find yourself in Utah and want to avail yourself of additional records, you may want to conduct some research at the Church Archives and the Church History Library, located in the Church Office Building located at 50 East North Temple Street. Currently their entire catalogue is not online, but the Church's website at lds.org provides you with information on these repositories and their collection.

Tracing your LDS ancestors can provide you with biographical information that can assist you in learning more about that ancestor and their day-to-day life. Search out the above resources and come to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices that the pioneers made for us.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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