RootsTech 2016: Elder Snow announces new online missionary database

Credit: Provided by the LDS Church History Library
A group of LDS missionaries serving in the British mission in 1922. Ezra Taft Benson, a future president of the church, is seated on far right. President David O. McKay and his wife are seated in the center. Credit: Provided by the LDS Church History Library
Credit: Provided by the LDS Church History Library

A new online database will enable people to find more information about ancestors who served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its first 100 years.

“Early Mormon Missionaries” features the names of 41,000 men and women who served full-time proselytizing missions for the Church in 36 countries worldwide from 1830 through 1930, along with links to thousands of sources in the Church History Library. Elder Steven E. Snow — a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder, and Executive Director of the Church History Department — announced the new online database at the RootsTech Conference on Feb. 4.

“It’s a fascinating database,” Elder Snow said, comparing “Early Mormon Missionaries” to the Church’s Overland Trails pioneer database. “It’s a rich source of information and a way to connect us to our past.”

The database contains a missionary’s standard genealogical information, dates of service, when the missionary was ordained, a history of his or her mission, and links to other missionaries who served in the mission at the same time.

The database also allows for patrons to contribute photographs, letters, journals, or images of other documents. Each item will be approved by the Church History Department before it is finally uploaded, Elder Snow said.

An army of volunteers, including Church History Department employees and missionaries, created the database over the past year, in partnership with FamilySearch and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, Elder Snow said.

Keith A. Erekson, director of the Church History Library, said missionaries from 1860 to 1930 were fairly easy to process, thanks to well-kept records. But tracking down missionaries from 1830 to 1860 was a little more difficult.

“For the first 30 years, it was just a hard-nose research without anywhere to start. The [employees and] missionaries were going through the Millennial Star, the Elders Journal, the Times and Seasons, anywhere they could see a report … or where there would be a mention of a missionary,” Brother Erekson said. “It was all hands on deck.”

Despite their best efforts, it’s a possibility that somebody’s missionary ancestor has been left out of the database, Elder Snow said. If so, patrons are encouraged to contact the Church History Department through the website.

Elder Snow said the Church History Department will continue to add names and sources to the database in the coming years. One of the rich collections in the database are the acceptance letters of mission calls.

“In those days, there wasn’t much of a form letter,” Elder Snow said. “They would write to the president of the Church.”

“Some were simple, ‘I accept, I am willing to serve,’” Brother Erekson said.

“Others said much more. ‘My father just died and I’m running the farm right now. Can I go in the fall after the harvest?’ Those letters turn out to say a lot about their family and situation. They also express their faith, their testimony and gratitude for the call.”

Of the 41,000 names, about 3,000 are sister missionaries. The first sister missionary was called in 1898. Some of their diaries describe the challenges of doing missionary work in a man’s world and often being outnumbered by elders, along with their service and experience, Brother Erekson said.

“Some of their diaries are just hilarious,” he added. “I’m grateful we have this first generation of pioneering sister missionaries. I think it’s one of the great parts of this database.”

The database also provides a glimpse into the growth and global nature of the Church during those early years. While early Latter-day Saints were moving from Missouri to Illinois, missionaries were preaching the gospel in Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific, Brother Erekson said.

There were branches of the Church in French Polynesia, England and Denmark before the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley, Elder Snow said.

“When you think about that, it’s pretty amazing,” Elder Snow noted.

“The story of missionary work, in more ways than other parts of our history, remind us that, from the outset, the Restoration was for the whole world,” Brother Erekson said. “Yes, there were Saints struggling in small communities, but this message was going out all over the world.”

For more information about “Early Mormon Missionaries,” visit Twitter: tbtoone

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