The New Early Mormon Missionaries Database

By February 8, 2016

Matthew McBride is the Web Content Manager of the Church History Department, author of A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple, and a graduate student at the University of Utah.

Over 30 years ago, Mel Bashore began to create a list of Mormons who migrated to the Great Basin, pre-railroad. According to legend, the “database” was stored for years in a Word document. Eventually, the data was made available on the web as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels database. In addition to becoming an instant hit with family historians, the database has become an indispensable resource for historians of 19th-century Mormonism and sparked scholarship on the trail experience.

The pioneer database began as an incomplete set of data gathered by Bashore and other researchers—tens of thousands of trail pioneers were unaccounted for. With time and the help of missionaries and the community of family historians and trail scholars, it has grown by thousands of pioneers to become far more comprehensive. This combination of crowd sourcing and careful verification (which continues under the leadership of Marie Erickson at the CHL) was the model that inspired the new Early Mormon Missionaries Database, launched last Thursday at RootsTech.

The database was started early in 2015. Missionaries at the CHL were assigned to help reconstruct a roster of proselytizing missionaries from 1830 to 1859 using some fragmentary notes created under the direction of Andrew Jenson in 1925. The missionaries checked Jenson’s research against some other readily available sources to verify dates and better document the individuals in his list. This resulted in a record of almost 2,500 missions served.

In 1860, the clerk for the Missionary Committee began to keep ledgers documenting all (or almost all) of the missionaries set apart in Salt Lake City. The mission registers, as they are called, contain birth, baptism, and mission information for each individual as they reported for their missions and were kept until 1959. We arranged with the Family History Department to let us use their indexing platform to capture the data in the ledgers through 1930 (the current limit of our privacy window for this project). This resulted in an additional 39,000 missions served. We have also added to the data, with the help of our team of missionaries, almost 15,000 links to journals, letters, photos, and mission reports that have been digitized at the CHL and the BYU. We hope to double the number of links to documents by mid-year.

Impressive as it is, we know the current data is probably as deficient as Mel Bashore’s list was when he put it online. Many missionaries were called to full-time service locally and their service was never recorded in SLC. Often, the clerk keeping the registers made mistakes or omissions that need correcting. We can continue to comb through local mission registers and other sources to flesh out the data, but we expect much of the improvement to come as we work with descendants as they submit information about their family members. Once submitted information has been adequately verified, it will be published along with the data compiled at the CHL.

With time, we hope the database will not only be a hit with families, but will fuel scholarship on Mormon mission. I have found it incredibly helpful already in my research on early women missionaries. In a few weeks, I plan to publish a short web article showing a statistical overview of the data. In the mean time, kick the tires. You might be surprised to find an acceptance letter by an ancestor. Or perhaps as likely, you might find a gap you can help us fill.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Biography


Comments

  1. Such exciting news about the new database. I’ve been blogging some of the findings at my family history blog, including a major addition to the history of the John Tanner family (link on my name).

    Thanks to all those who have assembled the database and will continue to build it and deal with submissions and corrections.

    Thanks also for the write-up. You answered a question I had. Ove Oveson joined the Church in Denmark. He was called locally as a missionary and served for more than three years, with a few breaks to serve as branch president in Tårs and work as a carpenter. As he left for America, he said, “On My Mision from the December 1860 to March 31, 1864 I wakt over 7,700 Miles and Helpt to hold 606 miting Babtised 31 Persons & Confirmed 35.”

    A copy of the typescript of his (kind-of) translated diary is in the CHL (MS 6221). I’m glad you’re including experiences like his, and not just calls from church headquarters.

    And, one final note. I am using the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database in many of my projects, but extensively as I write a book about the experiences of the African American slaves in Utah Territory. I’ve promised Elder and Sister W— that once the book is done I’ll provide corrections for the information in the database. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of institutionally-supported crowdsourcing projects like these!

    Comment by Amy T — February 8, 2016 @ 7:48 am

  2. I just encountered this database and found some relatives in it. I was disappointed to find out that the many photos I have of them as missionaries cannot be submitted because they aren’t the originals. These photos have been reproduced by and for various family members for almost 100 years, I’m not sure the originals even exist anymore.

    Comment by KLC — February 8, 2016 @ 11:48 am

  3. Matthew, this is some pretty extraordinary work. I look forward to seeing and helping it develop.

    Would ordination texts, or call letters be of interest as supplemental information? I’ve tried to keep a finger on the ordination texts as I have come across them.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 8, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

  4. Yes, J Stapley. Very much so. The vision for this is big. We’ve only begun to add the kinds of documents we hope to include. Transcriptions of sources will be a feature we roll out in a few weeks.

    Comment by Matt M — February 8, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

  5. This is just awesome. What a great project.

    Comment by WVS — February 8, 2016 @ 9:38 pm

  6. Thanks for the guest post, Matt. The word that keeps coming to mind is “monumental.” This should prove to be a fantastic resource.

    Comment by David G. — February 9, 2016 @ 6:42 am

  7. Among the most interesting early missionaries sent in 1852 where those sent to East India and SIam.

    One of them Levi Savage Jr. kept a detailed diary. The diary brings some of the huge differences (then v. now) to light. Using his diary that BYU used handwriting writing recognition on to produce a sort of accurate rendition of his writing, I cleaned it all up.

    He and 3 others were called to Siam. Those 4 along with the missionaries to East India (Calcutta) went on the same ship. After arrival in India Elders Savage and Luddington tried to reach Siam via Burma. After a few months Elder Luddington excommunicated Elder Savage because he could not get along with their benefactor Broother Matthew McCune who was in Burma fighting for the British army.

    So Elder Savage went off on his own until Elder Jones from India came to patch things up with Brother McCune. By that time Elder Luddington had taken a boat to Bangkok. Elder Savage spent more time in Burma and then decided to return home via Boston. He later became a member of the Martin Handcart company – He’s the one that told the Saints it was too late to leave for Salt Lake, but he went with them anyway, The last days of his mission were indeed the most physically difficult.

    Comment by Reed Haslam — February 9, 2016 @ 3:13 pm


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