Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tracing Mormon Pioneer Ancestors: An Introduction

Say you have Mormon pioneer ancestors, but they only show up in your genealogy as names and dates. You know that they were pioneers because they were born in the eastern United States or Europe and died in Utah or the other Mormon settlements in the western United States.

How do you go about finding out more about them?

Before starting, I will step back and note that it is rarely a good idea to choose a random ancestor to research. There are several problems associated with this approach. One is that you might end up tracing the wrong person. For example, there were two couples in Utah Territory of similar ages named George and Ann Jarvis, and they are sometimes confused in online family trees.

But to keep things simple for the purposes of this tutorial, I will assume that you have traced your family lines back generation by generation, and have just arrived at the pioneer ancestors. I will also assume some basic genealogy skills, that you know how to record names and dates completely [1] and that you have a program on your computer for keeping track of the data such as Personal Ancestral File (free download, although I would suggest using RootsMagic instead), RootsMagic Essentials (free download), Reunion for Mac, or another similar genealogy program.

I will trace a pioneer family to illustrate how to do Mormon pioneer research. Since I am currently working on the histories of my Glade ancestors, I chose a family I don't know too much about: Richard Litson and Frances Ann Mathews and their children. Richard and Frances Litson are my fourth great grandparents.

This series of posts should cover the following:
As I write the posts, I will create an index here. Happy reading! Send comments, corrections and suggestions to my email listed on the sidebar, or write a comment. (I love comments! It's always great to hear from people!)

Assignment #1

Make sure you have a genealogy program ready to use on your computer.

[1] There are different methods of recording names and dates, but a common one is as follows:
For places: City or Town, County, State, Country with everything spelled out, checked for accuracy (Google is wonderful for this purpose), and correctly punctuated, for example, St. George, Washington, Utah, United States. Names and places should not be written in all caps. It is standard to write dates in the format 6 Jan 1913 or 6 January 1913 in genealogy programs. (I use those, but I use the format January 6, 1913, in writing.)
[2] This is the scripture shown over the door of the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. It is from Doctrine and Covenants 21:1, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken the charge of record keeping very seriously, which can result in some really good sources if you have ancestors who were members of the church. Here is a post about the Church History Library, right before it opened.

The picture of Joseph Young Litson and his sister Eliza Mary Litson Glade is from family collections, courtesy of my mother. The picture of the scripture in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City is from, used under a Creative Commons license.

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