Sunday, February 18, 2018

Researching Your Mormon Ancestors

... reposting from 2014 ...
Here is a short guide to researching Mormon ancestry, 
including a summary of some of the more useful resources.

Collect and Examine Family Records

What genealogy work has already been done in your family? Do you have a copy? If not, who has a copy of the research? Can you get a copy? Who did the work? When? Which family lines did your relative research? What resources were available at the time? How reliable is it? What line do you want to work on?

At this point you can choose one of two methods:
(1) Do a purely genealogical search: confirm vital records and census entries. Source and correct Family Tree and your own files. This can be a valid and rewarding process.
(2) Go on a grand adventure and get to know your ancestors and their families and experiences and communities. Collect pictures and stories and write biographies. This process will include all the same kinds of work as (1), but will turn up more information about your ancestors' circumstances and life experiences.

It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look on the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect on the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. —Gordon B. Hinckley

A Note Before Starting

Remember the basic rules of genealogy:

1. Work from the known to the unknown. You don't want to start researching the wrong people. For example, there were two pioneer couples in Utah Territory named George and Ann Jarvis. If you don't know anything more than their names, how do you know you have the right couple?

Start with the information you know to be a fact, which may mean you have to start with yourself and work backwards through the years.

2. Always cite your sources. Here are a few examples of adequate citations:
Overson, Margaret Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George DeFriez Genealogy. Mesa, Arizona: M.J. Overson, 1957. 
Tanner, Amy Thiriot. "Ann Prior Jarvis: Strength According to My Day." In Richard E. Turley and Brittany A. Chapman. Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Two, 1821-1845. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2012, 136-148. 
Washington County News. "Another Pioneer Called." [Ann Prior Jarvis obituary.] January 16, 1913, 8.
Each of those citations includes enough information that someone could find the source and double check your work or find additional information in the source. The exact format or order of information is not as important as simply having enough information.

3. Use standard formats and spell out everything. No abbreviations. For example, a United States location would be written as "St. George, Washington, Utah, United States" (town or city, county, state, country). An English location would be written as "Harlow, Essex, England" (town, county, country).

4. Research the entire family. If you go back from generation to generation, concentrating on only your direct line you'll miss much of the story. Make sure you know the identities and stories of all children, in-laws, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents.

Take a Look at What's Already Online

Online family trees tend to be full of errors and faulty connections, so looking at them can give you a general idea of what has been done, but none of the information should be taken as gospel truth unless fully sourced.

Rule of thumb #1: the more sources an online tree has, the more accurate it tends to be.

Rule of thumb #2: primary sources (created on or close to the date of an event by someone with personal knowledge of the event) tend to be more reliable than secondary sources (created or compiled after the event, sometimes by people with no personal knowledge of the event).

Rule of thumb #3: try to collect at least three reliable sources for every person in your tree. Try to find census records, birth, marriage, or death records created at the time of the event, and so forth.

Here are some sources for online family trees:

You can use Ancestry at your local Family History Center or at many public libraries. If you are LDS, you can get a free subscription to Ancestry, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and other organizations.

Search the Internet

Use a search engine to look for family associations, websites, biographies, and blogs. Here are some examples of sites with extensive family history information:

Sometimes when you search online for an ancestor's name you will find documentary collections or local histories.

Check Online and Archival Resources

The Church History Library is a building in downtown Salt Lake City north of the Church Office Building and east of the Conference Center. It has extensive holdings related to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of the holdings is useful for genealogical research. Some collections are available online, some can be digitized by request, others can be viewed on site. Search in the online catalog for family names and locations. Ward and stake and mission records can contain valuable genealogical and historical information.

This organization has been collecting pioneer histories and pictures for over a century. Check the online index, and if you're a descendant, you can request copies of histories and pictures. Remember that these biographies are not always accurate.

Also check the collections of Sons of Utah Pioneers and regional Daughters of Utah Pioneers collections. (For example: Washington County (Utah) DUP.) 

FamilySearch's collection of more than 350,000 digitized copies of family and local history publications. They range from excellent professional works to known fraudulent genealogies, so check the identity of the author and the accuracy of the information before using the contents.

FamilySearch has huge holdings available either online or on microfilm. When you search, look for both family names and locations (town or city, county, state). Court records may be worth looking through in case your family is mentioned. Additionally, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (west of Temple Square) has a Special Collections Area with historical temple records which can help you confirm what temple work your family did, and in some cases this can help you confirm the identity of family members.

Check this database for gravestone pictures, sometimes also obituaries and family pictures. (See also BillionGraves.) Remember that this is a compiled source and you'll want to find original copies of cemetery records.

A large collection of historical newspapers. Be creative in your search terms; for example, search for "Mrs. George Jarvis" as well as "Ann Jarvis." There are also good subscription newspaper services like and

An important local newspaper collection for Utah. Other states may have similar collections; for example, California has the extensive California Digital Newspaper Collection.

If your Mormon ancestors crossed the ocean to America, even as missionaries, check this database for names and accounts and copies of the emigration books where available. Even if your ancestors didn't leave an account of their voyage, read all the other accounts of their voyage for an idea about their experiences.

This large database contains all known Mormon pioneers and is continually being updated and improved. Check when your ancestors crossed the plains. Once again, read all the accounts for the wagon or handcart company.

A search portal for regional university and library collections. (See also WorldCat. You may need to be very specific or creative about your search terms.)

A Few Other Useful Links

Use Research Guides for Directions on How to Find More Information
(research guides, some more complete than others)
(links to free online databases for Western states)