Revelations to Joseph Smith echoed Jesus’s call to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature” (Mark 16:15; D&C 112:28). During the century that followed the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, almost 40,000 men and women served proselytizing missions. They taught in 36 countries and spoke to millions of people. This database is a record of their service.
Early Mormon Missionaries is based on two key sources. The first is a set of large ledgers—called the “missionary registers”—housed in the Church History Library. In 1860 a clerk began to record in these ledgers information about the calling of missionaries set apart in Salt Lake City to serve full-time missions. The registers, kept until 1959, are a rich source of biographical data. They contain the missionaries’ birth dates, birthplaces, parents’ names, baptism dates, the names of those who baptized them, residences at the time of their calls, their mission assignments, dates they were set apart, their priesthood offices (when applicable), and in many cases the dates they returned from their mission. The data from these registers was captured with help from the Family History Department, using the same indexing system used to capture data from other genealogical records.
The second main source used in this database is a roster of missionaries compiled under the direction of assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson in 1925. This roster was, in part, an attempt to reconstruct a list of missions served prior to 1860.
Jenson and his assistants did the best they could with the time and materials they had, but information about missionaries in the early decades of the Church was and is scattered among many sources. In order to further verify the information in Jenson’s roster, a team of Church History Library missionaries in 2015 recorded Jenson’s work in a database and checked it against other readily available sources. The result was an improvement on the original roster. The missionaries added new individuals to the database and corrected many biographical details.
Even so, Early Mormon Missionaries will improve over time with your help. The Church History Department encourages submissions that will help to correct and expand the data gathered to this point. Within the database, there is a link to submit information on every missionary’s page as well as on the search results page. We are especially interested in acquiring originals or digital copies of primary sources relating to your ancestors’ missions, such as journals, letters, or photographs. Since our primary focus is documenting full-time proselytizing missions, we do not plan to add stake missionaries or those who were given the “mission” of creating new settlements in early Utah.
One of the most exciting features of Early Mormon Missionaries is the way it links to digitized documents made available by the Church History Library and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University and in other digital repositories online. These links will give family and Church history researchers access to rich sources—journals, letters, and more—detailing the experiences of the missionaries in the database. At the time of its launch, Early Mormon Missionaries contained over 10,000 such links, and more will be added with time.
We hope that this database will not only fuel future scholarship on Mormon missions but that it will connect descendants to their ancestors who served missions and help them better appreciate the sacrifices early missionaries made for the gospel.