Visiting the Webb Blacksmith Shop, playing at Pioneer Pastimes, or walking down Parley Street are all memorable experiences you can have when you visit Nauvoo. Your trip can become even more personal, however, by researching your own ancestors who lived in the city. When you visit thinking of your relatives’ lives, trials, and even their spiritual experiences, you can have a unique and strengthening experience for yourself.
Resources to Find Your Nauvoo Ancestors
A little-known resource in Nauvoo is the Land and Records Office. Located on Partridge Street, the Land and Records Office contains information on Nauvoo citizens between 1839 and 1846. Among its collections are property ownership records, marriage records, burial records, census records, occupations, biographies, and much more. Most of these records are being digitized and added to digital record collections.* FamilySearch has a handy tool for learning about your ancestors who have been identified as Nauvoo citizens in the FamilySearch Family Tree—be sure to sign in before using this tool so FamilySearch can give you accurate results:
Volunteers at the Land and Records Office in Nauvoo can help you learn even more about your Nauvoo relatives. Visit the Land and Records Office with your pedigree of ancestors born between 1770 and 1846, and you can learn if you had relatives who lived in Nauvoo. The data you find can be loaded onto a flash drive or CD for your use; if you don’t have one on hand, the Land and Records office can provide you with either for a small cost. The Land and Records Office also has a “pick-up option,” so your visit to the records office can be quick and smooth. Fill out a record request form before your trip, and mail or email it to the Nauvoo Land and Records Office. The volunteers will have a prepurchased CD or flash drive ready when you arrive in Historic Nauvoo, with your ancestors’ information already gathered.
This invaluable information can help you find the land previously owned by your Nauvoo ancestor or his or her grave in the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds, and it can help you get to know them better. You might even find out about your ancestor’s daily work or interests—records on community involvement are also included in the Land and Records Office! Keep in mind that parts of Nauvoo are historic re-creations, (re-creation=create again, recreation=swim in the pool or hike in the mountains.) and other parts are “modern day” Nauvoo, where people live and work. (The Nauvoo Tourism Office can help if you have questions about Nauvoo sites that are open to the public and Nauvoo property that is privately owned. You can also visit the Beautiful Nauvoo website for visitor information.)
Even if you reach Nauvoo without filling out your family tree, there are places within the historic town to get help with your family history. Nauvoo has a FamilySearch Center located near the Nauvoo Temple on Knight Street. There, you can get one-on-one help finding information on your ancestors.
Exploring Your Ancestor’s Life in Historic Nauvoo
Once you’ve found information on your ancestors, take the time to visit the historic sites significant to your Nauvoo relative. Perhaps they participated in one of the theatrical productions that Nauvoo citizens performed in the Cultural Hall. Maybe they hauled limestone from the nearby quarry to build the original Nauvoo Temple. Or perhaps they worked at one of the many trades highlighted in the shops along Main Street today. You can see some of these sites on the map here, and you can find more information about Nauvoo historic sites online:
Most likely, your ancestor lived in a log cabin when he or she first arrived in the Nauvoo area. These structures were far quicker and cheaper to construct than brick homes, making them ideal for the impoverished settlers as they arrived. Although log cabins were far more common, most all of Nauvoo’s wooden structures had been destroyed by the elements by the time the restoration of Nauvoo began.
Many early citizens in Nauvoo also went to school in neighborhood homes rather than in a school building. Be sure to visit the re-created Pendleton log home and school for an example of how your ancestor may have lived and learned in Nauvoo. As newlyweds, the Pendletons worked several different jobs in and around their home—typical of Nauvoo citizens in this time period. Visiting this home won’t be the longest stop on your trip, but it may be one of the most impactful. Within this home is a spirit of simplicity and humility that displays the difficult conditions early Nauvoo citizens faced—and the faith or fortitude they must have had to endure it.
Making the Most of Your Visit to Nauvoo
There’s no wrong time to visit Nauvoo, but each season offers a different experience. Visit Nauvoo on February 3, and you’ll be invited to take part in a reenactment of the Nauvoo Exodus to commemorate the anniversary of the first pioneer wagon company that left Nauvoo. Visit in December, and you’ll be able to participate in Nauvoo’s annual Christmas celebration, which includes historic decorations, stories, and activities.
Undoubtedly the busiest time of the year for Nauvoo is the summer. The historic district comes to life with performers and volunteers who put on plays, musical performances, and shows for guests of Nauvoo to enjoy. Be sure to stop by the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center to watch The Promise, a musical production about life in Nauvoo. Another must-see site is the Trail of Hope on Parley Street. At night, missionaries perform vignettes along the trail that recount journal entries and experiences left behind by the Saints.
The summer’s main event is the pageant, a month-long event that includes daily entertainment by pageant performers, pioneer activities at the pageant grounds, and nightly performances of the Nauvoo and British Pageants on alternating nights. The Nauvoo Pageant explores the growth of Nauvoo, including the building of the original Nauvoo Temple and the story of early Nauvoo citizens who followed Joseph Smith. The British Pageant tells the story of Nauvoo citizens who travelled to the British Isles as religious missionaries, inspiring thousands of immigrants to travel to Nauvoo.
No matter when you go to Nauvoo, enter with a heart open to learn. Take in the history, and try to see it from your ancestors’ point of view. By doing so, you will gain a deeper connection with your past and a deeper love of your family history.
*Digital Resources and Databases for Nauvoo Genealogy Research
- Nauvoo, Illinois FamilySearch Wiki
- Nauvoo Community Project at BYU
- Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database
- 1840 U.S. Census Records
- 1850 U.S. Census Records
- Other FamilySearch Record Collections