|Tracing LDS Ancestors|
Your family research will be more effective and interesting when you understand the history of their times. This article provides insight and sources on the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help you understand your ancestor’s movements, activities, and concerns. This may also help you identify new sources to use to find your family. Ward, branch, and stake histories sometimes include biographical sketches of local members. You may find additional sources in the "History" Wiki article of the state, province, or nation for the localities where a Latter-day Saint ancestor lived.
Events in Church history that affected Church members and their record keeping include:
- 1830 Joseph Smith organized the Church in Fayette, New York. Samuel Smith was called as the first missionary.
- 1831 The first Church settlements were started in Kirtland, Ohio and Jackson County, Missouri.
- 1836 The Kirtland Temple was dedicated.
- 1837 The first foreign mission was opened in the British Isles.
- 1838-1839 Most Church officers and members left Kirtland. Others were forced out of Missouri. Members settled Nauvoo, Illinois.
- 1840 The first proxy baptisms were performed in the Mississippi River. The first company of Saints sailed from Liverpool, England, bound for the United States.
- 1841 The first sealings to spouse were performed for living couples.
- 1842 The first endowments were performed for living people.
- 1844 Joseph Smith was martyred.
- 1846 The Nauvoo Temple was dedicated. Living endowments and sealings to spouse were performed here. Living sealings to parents were also performed.
- 1846-1847 The Saints were forced to leave Nauvoo and began migrating to the West. The Mormon Battalion was commissioned to serve in the Mexican War.
- 1849 The Perpetual Emigrating Fund was started to help poor Saints move to Utah.
- 1850-1900 Major colonization efforts established many towns in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Sonora (Mexico), Chihuahua (Mexico), and Alberta (Canada).
- 1850 Missionary work began in France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries.
- 1852 Brigham Young encouraged the Saints in Iowa to migrate to Utah. The Perpetual Emigrating Fund was extended to help poor Saints emigrating from other countries. The first Scandinavian converts emigrated to Zion. The Church announced the doctrine of plural marriage.
- 1853 The first German converts emigrated to Zion.
- 1855–1889 The Endowment House opened in Salt Lake City. Living endowments and the sealings to spouse, proxy and living, were performed there.
- 1856–1857 Members were admonished to reform their lives and rededicate themselves to the Lord. Many members were rebaptized.
- 1857–1858 30,000 members from northern Utah moved south into Utah County due to the coming of Johnston’s army. United States troops under Colonel Johnston arrived and established Camp Floyd. Many members moved back to their homes in northern Utah, but others made permanent homes in central Utah.
- 1869 The transcontinental railroad was completed. The railroad increased the migration of members to Utah and Church colonization throughout the west.
- 1877 The St. George Temple was dedicated and the first proxy endowments were performed. Living sealings to parents were again performed. The first proxy sealings to parents were performed here. Brigham Young reorganized the Seventies priesthood organizations throughout the Church. Many members renewed their covenants and were rebaptized. New membership forms were designed to record the rebaptism and reconfirmation dates.
- 1879 Due to the controversy over polygamy, the Secretary of State of the United States urged European governments to halt the flow of Church emigrants.
- 1884–1887 Polygamists were persecuted intensely by the federal government. To avoid this, many Saints moved to Mexico and Canada. The United States government confiscated the money for the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which also restricted Church emigration. Utah counties began recording marriages.
- 1890 President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, officially stopping new plural marriages among the Saints in the United States.
- 1894 President Woodruff received a revelation clarifying that children should be sealed to their parents instead of Church Leaders.
- 1895 The first stakes outside the United States were organized in Alberta, Canada, and Juarez, Mexico. Utah counties began keeping birth and death records.
- 1898 Leaders of the Church began discouraging emigration.
- 1905 The State of Utah began recording births and deaths.
- 1914 The first Church census was conducted to identify members. Starting in 1920, censuses were taken every five years until 1960, except in 1945 due to World War II.
- 1918–1919 Weekly services were not held in many areas due to the worldwide flu epidemic. The April 1919 General Conference was also delayed until June 1919. Many blessings and baptisms were delayed.
- 1924 The first of the three- and four-generation programs began. Members submitted family group records, and they were placed in the Patron Section of the Family Group Records Collection.
- 1941 The Deceased Members File began.
- 1942 Family group record forms were used to submit names for temple work.
- 1969 The new computerized name processing required Individual Entry and Marriage Entry Forms to clear names for temple work. This was the beginning of the file that became the Ordinance Index.
- 1978 Every worthy male could hold the priesthood and participate in temple ordinances.
- 1979 The Church began collecting pedigree charts and family group records for the Ancestral File.
- 1981 The Salt Lake Temple’s recording process was computerized. Most temples were converted to the new computerized Temple Recording System over the next ten years.
- 1990 FamilySearch was released.
- 1991 The TempleReady computer program made it possible for members to clear their own names for temple work.
- 1997 The Ordinance Index was created from the International Genealogical Index.
- 1998 The Family Name System was started in the English-speaking temples. This allows temple patrons to keep track of their own temple submission entries on colored cards.
- 1999 The FamilySearch™ Internet Genealogy Service started. The first Pedigree Resource File names were submitted over the Internet, web sites added, and collaboration lists started.
Events by Date
The following sources list events in Church history in chronological order:
- Journal History of the Church is a day-by-day scrapbook of events in the history of the Church.
- Church Chronology: A Record of Important Events Pertaining to the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was published by Andrew Jenson and describes major events in Church. The main section of this book begins with the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith on 23 December 1805 and goes to 30 November 1898, giving historical information on the death of a missionary serving in the Scandinavian Mission. An index is located at the end of this section, beginning on page 223. This is also indexed in the Early Church Information File and included in the LDS Family History Suite 2. Before printing, a copy of this work was carefully read to a committee of historians. Great effort was taken to make the work inclusive and accurate of the historical events in this reference work.
- The first supplement begins January 7, 1899 to December 31, 1905 ending with the index to that section.
- The second supplement covers the years 1906 January 1 to December 31, 1913. The index is at it's end.
- "The Joseph Smith Papers: Timeline of Events" gives a chronology of major events in the early history of the Church from 1805 to 1846.
- Deseret News 1997–1998 Church Almanac Pages 470 to 504 list the major Church events from 1805 to October 1996. It also shows noteworthy civil events in italics. The index in the back also includes references to articles and topics found only in earlier editions of the almanac.
General Church Histories
The following works discuss general Church history:
- Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days is a 4-volume narrative history of the Church.
- Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 "tells the story of the Restoration, from Joseph Smith’s childhood to the Saints receiving ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846."
- Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand (forthcoming) "covers the Saints’ challenges in gathering to the western United States and will finish with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893."
- Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent (forthcoming) "narrates the global growth of the Church, ending with the dedication of the temple in Bern, Switzerland, in 1955."
- Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear (forthcoming) "will bring the reader to the recent past, when temples dot the earth."
- Church History Topics are a supplement to Saints and discuss a variety of people, places and concepts mentioned in the series.
- The Story of the Latter-day Saints is a single-volume, general history of the Church covering the years 1830 to 1990.
- Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I. Six Volumes is a 6-volume series that gives detailed information about the first century of Church history. This is indexed in the Early Church Information File and included in the LDS Family History Suite 2. It has another index under Index to a Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this 7-volume series was taken from the writings of Joseph Smith and others, 1830–1848, including events leading to up to the Church’s organization. This work is included in the LDS Family History Suite 2. This is also indexed in: Documentary History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1830–1848 
- The Church history section of the Church's website has a variety of articles, videos, and resources that discuss the history of the Church and its members from around the world.
Histories of Local Church Units
Many histories of wards, stakes, and missions are available at the Family History Library and the Church History Library. These unit histories sometimes include biographical sketches of members, photographs, maps, lists of ward officers, and a history of the local community. For books and articles that give short histories of many local Church units see:
- Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church cited fully in LDS Historical Geography.
The Church History Library has manuscript histories, and historical reports for local Church units from the 1830s to 1983. Since 1983, the yearly histories have been known as annual reports. Wards and branches submit their reports to the stake or mission, which compiles them and submits the reports to the Church History Library. These records often include the names of the Church unit’s officers and teachers. Histories of the Mormon Battalion, the Pioneers of 1847, handcart companies, and other prominent groups are also available.
Finding Aids for LDS History
The Studies in Mormon History Database includes citations to articles, books, theses, and Ph.D. dissertations dealing with the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, written from the time of its inception in 1830 to the present. It is intended to be comprehensive. It includes citations to over 2,000 LDS biographies and 800 published LDS diaries. The diary entries have abstracts describing dates of coverage and a summary of the contents. There are some links to full-text items.
Family History Library
The Family History Library also has many histories of local Church units. To find them look in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
[NATION]— CHURCH HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE]— CHURCH HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE], [COUNTY]— CHURCH HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [TOWN]— CHURCH HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE]— HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE], [COUNTY]— HISTORY
[STATE or PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [TOWN]— HISTORY
To find ward histories in the Author/Title Search of the FamilySearch Catalog, look under:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Locality]
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Ward Name]
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Stake Name]
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Mission Name]
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Area Name]
To find ward histories in the Subject Search of the FamilySearch Catalog, look under:
MORMONS— CHURCH HISTORY
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS— BIOGRAPHY
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS— CHURCH HISTORY
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS— HISTORY
Another place to look to find information about unit histories and histories of Latter-day Saints is:
A Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations Concerning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism and Utah. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971. (Family History Library book 289.3016 C28by). This includes ward and local histories and other topics of interest to family historians.
Other Historical Documents of Local Church Units
The Historical Department—Archive Search Room also has the following types of historical records:
Minute Books from 1837 to 1977. You will find minutes of priesthood quorums, Relief Societies, other auxiliary organizations, and general ward and stake minutes. The minutes may provide dates of blessings, baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations that you will not be able to find elsewhere.
Quarterly Reports of branches, wards, stakes, and missions. These reports provide the names of the leaders in the various organizations. Stake and mission reports are available to the present. The ward and branch reports are available between 1956 and 1983.
Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of area families. Even histories of towns, counties, states, provinces, or nations may include information about the Church and its members in the area. See the "History" Wiki article of the state, province, and nation for places where the member lived to find out what sources are available.
The "Colonization" page deals with the history of Church settlements and colonies. For information about Church emigration from Britain, Europe, and Scandinavia, or the journey of the pioneers to Utah see the "Emigration and Immigration" page. The " LDS Historical Geography" page describes reference sources discussing the history of wards, branches, stakes, missions, and their boundaries.
- Deseret News 1997–1998 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, 1996. (Family History Library book 289.305 D457).
- "Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days: What Will Be Found in Each Volume?" Ensign (February 2018).
- Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Second Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1992. (Family History Library book 289.309 AL53s).
- Roberts, B. H. Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I. Six Volumes. 1930. Reprint, Orem, Utah: Sonos Publishing, 1991. (Family History Library book 289.309 R541c).
- Butt, Newbern Isaac. Index to a Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Provo, Utah: BYU Library, 1959. (Family History Library book 298.309 R541c Index).
- Smith, Joseph. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Seven Volumes. 1932. Reprint, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1969–1973. (Family History Library book 289.309 Sm61h; film 1592757 items 2–8).
- Butt, Newburn I. Index, Documentary History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1830–1848. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Library, 1962. (Family History Library book 289.309 Sm61h index; film 1592757).