Thursday, June 25, 2009

LDS History in the Family History Library

One of my more successful finds was microfilmed copies of the record books kept by the early missionaries in the Southern States Mission. Like journals, these are period documents. They were handwritten by missionaries in the field, with varying degrees of readability. The books include baptismal records, blessings of children, minutes from important meetings like when a branch was formed, membership surveys which were lists of active members on a given date, and more. Often the handwriting is elegant, sometimes it is illegible.

One book I'm working on has so many annotations that I can't read the name. Some are even blotted out. That's when I have to sleuth out the names from other information provided. Usually the parents name and a birth date are enough to get me to the right answer.

So how do you find a list of membership records for your home? Well, there is an online catalogue. Go to and follow the link to the library catalogue. Hint: move your mouse over the word "Library" in the menu bar but do not click. After a short delay a drop down menu will appear with the "Library Catalogue" at the bottom. Once you are there you have many types of searches to choose from. I can't tell you where to look, but I'll show you where I looked. You may be able to replicate my search for your local.

Start with clicking on "Place Search" and enter "Tennessee" in the first box. You'll notice several Tennessees come up. Pick the State, which is probably the first. From there you will see a whole list of records. Find "Tennessee - Church Records". Near the bottom you will see five entries for the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Choose the oldest one "Record of Members [1877]-1920" The page you will see describes the record but the reference is in the Film Notes. For that, follow the link in the upper right corner. In this case the record was filmed twice. You will see both film numbers here. Front load enough zeros make it 7 digits long, and you have a Microfilm file number.

If you are in Utah or close enough, you can go to the file and pull the film. If not, well, you can order it. The FHL will make a copy and loan it to your local library, for a small fee of $6.00 (as of 2009). But the loan is only temporary. After 3 weeks it goes back. You can make it a permanent part of your local library's collection for $18.00. Depending on the film, that might be an attractive, but expensive, option. You pay $18 for a film that isn't even yours to keep. The library will but your name on the box if you are nice, though. And there is no way to preview the film to see if it actually contains what you want. It is the closest thing to a lottery the Church has.

For me some of the five records pointed to different places on the same film, so it was a pretty good bet I would find something I wanted. I don't have a lot of time to spare during Library hours. Fortunately, my local library has a microfilm reader hooked up to a scanner. I can scan the pages (one at a time) to a portable USB drive and look them over during the odd spare moment.

There are many more records available in this catalogue. Many sit on that line that separates Church History from Family History. And while you might think that most of the people I find are Mormon and don't need temple work done, you would be surprised how many people I find who have no temple work done at all. I guess, for many, the temple was too far way. The best part is turning names over to relatives who had no idea of the work there is to do.


Ardis Parshall said...

Good instructions, with some bonus incentive -- thanks.

It was a few years into the 20th century before the church developed a routine system to do the temple work for members who died before they could travel across country (or across an ocean) to reach a temple. Perhaps most 19th century records of this type would identify early converts who are still waiting.

BruceCrow said...

Another example would be the "second rescue" of the Martin and Willie handcart companies. The Riverton Wyoming Stake discovered a few years back that many of those who died never had their temple work done. I'm currently reading a book the Stake put together to commemorate their efforts to complete all their temple work. How many saints died inthe 19th century without ever seeing a temple? Where else can we look?

Ardis Parshall said...

That's why I always check to see that the work is done whenever I research anyone, even for something as small as a blog post. Just to be sure.

The one group I haven't followed up on yet are all those dozens of Saints who were drowned by the hurricane in the Tuamotos in 1903 that I wrote about once. I can't link them to anyone already in my database, so I can't stretch the rules far enough to call them family members, no matter how distant. But that's an exception -- for most of us, in the US and perhaps even in Europe, someone who works at it as you have done can probably find a way to finish what pioneer branch members started.