A new family history resource file, the Mormon Immigration Index, Passenger Lists and Passenger Accounts, has been placed on a compact disc by the Family and Church History Department and is available through the Church Distribution Center.
The new CD contains a wealth of information, including the names, birth years and dates of voyages of some 90,000 LDS passengers who came to America between 1840-1890. It also contains extensive, searchable accounts of the voyages. The comprehensive list of accounts may well provide first-time information for many researchers.
The information was compiled as a Ricks College sesquicentennial project by two professors and their students, and supported by the college over a five-year period that involved thousands of hours of work. The two professors, Fred Woods and Blaine Bake, created the file from British Mission Immigration Passenger lists and other sources. Since the project was started, the project's editor, Fred Woods, has transferred to BYU.
The database can be searched by individual name, passenger list, voyage or by personal account. Portions are easily saved and printed, and the CD has detailed and advanced search capacities. It is available through toll free phone orders at 1 (800) 537-5971, item 50174, for $5 US. System requirements are: Pentium processor or higher, Windows 95 or higher, or Windows NT 4.0 or higher, 8 MB RAM minimum (Recommend at least 16 MB), CD-ROM (Recommend at least 4X) VGA monitor with 256 color card and 25 MB available hard disk space.
"The database is comprehensive, but it can be added to if needed," said Brother Bake, a family history instructor at Ricks College.
While the lists of names provide valuable family history information, the accounts draw a vivid picture of the experiences of the past. Sailing conditions were difficult. "Large emigrant companies — frequently more than 500 persons — had to be quartered between decks in limited space. Huddled together in a rolling and sometimes pitching vessel, these men, women and children suffered in body and spirit from lack of privacy." (Saints on the Seas, p. 56, by Conway B. Sonne.)
In addition, Mormon passengers could be victimized by both crew and other passengers, and illness led to some deaths on almost all the voyages. Cholera was particularly deadly and followed the emigrants from the ship to camp in wreaking its deadly toll.
"Burial at sea was commonplace. The funeral usually consisted of a brief prayer and sometimes consoling remarks before the body encased in its canvas was dropped over the side. . . . [On one occasion] the water was so still that the corpse could be seen as it sank to a great depth." (Saints, p. 57.)
Babies were also born on board ships, and occasionally named after the vessel or its captain.
The first company of immigrants, under the leadership of Elder John Moon, on board the Britannia which sailed from Liverpool on the 6th of June, arrived in New York on the 20th of July "in tolerable good health."
A letter from John Moon written 160 years ago in New York on July 22, 1840, includes more details of the voyage.
"We have had a very long voyage but quite as short as any ship on the sea at the same time. . . . Started from Liverpool on the 6th of June good wind 6 hours and then a calm 4 sick in the company on the 7th on Sabbath we had a rough wind. On the 8th was had a very high wind and water came over the bulwarks all that day and all was sick. I never saw such a day in all my days. Some crying, some vomiting; pots, pans, tins and boxes walking in all directions; the ship heaving the sea roaring and so we passed that day. On the 9th a calm. 10 good wind all day--company rather better; they all came upon deck. Sister Hannah, Dorothy, Lydia and Alice was very sick; did not vomit much. I was sick and heaved up about 5 or 6 times and was 3 or 4 days as though I was half dead. . . . July 6--the scene has been very different, since the 11th of June then all our family was recovering. . . .
"I got up very early on Friday morning July 17th saw land at 4 o'clock. Tacked off until 2 in the afternoon when we saw land again. At 5 saw Long Island all covered with green trees and white houses such a beautiful sight I never saw. I did rejoice to behold the Land of Joseph; yea, I thought it did pay for all the hardships which I had gone through. . . .
"I got permission from the captain to go to New York on the Sabbath arrived about 1 o'clock p.m. It was with much trouble I found the Saints. I was at the meeting in the afternoon. I told them who I was and from whence I came and wither I was going. Their hearts was filled with joy and their eyes with tears. They received us with all the care possible."
The fear of shipwreck was constant among LDS immigrants, and for good cause. Along the Atlantic seaboard during 1840 and 1841, a total of 557 ships were recorded as wrecked and another 28 were missing with 650 lives lost. However, few Latter-day Saints were lost by shipwreck. Only one ship, the Julia Ann, wrecked but most of its passengers were saved.
However, a terrible storm nearly destroyed the Yorkshire, which sailed from Liverpool on May 2, 1843.
A severe storm arose, such that "About one o'clock, p.m., the mate of the ship Yorkshire opened the Testament at the twenty-seventh chapter of the Acts, and asked the passengers how they would like to be shipwrecked like Paul! Elder Thomas Bullock replied instantly: 'It is very likely we shall be shipwrecked; but the hull of this old vessel has got to carry us safe into New Orleans.' The mate was then called away to hoist the foretop royal sail.
"Between one and two o'clock next morning, when off Cape St. Antonio, Cuba, there was much vivid lightning, when a white squall caught the foretop royal sail, which careened the vessel, when the foremast, mainmast and mizenmast snapped asunder with an awful crash; the whole of the masts above, with the jib and spanker, and sixteen sails and studding poles, were carried overboard with a tremendous splash and surge, when the vessel righted. At daybreak all on deck was in confusion and a complete wreck. During the day a sail was hoisted from the stump of the main mast to the bow of the vessel, leaving nothing but the hull of the vessel to carry the Saints into New Orleans."