SALT LAKE CITY — Erastus Snow, an early apostle of the LDS Church, served 14 missions in his lifetime. He began preaching the gospel at age 15 with a brief mission to New York and New Hampshire in 1834. By age 18, he had served five missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he continued serving missions of varying lengths in locations from Ohio to Denmark until he was 41 years old.
Snow's descendants can now learn more about his extensive missionary travels and experiences in a new way, thanks to a new online database called Early Mormon Missionaries, developed by the LDS Church History Library, in partnership with FamilySearch and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University.
The database, tagged with the missionary charge, "Go Ye Into All the World" (Mark 16:15), features the names of 41,000 men and women who served full-time proselytizing missions for the church in 36 countries worldwide from 1830 through 1930, with links to thousands of sources in the Church History Library.
Erastus Snow's great-great-great-grandson, Elder Steven E. Snow, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy as well as church historian and recorder, announced the launch of the new database at the RootsTech Conference on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a fascinating database,” Elder Snow said, comparing Early Mormon Missionaries to the church’s Mormon Overland Trails Pioneer Travel database. “It’s a rich source of information and a way to connect us to our past.”
Patrons searching for a missionary ancestors will find standard genealogical information, dates of service, when the missionary was ordained, a history of his or her mission, and links to other missionaries who served in the mission at the same time. Patrons are also encouraged to contribute photographs, letters, journals or images of other documents. Each item will be approved by the Church History Department before it's finally uploaded, Elder Snow said.
Elder Snow's grandfather, Erastus Eric Snow, served in the British Isles from 1925 to 1927. Elder Snow could submit images of check stubs from his grandfather's steamboat fare or railroad tickets from Salt Lake to New York, where his grandfather boarded a ship for England, along with photos or images of other missionary artifacts, he said.
"This database provides an opportunity to go back and learn about ancestors and their missions, not just with photographs and other individuals who served with your ancestor, but what the circumstances were, descriptions of the mode of transportation and what it was like to get around," Elder Snow said. "It’s going to be a rich source of opportunities to share experiences and stories with the rising generation and inspire them to serve because they have this legacy of faith and service that has been provided for them with their own ancestors."
An army of volunteers, including Church History Department employees and missionaries, created the database over the past year, in partnership with FamilySearch and the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU, Elder Snow said.
Keith A. Erekson, director of the Church History Library, said missionaries from 1860 to 1930 were fairly easy to process thanks to well-kept records. But tracking down missionaries from 1830 to 1860 was a little more difficult, Erekson said.
"For the first 30 years, it was just a hard-nose research without anywhere to start. The missionaries were going through the Millennial Star, the Elders Journal, the Times and Seasons, anywhere they could see a report ... or where there would be a mention of a missionary," Erekson said. "It was all hands on deck."
Despite their best efforts, it's possible that someone's missionary ancestor has been left out of the database, Elder Snow said. If so, patrons can contact the Church History Department through the website.
Elder Snow said the Church History Department would continue to add names and sources to the database in the coming years.
One of the rich collections in the database contains the acceptance letters of mission calls.
"In those days, there wasn't much of a form letter," Elder Snow said. "They would write to the president of the church."
"Some were simple: 'I accept, I am willing to serve,'" Erekson said. "Others said much more. 'My father just died and I'm running the farm right now. Can I go in the fall after the harvest?' Those letters turn out to say a lot about their family and situation. They also express their faith, their testimony and gratitude for the call."
Of the 41,000 names, about 3,000 are sister missionaries. The first sister missionary served in 1898. Some of their diaries describe the challenges of doing missionary work in a man's world and often being outnumbered by elders, along with their service and experience, Erekson said.
"Some of their diaries are just hilarious," Erekson said. "I'm grateful we have this first generation of pioneering sister missionaries. I think it's one of the great parts of this database."
The database also provides a glimpse into the growth and global nature of the church during those early years. There were branches of the church in French Polynesia, England and Denmark before the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley, Elder Snow said.
"When you think about that, it's pretty amazing," Elder Snow said.
"The story of missionary work, in more ways than other parts of our history, reminds us that from the outset, the restoration was for the whole world," Erekson said. "Yes, there were Saints struggling in small communities, but this message was going out all over the world."
Elder Snow hopes the new database will foster family unity and a spirit of missionary work with members, especially with young men and women.
"With young people, we hope it will be an inspiration for them to follow in the footsteps of those that have gone before. We think people are going to find this tool to be very interesting," Elder Snow said. "I can see a few family home evenings coming up in my family."
For more information about "Early Mormon Missionaries," visit history.lds.org/missionary.
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