Resources for Early LDS Pioneers

Learn More about LDS Pioneers

Many of my readers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). This article highlights some amazing resources to help you find information about LDS pioneers in the great “Mormon Migration.” By this term, I mean both the influx of early converts from Europe as well as the pioneer parties that crossed the plains in wagons and handcarts between 1847 and 1868.

The first party of LDS pioneers left from Nauvoo, Illinois in February of 1847. They were forced from their homes in the middle of a brutal winter. They sludged across Iowa and regrouped near Kanesville, Iowa (present-day Council Bluffs). Tens of thousands of LDS pioneers, as they are commonly called, followed in their footsteps over the next 20 years. The wagon trains stopped in 1868 when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed.

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database

Perhaps the most well known resource is the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. This is a collaboration of the Church History Department of the LDS Church and FamilySearch. You can go directly to the Church History site or link to it from FamilySearch.

Mormon Pioneer map. Perregrine Sessions Company, 1847

Personal Examples

Asa Bartlett York

In addition, where known, FamilySearch has actually linked individuals to the company they traveled with. In the image below, Asa Bartlett York is shown as being part of the “William Snow/Joseph Young Company.” Clicking the text takes you to a page about this Company for more information. It gives a summary of the members and equipment, their travel experiences, etc. In the case of my 4th Great-Grandfather, Asa Bartlett York, I was able to find a brief sketch written by him as follows:

Brother Joseph Young was captain of our company that was to cross the plains. He rode a good deal of the way with me as we were very dear friends. I was chosen to drive an ox team across the plains for an aged couple. Brother and Sister Bigfor[d]. This was when I was 18 years old. Brother Bigford was seized with cholera and died, and I helped to bury him near the Platte river. His sorrowing widow was then placed in my care and I delivered her safe and sound on the public square in Salt Lake City, Utah, free of charge. This I did willingly and gladly.

Small text in top-right indicates information about an ancestor in FamilySearch that can be found in the MPOT database.


Henry Zufelt

In another example I searched for “Henry Zufelt” directly on the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel site. Henry is another of my 4th Great-Grandfathers. He traveled in the Allen Weeks company in 1852. This was a company that had settled temporarily for 3 or 4 years in a small community called “Harris Grove” about 26 miles north of Kanesville. By 1852 they were finally able to have the resources they needed to head to Utah to join the main body of LDS faithful. You can learn more about the many settlements in and around Kanesville at this site hosted by BYU: Winter Quarters Project.

Using this resource I have been able to identify 30 direct-line ancestors that were early LDS Pioneers and took part in the Mormon Migration.

Mormon Migration

Mormon Migration site

A lesser known resource is the Mormon Migration site hosted by Brigham Young University. This is an AMAZING resource that I could spend hours on. This site is a portal of sorts that allows you to search multiple databases related to Trans-Atlantic migration. A search can yield records about passenger lists, voyages, or personal accounts.

I performed a simple search for the surname “Chilton” and it returned a selection of matches. Among them was Isaac Chilton. Clicking on his name showed me that he emigrated from Wales in 1860. He sailed from Liverpool on the Underwriter with an astonishing 596 LDS Pioneers.

In the results we can find a ship’s log, passenger list, and personal accounts. Although there was no personal account written by my ancestors on this voyage, this is still a great resource! I can read a handful of other first-hand accounts of what it was like to be on this voyage. Reading through this helps me visualize the trip. As a result, I feel more connected to the experience of my ancestors. Here are a few excerpts from one traveler’s account:

Diary of Henry James Harrison

“On Monday the 26th of March we went on board the Underwriter for to sail for New York but we did not start till Friday the 30 of March and then we proceeded on our journey. It was pleasant going down the river. We had a pleasant morning for starting but it came on a little rough. I got up at 12 o’clock at night and saw the Isle of Man. There was a little sickness in the night – but I have not found anything of it myself yet. We passed Ireland about 7 o’clock Saturday morning…

Up to the 3 of April, Tues., the wind was very still and the sea going over the ship at times. I had to hold on to the ship this morning. We had great headway. I had a job to keep to the fire in the galley. I lost half of my cooking as it was doing.

Wed. April 4 a beautiful day. The ship a going at a rapid rate. The saints all getting better of seasickness…

Tues. April 17. Beautiful morning. Many on deck today with dancing and signing songs and recitations. I saw some beautiful shoals of fish about 11 o’clock and about 6 o’clock p.m. one ship and a fishing smack and in the evening a concert in the Virgin Palace.”

I loved reading about this trip through the eyes of one who experienced it alongside my ancestor, Isaac Chilton and his family.

Other Resources

These 2 amazing sites are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to researching your early LDS Pioneers. Here are just a few others you might want to explore:

  1. Nauvoo Community Project
  2. Winter Quarters Project
  3. Welsh Mormon History
  4. Early LDS Site

Take a look and learn about the early LDS Pioneers in your family tree! Then, share the stories with your families!


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