How to Find Your Ancestors in Early Relief Society Records
How can you find out if your female ancestors helped build the early Relief Society organization?
I happened upon this FamilySearch campaign and it really changed my view of Relief Society and womanhood in general. Learning about my early Relief Society ancestors helped me with many of my own concerns about being a woman in today’s society. Read about that here: What I learned about feminism from my remarkable Relief Society ancestors.
Step 1: FamilySearch Campaign
Go to FamilySearch.org/ReliefSociety. When you sign in, you’ll see a list of women in your family tree who participated in early Relief Society meetings. In partnership with the Church History Library, FamilySearch has identified which ladies in the collaborative family tree are found in the original documents of the Relief Society. Click “View Page” to see their profile page at the Church Historian’s Press website.
Step 2: Church Historian’s Press
I clicked on Elizabeth Gardner Runyon, my 3rd great grandmother. It takes you to the Church Historian’s Press website. The Church Historian’s Press hosts The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History and includes a page for each woman mentioned in one of 78 key documents to LDS women’s history.
To see a list of all the women who are included in these documents, see The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: People. Originally, my ancestor Phoebe was not listed in my FamilySearch list of ancestors who helped build the Relief Society, but I found her on this page, knowing that she was Elizabeth Gardner Runyon’s mother in law and that they both lived in Nauvoo. The profile that the Church Historian’s press website had linked to on FamilySearch for Phoebe had been merged/deleted, so I contacted them about the error and they responded that they will update it. Hopefully now she will show up in my FamilySearch list of Relief Society ancestors.
The page includes a link to the document that the woman is mentioned in, with a transcription and link to the original document. In the above screenshot, you click on the part that says “See Document 1.2.” You are taken to this page:
To find the page that mentioned Phoebe, I clicked on each section (1.2.1, 1.2.2, etc.), each of which includes transcriptions of several pages of the minute book from different Relief Society meetings organized by date. I used Ctrl+F to look the word “Merrill” on the webpage. When I got to May 12, 1842, I found Phoebe Merrill’s name.
Under the heading “1.2.8 May 12, 1842,” there is a link to see the images of the original document. I clicked that link to see the actual writing of Eliza R. Snow in the Minute Book where she listed Phoebe’s name. This document is hosted at the Joseph Smith Papers Website.
Step 3: The Joseph Smith Papers Website
I used this record viewer to read more about what went on at the first meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. It contains transcriptions and allows you to browse through each page in the minute book.
Step 4: FamilySearch Memories
You can find stories about your Relief Society ancestors on FamilySearch.org in the memories section of each person profile. These are family stories that have been added by descendants of the person. If your ancestor doesn’t have any stories attached, look at the memories and stories of their family members. The history of my ancestor Elizabeth was short, so I read about her in the stories attached to her children. They contained many anecdotes helpful in understanding what her life was like in Utah.
Best of luck researching your Relief Society ancestors!