Getting to Know Your Mormon Pioneer Ancestor: Seven Steps to Success
Do you have pioneer ancestors who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) in the 1800’s and came west to join the saints in Zion? The LDS church began emphasizing family history about 1890, so you may think that those branches of your family tree are complete and accurate. Just looking at your fan chart on FamilySearch’s Family Tree, it might seem that there are no more family members to discover.
In reality, our pioneer lines may be reasonably accurate up to a point, but the dates, places, and relationships are often based on family knowledge and not fully documented. If you’d like to get to know your pioneer ancestor and find new family members to add to the tree you might find success with these steps!
Step 1: Explore your Tree – To get started, take a look at your family tree on FamilySearch.org using the Landscape View. Follow out a few lines until you find a pioneer ancestor that you would like to get to know. If your goal is to discover missing family members, take a look at the parents and siblings of your pioneer. Are the details of the siblings complete or does there seem to be information missing? Good clues are “deceased” or “about” in place of an actual death date or no spouses or children listed for a sibling. You may need to explore your tree a bit until you find the ancestor that you want to research. Look especially at the female lines. Often they are less researched than the males.
I chose to research my great, great grandmother Mariah Brockhouse (1842-1926). When I looked at her siblings, she had an older brother, George, who only had a christening date, no death date, and no spouse or children. This looked like a good place to start.
Step 2: Start with Memories – Once you have chosen a specific pioneer ancestor, take a look at the memories section of Family Tree. Are there photos, stories, documents attached? If so, take the time to familiarize yourself with your ancestor. Because of the LDS church’s’ emphasis on family history, many of the pioneers have fairly detailed histories, often written by their children or grandchildren. Treat these histories as clues to guide you to actual records.
Mariah’s story had fascinated me from a young age and as I reread it on her Memories page on familysearch.org, I remembered why. Mariah and husband, William Beddoes joined the LDS church in 1862 with other family and friends. They greatly desired to journey to Utah, so Mariah worked hard and saved every penny for three years until they could afford ship fare. Unfortunately her father opposed their leaving and on the morning of the planned departure, he took their young daughter, Selina, on a walk, hoping to prevent the young family from leaving England. The frantic parents found their daughter in time, boarded the ship, crossed the ocean, and eventually settled in Salem, Utah.
William Beddoes, daughters, and Mariah Brockhouse Beddoes; Salem, Utah
Studying this history raised many questions in my mind? Why did Enoch Brockhouse feel so strongly about his daughter’s family emigrating? What happened to him and his wife? What about Mariah’s brothers and sisters left behind? I wanted to find out more about this family so it was time to check out the sources on Mariah’s person page on familysearch.org.
Step 3: Survey the Sources – A quick scan of the sources already attached to your pioneer ancestor can show what is missing. To make this easier, I like to put the sources in chronological order from birth to death records, creating a timeline of my ancestor’s life. To do this, you click on any of the sources and drag it either up or down. Many of the sources on our pioneer ancestors are marriage or death records of their children. These are important records because they provide the link between generations. Because families were large, however, your pioneer could have twenty-five sources listed, the majority being these type of records. Key records for the pioneer’s own life might be missing.
Here are the sources on Mariah’s details page. Each time a new source is added, it appears at the top, so it is up to us to put them in order so we can see what’s missing. Notice that the three sources at the top are not life events for her, but mention of her in her children’s death certificates.
After putting the sources in chronological order, the list now has Mariah’s key life events at the top and the sources listing her as a mother in her children’s records at the bottom. Now I can analyze the sources and see what is missing . . . Take a look, what other records could I search?
Step 4: Record your questions and search ideas – As questions come up, write them down in a notebook or a research log. Have a separate page for each question. Write ideas of where you could find the record.
A few of my questions and search ideas:
- Is the family listed in the 1851 England census? Search for Enoch Brockhouse as head of household with wife Phoebe and daughter, Mariah.
- Is there a marriage record for Mariah and William? Look in my mother’s papers; she sent for many certificates in England. If not there, search the marriage registration index in England.
- Are Mariah and family on a ship passenger list? Check out the history again for clues for name of ship and departure date. Search passenger lists on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
- Are there any death records for Mariah’s siblings? Search parish burial records or the death registration in England.
Step 5: Learn about the area your ancestor lived and the kind of records available. When planning your research, take the time to look up the place – county, state, or country on the Family Search Wiki. When I pulled up the Wiki, I just clicked on the map and kept drilling down until I got to the page on Staffordshire, Mariah’s home county in England. Everything in blue is clickable, red means I’ve already clicked on it. Notice the link to an interactive map!
If your pioneer didn’t cross the ocean but had been living in the eastern United States, a good place to start is the Learning Center on Ancestry.com. Click on “state research guides” and then on the state of your pioneer’s origin. Here is an example showing one page from the Utah State Research guide:
Step 6: Choose one question and search for records to answer your question; record results of your search – Keep from getting overwhelmed by focusing on one question. Search records on Family Search or any of the partner websites to find answers to your question. See my post “What Do I Do Next? 5 Tips for Using FamilySearch Partners” for ideas on how to search these websites or use the links from the FS Wiki or Ancestry’s Learning Center to get you started. Add the results, positive or negative to your research log or notebook page.
I decided to focus on my question: Are there any death records for Mariah’s siblings?The wiki article for Staffordshire had a link to a website for searching parish records: FreeReg.org.UK. I clicked on the link, entered search information and just see what results came back!
WHAT!!! Not only did I find a burial for George in 1841, I also found burials for several Brockhouse children, none of whom were on FS Family Tree or in any of the family group sheets. I clicked on Selina, and found this indexed record:
My great, great grandparents, Enoch and Phebe, had a daughter named Selina, born in 1855 and died in 1857. Mariah would have been thirteen years older than her little sister. She must have been heartbroken when Selina died. No wonder she named her first daughter, Selina.
When I continued investigating the children, I discovered that of Enoch and Phebe’s eleven children, six died at a very young age. Is it any wonder that when their only surviving daughter (the other surviving children were all sons) and her little Selina made plans to emigrate to America they were upset?
Learning this about the family made all the difference in the story of Selina’s grandpa Enoch taking her for a walk that day in 1865. I might have done the same thing!
Step 7: Share your New Information – Did you find a birth record? A Marriage Record? Attach it as a source to Family Tree for everyone to see and add that information to the life sketch. You’ve just added a piece to your pioneer ancestor’s story!
I added all of the newly found Brockhouse children to the family’s record on FamilySearch Family Tree and sourced their burial records. Because these records were not on FamilySearch, I created a new source. For a tutorial, see my post “Creating a New Source on Family Tree”.
I had no idea when I began the journey of researching my pioneer ancestor, Mariah Brockhouse, that I would discover the rest of her family’s story. The simple act of finding burial records for her siblings gave me a much deeper love and understanding for my great, great grandparents, truly a gift.
Best of luck in researching your pioneer ancestors! Whether or not you find new family members, your heart will turn towards them and you will be blessed with great love for them.
My great grandmother Selina Beddoes Kelsey, daughter of Mariah Brockhouse Beddoes lived to be 98 years old, one of the last living pioneers to have crossed the plains. She died six months before my birth.