FamilySearch has made a wonderful pioneer discovery experience available for the public just in time for Utah’s Pioneer Day. According to the press release, about 1.5 million descendants of pioneers have been identified through millions of worldwide contributions to the FamilySearch Family Tree. Read more at the FamilySearch Newsroom, here: FamilySearch Pioneer Discovery Experience Online.
I was impressed to see that twenty of my relatives were listed in my discovery experience. To see yours, go to FamilySearch.org/Pioneer.
My 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Jane Miller, pictured above, came to Utah from Swineshead, Lincolnshire, England. She was 15 years old when she left England and embarked on the handcart journey. She turned 16 one month into the handcart trek. She was in the first handcart company, named for its captain, Edmund Ellsworth. The company information page linked to in the info-graphic contains additional facts and links to firsthand accounts of the journey. This page also includes a list of the members of the company. In the top right corner of the company information page is a link to a summary of the journey. It begins:
While a missionary in England, Edmund Ellsworth a son-in-law of Brigham Young had a recurring dream about leading a handcart company to Utah. Although this method of emigrant transportation had never before been used, he began advocating it as an inexpensive method whereby the faithful poor could gather to Zion. Simultaneously, Church leaders in Salt Lake were officially adopting this scheme to help Perpetual Emigration Fund passengers. When his call to lead the first handcart company actually came, Ellsworth readily accepted the assignment. On March 21, he left England aboard the ship Enoch Train with 534 Saints, arriving in Boston on May 1. From there the emigrants traveled by rail to Iowa City, where they camped for over a month awaiting completion of their carts.
Finally, on June 9, the great handcart experiment began. With buoyant spirits and an enthusiastic send off, they set out across Iowa. There were about 280 people, including a man age 71 and the youthful Birmingham Brass Band. Each traveler was allowed only 17 pounds of luggage (clothing, bedding and utensils). If they had additional baggage, they had to pay for it to be transported later by ox-trains. Those who could not afford the freight costs sold what they could and simply abandoned the rest. The wagon assigned to the handcart company hauled supplies. There was a tent for each 20 people. The first day the emigrants traveled only four miles. Then, they had to remain idle for a day while the men searched for strayed oxen. Animals recovered, the company again set out, only to have two of the poorly constructed handcarts break down (repairing carts became a frequent necessity). On June 12 a young boy died-soon to be followed by the deaths of other children and adults. The company passed through Newton, Iowa, and near Fort Des Moines on June 23. Repeatedly wracked by wind and rainstorms, on July 8 they arrived at and ferried across the Missouri River. They then went to the campground at Florence, Nebraska Territory, where they spent 10 days repairing carts and getting ready to continue.
One of my first big projects in family history was debunking a myth about Sarah Jane Miller. I found every source I could about her and her family. Afterward, I wrote a biographical report and uploaded it to FamilySearch. I love imagining what it would have been like to be in that first handcart company with her.
Attaching the Pioneer Label
I noticed that some of my pioneer ancestors were not listed in the pioneer discovery experience. I decided to fix that. Yesterday, I got my weekly email from FamilySearch about changes to people in my family tree that I am watching. I saw that someone added a memory to my 3rd great grandfather, Soren Peterson, who left Denmark in 1864 and crossed the plains to Utah by wagon. His great grandson wrote a book about him and uploaded it. I printed all 63 pages and planned to put it in a binder with my other family history stories.
Soren was not in my list of pioneers when I viewed the Pioneer Discovery Experience, though I know he was. He left Denmark in 1864 and came to Utah by wagon. In the book written by his grandson, it mentions that he was in the independent wagon company led by John Smith in 1864. I found a profile for Soren in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database.
I want Soren Peterson to show up in my list of pioneers. In FamilySearch you can attach a label to your ancestors by going to their person page. One of the labels you can add is “Mormon Overland Pioneers.” I scrolled to the bottom of the person page for Soren Peterson, and clicked “Attach Label.” Then I selected “Mormon Overland Pioneers.” I then filled out the requested information, as seen below. Now there is a badge at the top of Soren’s person page with a link to his Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel profile. Hopefully, once this information is reviewed, Soren will be in my Pioneer Discovery Experience.
Have you checked out your pioneer ancestors yet? The new discovery experience is wonderful! Give it a try: FamilySearch.org/Pioneer.