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Find Your Family - Discovering Ancestors at the Church History Library

Article Date: 
19 July, 2013 (All day)

Most individuals involved in family history know about the wonderful Family History Library in Salt Lake.  Here, researchers from around the world come to find information about their ancestors.  It has long been one of the best places worldwide to do genealogical research.
Many, however, are not as familiar with the Church History Library.  Located just to the east of the Conference Center in Salt Lake, a new Church History Library was constructed just a few years ago.  If you have LDS ancestors, particularly pioneer ancestors, the Church History Library has a treasure trove of information.  
First, the Church History Library has the immigration records for early saints.  These valuable records help those who have LDS ancestors who immigrated to the United States find information about them.  They often include information about the dates they left their home country, the ship on which they travelled, sometimes the company in which they travelled across the plains and where they settled once they arrived.  From these records other family members can also be identified.
Second, the library has patriarchal blessings on file.  Members can request the patriarchal blessings of their ancestors.  Reading these blessings is like a window into our ancestor’s past.
Third, there are some ward and stake histories where information about our ancestors may have been recorded.
Fourth, there are missionary journals.  Ancestors who served missions may have their journal preserved by Church History.  There may also be a mention of an ancestor in one of these journals.
Fifth, there are pioneer trail diaries.  As I was writing this article I went to the Church History Website (history.lds.org) and searched for one of my ancestors.  I found an excerpt from a pioneer trail journal written by an ancestor of mine.  The following is the except:
“so two wagons and two sets of oxen were purchased and another stove and a few other necessities. I was thirteen at this time and my twin sister [Lucy] and I danced all the way across the plains. The company leader thought it was good for the peoples morale to dance every evening, if the weather and conditions permitted. There was an amateur fiddler in the group that made lively music, so no matter what the adults troubles were the young people had an interesting treck.
One day when we were close enough to the Rockies so that they could be seen in the distance the oxen on the family wagon became frightened and began to run. They left the beaten trail, if you can call it that, and ran across country bouncing the wagon through gullies and over rocks, rabbit brush and ant hills. My brother William, fourteen was doing all he could to stop them which wasn’t much as he was desparately trying to keep from being thrown out and under the wheels of the wagon. The other children were all in the bottom of the wagon with a conglomeration of stove lids, cooking utensils, dishes and an assortment of clothing, and pots and pans leaving the rear of the wagon with every jolt. Luckily every company sends out a scout ahead of the wagon and just as these fleeing oxen were headed into a deep gorge the scout came running and hit one of the oxen on the head with a sledge hammer he was carrying and felled him. This brought things to an abrupt stop and saved us from injuries and probably death.
Soon after we got into the mountains my father became ill with what was known as Mountain Fever or Spotted Fever, this was caused by the bite of the wood tick. Wood ticks lived on rodents such as squirrels, rabbits etc. They were on the grass, sage brush and all other bushes so they were hard to avoid. Father became increasingly worse day by day and although he was not fit for travel they had to make him as comfortable as possible and keep up with the rest of the wagon train. Mother knew that father was not going to recover but she hoped and prayed that he would just get to Utah before it happened. If she could only get him to Utah so he could be buried in what to her was the hallowed soil of Zion, she would be greatly comforted. But he couldn’t endure that long and died in Wyoming, a days journey from the Utah border. But mother couldn’t stand to leave him there so we carried him with us until we crossed the Bear River on the Utah side. There in a little opening in the mountains, assisted by the men of our company we dug a lonely grave. We wrapped the now frail body of our father in a sheet and then in a blanket and left him casketless in the dry earth. My mother feared that wolves or other wild animals would molest his grave as they had done so many other times. So we all carried stones, many of them, and as large as we could lift and piled on top of the grave until it was entirely covered. On top of the stones we piled sage brush or any other dry brush we could find in the vicinity until the rocks were covered with two or three feet deep, then it was set on fire. The idea was to do away with any odor that would induce an animal to dig him up. After a short service, sorrowing but none the less comforted that he had reached Zion we left him there and made the rest of the journey to Salt Lake City.”
Not all of the journals are transcribed, but many of the names in the journals are referenced in the Church History catalog.  A visit to the Library in Salt Lake may be necessary to read the actual journal.
Pioneer Day is nearly here.  It seems like a fitting time to go down to the Library and see what we can learn about each of our ancestors.  You will find the Church History Library an incredible resource in finding information about your LDS ancestors.