If you have Mormon immigrant ancestors there is a resource of which you may be unaware. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has substantial records of those who travelled to Utah during the period when the saints were commanded to gather to Utah.
If your ancestor began their travels outside of North America then it is likely that they came by ship. The LDS Church maintained records of the passengers and vessels that carried those travelling to Utah. These records were originally published on a CD titled Mormon Immigration Index, but now are available online at MormonImmigration.lib.byu.edu.
The records of the voyages often contain the name of the ship and its sailing date, the passengers’ names, ages, and genders, as well as their final destination. The records can be searched by name. In addition to the searchable index there are images of the actual passenger manifests.
These records can provide information on several things. First, they can tell you from what port your ancestors set sail, and on what date they did so. This can provide clues to find their information in records of their country of origin. Second, they can tell you when your ancestors arrived in the United States. This can provide clues as to where and when to begin searching United States records.
If your ancestor was part of a pioneer company there is also a wonderful resource on lds.org at http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanylist-information. This site allows a search to be made by individual. It provides a list of all those who were in each company. For instance my ancestor William Garrett Ogden is in the database. He was a part of the John Brown company in 1853.
Once you have found your ancestor on the site you can find the sources for the information. In most cases there are journals from those in the company. It may be that your ancestor wrote the journal, or it may be that they are mentioned in a journal kept by a fellow traveller. It is a wonderful experience to read about the day-to-day journey and challenges of the pioneer companies through first hand accounts. In my case the sister of my ancestor wrote the account that is referenced. The following is an excerpt from one of her journal entries that will provide a flavor of what you will find in the records:
“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.”
If you have Mormon pioneer ancestors, take a moment to visit these two wonderful resources. The few minutes spent searching may yield a wealth of information of which you were previously unaware and give you insight into a historic part of your ancestor’s past.