Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Missionaries

by Ryan Combs and the Consultation Services team
29 September 2020

In this post, discover the answers to some of the most common questions about proselytizing missionaries that come to the Consultation Services team.

1. How can I find information on an individual missionary?

The Missionary Database is a powerful research tool containing data on missionaries who began their service 80 years ago and prior. The site is searchable and contains links to the Mission Registry and, in many cases, to acceptance letters written by the missionaries. This database includes over 40,000 people, including early Church missionaries like Dan Jones. Of course, it also includes many other faithful men and women, like Esther Ontiveras Acosta from Mexico, who served one mission in Mexico and another in the Southern States Mission.

We’ve recently rolled out changes to the format and style of the Missionary Database. You can read about these changes in a recent Church News article.

To find information on a more recent missionary, in-person research might be necessary. Check out this research guide and blog article for more information. (See also question 4 below.)

Missionaries in the Netherlands-Belgium Mission, 1913, PH 7400

2. Who was the first/oldest/youngest/longest-serving/etc. missionary?

The first missionaries to serve in particular countries are usually mentioned in the Global Histories, which are short histories from the Church History Department on different regions and countries throughout the world. Another place to check is the mission organization pages of the Missionary Database. To find the first missionaries who arrived in individual towns and cities, more research is usually required, but the mission manuscript histories (see question 3 below) often have that information.

We’ve attempted to document several record-setting missionary statistics in the database—such as the oldest missionary to serve (Christopher Merkley at age 82 in Canada in 1891), the youngest missionary to serve (Don Carlos Smith, who at age 14 accompanied his father, Joseph Smith Sr., to New York and Canada in 1830), and the missionary who served the most missions (Orson Pratt Sr., who served 25 missions)—among other interesting facts at the end of another blog article, “The History of Missionary Work and the Early Mormon Missionaries Database.” As more missionaries are added to the database and we discover more records, these statistics will be updated as needed.

3. What is a mission manuscript history?

In 1909, assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson began documenting the history of the Danish Mission (along with the Scandinavian Mission, from which the Danish Mission was created). He later attempted to document other missions as well. He and the staff of the Historian’s Office would comb through journals, newspapers, and other documents looking for a mention of a mission or missionary. Whenever they found one, they would file them in chronological order.

Together, these collected pieces became the manuscript history for each mission. Some, like the British Mission, are enormous, and others, like the Middle States Mission (which existed for only about a year), are short. Prepared with the hope that historians would someday use them to write out mission histories for publication, the only one ever converted into published form was the History of the Scandinavian Mission, by Andrew Jenson.

The easiest way to find a mission’s manuscript history is to search the Church History Catalog for the name of a mission and include the phrase “mission manuscript history.” They are always cataloged with the local record call number (the “LR” for the mission) followed by a “2.” For example, the Eastern States Mission’s call number is LR 2475, and its manuscript history is LR 2475 2. Keep in mind that the names of missions have changed throughout history. Usually, the name of the manuscript history represents the most recent name change; in our Eastern States example, the name is New York New York South Mission.

Andrew Jenson’s calling card. In his role as assistant Church historian, Jenson traveled throughout the missions of the Church, gathering documents and taking extensive notes. MS 13077

4. How can I locate old missionary companions or the missionaries who taught me the gospel?

At the Church History Library, we receive many requests for help finding missionary acquaintances. While we are unable to provide contact information for living persons, there are a wide variety of sources available that may be helpful in your search:

FamilySearch can sometimes be used to find living people. Follow these steps:

  1. Using an internet search, find a deceased ancestor of the person you are looking for.
  2. Find the deceased ancestor in FamilySearch, and then look at the list of people who have posted photos or other documents on the ancestor’s page.
  3. Reach out to those people for information.

For example, if you wanted to find a former missionary companion named Thomas Johnson, first try to find him mentioned in an obituary of his parent, grandparent, or other close relative, since obituaries often list the names of the deceased’s family. To do this, search the internet for “Thomas Johnson obituary” or “Tom Johnson obituary.” In the case of someone with a very common name (which happens frequently, as in this case), add other information. For instance, if you know Tom Johnson grew up in Sandy, Utah, you could add “Sandy, Utah” or “Sandy, UT” to the search. You could also include “LDS” or “Mormon” in the search, since obituaries of Latter-day Saints frequently mention their Church membership.

Thus, putting all these search terms together, the search engine will look for the obituary of a Latter-day Saint with the last name of Johnson who is said to be “survived by” a son, grandson, or brother named Tom. Obituaries will also often include maiden and married names, which is helpful if you are looking for a sister missionary who got married after you lost contact.

Once you find a possible match, you can look up the deceased person in FamilySearch using information from the obituary. Check the FamilySearch record for any contributed photos or documents; if there are any, look for “Contributed By” in the details field of the photograph or document, where there will be an email address or other means to contact whoever added it to FamilySearch. When you reach out to the contributor, explain that you are looking for a Tom Johnson who served a mission with you and that you think he might be related to the deceased person. Do they know of a relative named Tom? If so, could they put you in touch?

Brief missionary reunion notices are published in the Deseret News newspaper as a public service in conjunction with general conference each April and October. This website lists upcoming reunions.

This site attempts to index mission websites. At the time of writing this post, the site advertised that it may shut down.

BYU alumni at Leadership Week PH 726

Alumni Associations

Another place to look is the alumni association(s) at a college or university where your missionary may have attended. Keep in mind that most, if not all, alumni associations require an account to view alumni lists.

5. When did the policy change regarding . . . ?

We receive many questions about when missionary policies change, such as the required age for missionary service, the length of missionary service, and so forth. For instance, in the 1940s, missionary farewells were no longer allowed to be held on Sundays, since they often became more like a party, which was deemed inappropriate for the Sabbath. We have been able to document many such changes in the Time Line of the Missions and Missionaries Research Guide.

Missionary farewell program for Wayne Johnson, MS 24515

Top image: Elder missionaries teaching investigators in Saipan