Finding My Family in Church History—Susanna Dutson Burrup, Records for Early European Converts

Jay G. Burrup, Church history consultant
21 April 2020

In this new post in our series on finding your family in the Church History Library, learn how Jay Burrup discovered records about his ancestors who were early converts to the Church in England.

Tracing the history of early Latter-day Saint converts from Europe can be very challenging. Sometimes related records can be located, but sometimes records were not kept, have been lost or destroyed over time, or might still be held privately, thus making them unavailable for research. Fortunately, many relevant records for enthusiastic family and local historians are housed and available for research at the Church History Library.

Over past decades, I have tried to reconstruct my family’s history, because no one in the early generations kept diaries or recorded autobiographical memories. Wilford Woodruff introduced the gospel to my fourth great-grandmother, Susanna Dutson Burrup, a widowed shopkeeper in rural Worcestershire, England, 180 years ago. She belonged to a Primitive Methodist break-off sect whose members identified themselves as the “United Brethren.” There were an estimated 400 members of the group who lived in rural villages of the bordering counties of Hereford, Worcester, and Gloucester. According to tradition, all but one of the United Brethren converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a relatively short period.

Susanna was nearly 60 years old when she was baptized by Elder Woodruff. Her son and daughter-in-law, John and Martha Grice Burrup, joined the Church around the same time. Verification of their baptisms has yet to be discovered; however, I was fortunate to find an entry in Elder Woodruff’s baptismal journal that states he baptized and confirmed Susanna “Barrup” on May 6, 1840, at Nightengale’s Bower near Birchwood, Worcestershire.

Despite her relatively advanced age, Susanna acted on her internal fire of enthusiasm to “gather to Zion,” which meant emigrating to Nauvoo, Illinois. Gathering her courage and belongings and shepherding her 10-year-old grandson, James Burrup, she joined fellow converts and James’s elderly maternal grandmother, Mary Presdee Phillips (aged 66), and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The group boarded the ship Caroline in the fall of 1841, which docked at Quebec, Canada. Unfortunately, no roster of passengers seems to exist either in Canadian government archives or the Church History Library. James’s uncle, Edward Phillips, a passenger on the ship, recorded a very brief description of the voyage; a copy of that account is housed in the Church History Library. From Quebec, the group of around 100 converts, with Thomas Richardson as supervisor, journeyed by boats and wagons to reach Nauvoo.

Susanna and James, along with other related families, settled on farmland at Camp Creek, about 15 miles east of Nauvoo. A Camp Creek Branch minute book and list of members has survived and is available for research at the Library. Susanna is listed as a member, but James is not. He was baptized later in May or June 1844 by Branch President Libbeus T. Coon.

Tracing Susanna’s life story after she settled at Camp Creek becomes very difficult. The last mention I have found of her existence is her entry in records of Nauvoo Temple proxy baptisms for the dead. On August 10, 1844, she arrived at the then-unfinished Nauvoo Temple and performed proxy baptisms for her parents, Daniel and Ann Dutson; her husband, Edward Burrup, a freight hauler who died in 1838; her son Thomas; and her daughter Charlotte.

A little over a year later, mob action erupted in scattered settlements outside Nauvoo. The Saints at Camp Creek were among the first to be terrorized by destruction of their homes and crops. The suffering Church members were quickly gathered and transported to the safer confines of Nauvoo.

What became of Susanna, who would have been about 65 years old at the time? Lamentably, my family doesn’t know. Nauvoo burial records housed in the library don’t include an entry for her. Did she die of exposure to the elements at Camp Creek? Did she die leaving Nauvoo or while living in the temporary Latter-day Saint settlements in Nebraska and Iowa? Or did she die crossing the plains to Utah? Despite intensive research in Latter-day Saint related records, no notices of her death and burial have yet been discovered.

James Burrup (1831–1888), Susanna’s grandson who accompanied her to Nauvoo when she was 60 years old and he was 10 years old. Photo from the author’s personal collection.

Susanna’s teenaged grandson, James, would have remembered details of her passing, but he left behind no written family records. After Susanna’s death, he was reared by his Grandmother Phillips and an uncle and aunt, John Hyrum and Susanna Phillips Green. He was living with them in Lake Branch, Iowa, in the late 1840s. According to a membership record book in the Church History Library, this is the earliest Church record thus found to document James’s existence.

I wish more records were available to provide details regarding the history of my early British convert family, but I am grateful for the few records that have survived and are safely stored and open to research at the Church History Library. You too may be fortunate enough to find records of your family here at the library. Search the Church History Catalog or come into the library today!

Top image: Camp Creek Branch records