The History of Missionary Work and the Early Mormon Missionaries Database

Ryan Combs, Church History Specialist
28 June 2018

The history of missionary work in the Church is as old as the Church itself. In this post, Ryan Combs describes this rich history and the Early Mormon Missionaries database, which gathers valuable missionary information.

Missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always held paramount importance, and its roots go back to the beginning of the Church in 1830. Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel holds the distinction of being the first missionary called in this dispensation. Samuel was among the six original members when the Church was organized on April 6, 1830. He was ordained an elder on June 9 and began his mission to some nearby towns in New York on June 30.

From that time to today, hundreds of thousands of faithful Saints have received calls, put worldly labors on hold or set aside well-deserved retirement, served faithfully, and built the kingdom of God throughout the world. Latter-day Saints today hold a debt to these missionaries. To honor early missionaries and their many sacrifices, the Church History Library, in a joint effort with the Missionary Department, is proud to offer the Early Mormon Missionaries database.

The Early Mormon Missionaries database has an individual page for every missionary whose service began at least 80 years prior to the current year. Currently, this includes the years 1830 to 1937. Every June—during graduation season, when many future missionaries are planning their own service—we’ll release the next batch to coincide with the anniversary of Samuel Smith’s first mission. To protect privacy, only missionaries with verifiable death dates will be included.

To search the database, simply go to history.lds.org/missionary and search for a name. Another finding option is to log in to your FamilySearch account at familysearch.org/missionary, and FamilySearch will use your tree to connect you to relatives in the database. One search tip is to consider the size of the data (about 40,000 names) and use simplified versions of names (because information in the sources can be limited, the database often contains only middle initials instead of full middle names and occasionally misspells uncommon names).

Joseph F. Smith and party at British Mission home, 1906.

The primary source for these missionary names is a collection of ledgers called the Mission Registry, recently digitized and available online. It documents missionaries who came to Salt Lake City to be set apart, starting in 1860. If a missionary served before that or didn’t travel through Salt Lake City, we might be missing his or her information. If you are aware of a missing missionary or other incorrect information, please let us know and provide any evidence you might have. You can make these suggestions by clicking the Submit Additional Information button on the Early Mormon Missionaries site.

Acceptance letter written on May 22, 1896, by Matthias F. Cowley.

We are constantly editing the database and adding information as we conduct research and receive submissions from the public. The additional features we add include journals, letters of acceptance, mentions in mission histories or periodicals, photographs, and more. We’ve recently begun adding links to mission companions that might lead to a journal mentioning your ancestor.

Northern States lady missionaries, 1910; Southern States missionaries, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, 1894.

Among the missionaries featured in the Early Mormon Missionaries database, you may find one of your ancestors or a missionary who taught the gospel to your ancestor. Through the stories of these missionaries, you can gain an appreciation for their work, their lives, and their love for the scattered parts of the world where they were sent to proclaim the good news of Christ’s victory over death and the Restoration of His true Church.

Missionary facts (1830–1937):