About the Missionary Data in the Biographical Database
Revelations to Joseph Smith echoed Jesus’s call to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature” (Mark 16:15; Doctrine and Covenants 112:28). Accordingly, during the century that followed the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, almost 40,000 men and women served proselytizing missions. They taught in 36 countries and spoke to millions of people. The missionary data contained in the Biographical Database is a record of their service.
This data primarily comes from two key sources. The first is a set of large ledgers—called the “missionary registers”—housed in the Church History Library. These ledgers had their start in 1860 when a clerk began recording information about Latter-day Saints set apart in Salt Lake City to serve full-time missions. (They were not necessarily from Salt Lake City—they were set apart there.) The ledgers were well-maintained, resulting in data being continually added to them until 1959. They contain each missionary’s birth date, birthplace, parents’ names, baptism dates (along with the name of the man who baptized them), residence at the time of their call, mission assignment, the date they were set apart, and their priesthood office (when applicable). In many cases, the registers also contain the date a missionary returned from their mission.
The data from these registers was captured with help from the Family History Department using the same indexing system used to capture data from other genealogical records.
The second main source used in this database is a roster of missionaries compiled under the direction of assistant Church historian Andrew Jenson in 1925. This roster was, in part, an attempt to reconstruct a list of the missions served prior to 1860.
Jenson and his assistants did the best they could with the time and materials they had, but information about missionaries in the early decades of the Church is scattered among many sources. To further verify the information in Jenson’s roster, a team of Church History Library missionaries recorded Jenson’s work in a database and checked it against other readily available sources. The result, finished in 2015, was an improvement on the original roster. The missionaries also added new individuals to the database and corrected many biographical details.
In addition to these two primary sources, the biographical database also links to digitized documents made available by the Church History Library, the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, and other online digital repositories. These links will give family and Church history researchers access to rich sources—journals, letters, and more—detailing the experiences of the missionaries in the database. Currently, our missionary data contains over 10,000 such links, and more are slated to be added.
With your help, the missionary data in the Biographical Database can continue to improve. The Church History Department encourages submissions that correct and expand the data gathered to this point. Within the database, there is a link to submit information on every missionary’s page as well as on the search results page. We are especially interested in acquiring original or digital copies of primary sources relating to your ancestors’ missions, such as journals, letters, or photographs.
We hope that the biographical database will not only fuel future scholarship on Latter-day Saint missionary work but that it will connect descendants to their missionary ancestors, helping them appreciate the sacrifices early missionaries made for the gospel.