Missions and MissionariesHistoric Details

Historic Details

Missions and Missionaries Research Guide

Some knowledge of the history of missionary service in the Church can be extremely helpful when researching missions and missionaries. For example, the age at which missionaries are called to serve has varied over time. In the 19th century, there were no age guidelines for missionary service. Typically, married men were called, and the calls were often extended directly from the pulpit during Church meetings. In the mid-20th century, Church leadership began to define an age limit for full-time missionary service; subsequently, fewer married men were called to full-time missions. Some individuals also served settlement, educational, genealogical, and medical missions instead of—or in addition to—a mission focused solely on proselyting.

Of course, exceptions exist. Don Carlos Smith, brother to the Prophet Joseph, was the youngest missionary in the history of the Church, being called at the age of 14 to serve with his father, Joseph Smith Sr.

The length of a full-time mission has varied over time as well. For example, while many people are familiar with the 18-month or 2-year assignments served by full-time missionaries today, missions in the past could be relatively short, as with Samuel Smith’s first mission in 1830, which lasted only a few weeks. They could also be very long; Wilford Jenkins Cole and Ellen Elizabeth Chase Cole served for over a decade in Hawaii, while Samuel Otis Bennion and Charlotte Ella Towler Bennion served for almost 30 years overseeing the Central States Mission.

A series of policy changes like these can be found in the “Time Line” section of this guide.

Two significant changes in naming conventions are important to note when researching missions and missionaries. Following discussions of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, many mission names were changed in mid-1970. The changes were implemented to “provide more uniform names which will more adequately designate the areas involved and to have a better procedure for using names which include compass designations or similar words.” For example, the Andes Mission was renamed the Peru-Ecuador Mission.1

In 1974, Church leadership again chose to rename missions to “make them more easily identifiable with the area they serve.” The change differed from the 1970 rename by adding to the mission name the city where the mission was headquartered. For example, the Ireland Mission was renamed the Ireland Belfast Mission.2

Sources:

1. “Stake, Mission Name Changes,” Church News, June 20, 1970, 3.

2. “Names Changed,” Church News, July 6, 1974, 5.