Missionaries for the Dead: The Story of the Genealogical Missionaries of the Nineteenth Century

The Latter-day Saints’ enthusiasm for the restoration of the gospel led to many interesting types of missions in the nineteenth century. Members were “called” not only to preach the gospel, but also to go to the gold mines in the 1850s, to gather rags for making paper during the economic crisis of the 1860s, to serve as M.I.A. and Sunday School missionaries, to go to Europe to study art, and to go East for higher education and medical training. Because they believed in salvation for the dead, genealogical work also became an important part of their missionary activities.

But doing genealogical research then was more difficult than it is now. As the records were not available in Utah, the immigrating Saints were encouraged to bring with them genealogical information. Those who were already in Utah and had not brought their records with them tried to get the necessary information by writing letters or visiting their relatives. Correspondence was not always successful, because relatives who had opposed the Church frequently would not answer the letters. Others did not have the necessary dates, and their ministers were not always willing to check through church records. Consequently, many members of the Church decided to search the records themselves, which often meant returning to their homelands, many as genealogical missionaries.

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