Nauvoo & Hancock County, Illinois: A Guide to Family History and Historical Sources

For over a century, the LDS and RLDS (now Community of Christ) churches have had an interest in Nauvoo and Hancock County. Among Latter-day Saints, the Nauvoo period is seen as a kind of religious renaissance. It was there that Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society, clarified the nature of the temple and vicarious work for the dead, and forever altered the cosmological view of the Saints through sermons like the King Follett discourse. With so much interest today in what happened 170 years ago on the banks of the Mississippi, Kip Sperry’s A Guide to Family History and Historical Sources in Nauvoo will surely be of great value to family historians and scholars for years to come. Sperry is a well-known family historian who has published and presented on numerous family history topics. He is currently Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, where he specializes in family history. Sperry has collected all the disparate resources on Nauvoo into one place, creating a gargantuan volume that sets out to be “a guide to many articles and books that have been published describing various aspects of family history and historical research” related to Nauvoo and western Illinois (viii).

The book is divided into five chapters. The first is a nice historical overview of the significance of Nauvoo to the Restoration traditions. The second chapter then provides an eighty-six-page chronology on the history of Nauvoo, beginning with the inclusion of Illinois in the Northwest Territory in 1787 and continuing to the present day; here there is particular emphasis on the growth of the LDS Church and also on the growth of the Community of Christ. Family historians will enjoy chapter 3, because it contains almost 170 pages of research strategies for finding information related to Nauvoo ancestors. This chapter is the meat of the book, with over fifty sections devoted to particular resources and resource types, from diaries and gazetteers to patriarchal blessings and tax records. Each of these sections then reviews the resource type and where those resources can be found in various libraries and repositories. Church historians will be delighted by chapter 4, which has a 140-page bibliography of sources related to Nauvoo and Church history. They will also be delighted by chapter 5 and the appendices, which contain over 200 pages of information on historical repositories, maps, and even a short entry on the Icarian movement (a group of French utopians who settled in Hancock County after the Latter-day Saints went west). Readers less familiar with post–Mormon Period Nauvoo will enjoy learning about other immigrant groups who settled in Hancock County and about major events in the development of the Community of Christ and Emma Hale Smith Bidamon’s involvement.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 54:1
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