PROVO — Since the late 1800s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Department and other organizations like the Daughters of Utah Pioneers have been collecting lists and lists of pioneer names.
For the past 20 years research teams have been working to bring those several lists together. With modern technology and online databases, they can now link those source names to Church History Department collections including diaries, journals, newspapers and more.
In a joint effort between the LDS Church History Library and FamilySearch, individuals can now discover and explore more of their pioneer heritage on the newly redesigned Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel website that also includes information about previously unknown pioneers.
In addition to discovering pioneer ancestors, new features enable people to read their ancestors’ personal journals, see available photos and learn key details about major events in their ancestors’ lives. People can even follow with an online GPS the various places their ancestors stopped and what their pace may have been over the trails.
“This is an ongoing work,” said Keith Erekson, Church History Library director. “We know there were about 70,000 pioneers. We now have 57,000 named and identified. There are 13,000 more we are looking for.”
Since the site was first launched, an influx of pioneer documentation has allowed historians to reconcile and expand their understanding of the trek west. The site now includes information on those 57,000 individuals and on 370 pioneer companies, with thousands of original trail excerpts that are authoritatively documented.
“This is an extremely significant database,” Erekson said. “It reveals so much about individual pioneers and their experiences, but it also offers fresh new insights about their collective experience.”
Site updates include the ability to submit family photographs of pioneers and to link to digital copies of sources on the Internet. There are also new articles of interest, including humorous stories from the trail.
“Bringing this all together is a great benefit,” Erekson said. “You may find someone who just walked across the plains, but they may talk in their journals about other family they traveled with.”
Such life stories and pieces of information are like putting together a big puzzle. People are encouraged to play in the database, get to know their ancestors and their stories as well as submit names, sources and information on people who may still be missing.
Individuals have two options for accessing the site. Through FamilySearch.org/pioneers, a personal FamilySearch family tree will be polled for matches in the updated pioneer database.
Through history.lds.org/overlandtravels, visitors can explore known pioneers and companies, and lots of other interesting facts and documentation about the early period of Mormon and Western history.
Those without Utah pioneer ancestry may be interested in reading stories of pioneers by visiting the Church History Department’s website, history.lds.org/section/pioneers.
Erekson encourages individuals and families to submit family stories, photos, journals and more to the Church History Library to be added to the ever-growing database.
He also invites anyone who would like to volunteer service at the library to visit the LDS Church website at www.lds.org.