Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources

A Guide to Mormon Family History SourcesThis is one in a series of reviews. Important legal notices regarding reviews can be found at ancestryinsider.blogspot.com .

A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources, is written by the incomparable Kip Sperry. (See “Kip Sperry,” my recent article about the author.) This book covers many original records of genealogical value created about Mormons, or as they are more formally known, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I’m not keeping up with the commitments I’ve made to publishers for reviews. (Sorry!) I accepted this book over a year ago and still haven’t reviewed it. So while preparing the article, “Jay Burrup: the Church History Library,” I thought it would be a good test of Sperry’s Guide to see if he covered all the sources at the Church History Library covered by Burrup.

But before I tell you how well Guide did, let me tell you a little about the book. Book pages, at 8.5 x 10.9 inches, are nearly the size of a regular sheet of paper. Unfortunately, this means that if you buy cheap book cases like I do, only the bottom shelf, and sometimes the next one up, is tall enough to stow this book on. But the 231 pages and paperback covers amount to just 0.6 inches of thickness, so it doesn’t take up too much space.

This book covers many original records created about Mormons by the Church and by others. The majority of these are held by three repositories: the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, the Church History Library and Church Archives, and the Family History Library. But Guide goes beyond these basic three, particularly for sources available on the Internet.

Chapter 1 summarizes Church historical events from 1800 to 2006. It includes about 12 pages of very helpful chronology. Wondering what probable dates to check for the immigration of your pioneer ancestor from Germany? Wondering if your 1866 convert travelled by steamship? By handcart? By train? Did your ancestor come during the years of the Perpetual Emigration Fund? Did your great-grandparents live during a Church Census? Did they live long enough to participate in the three- or four-generation submission program?

Chapter 2 is a 6 page introduction to family history research. A printed list of websites in the chapter exposes the rapidly changing landscape of the Internet. Ancestry.com has dropped Ancestry World Tree from new search results, but Sperry lists an address for the database (www.ancestry.com/trees/awt) that still works. Interestingly, he excludes the address where this database can be searched for free, RootsWeb’s World Connect. Probably aware of coming changes to FamilySearch.org, Sperry doesn’t give specific addresses for its International Genealogical Index or Pedigree Resource File (PRF). As an alternative address for the PRF, Sperry gives www.findyourfamilytree.com, an address of the private partner that produces PRF, Progeny Genealogy. (See “Pedigree Resource File Q and A.”) Elsewhere Sperry suggests using Google to locate pages that have moved since the book went to press.

I found Chapter 2’s “Preliminary Survey” to be very helpful. It is a list of basic sources to consult when beginning the research for each Mormon ancestor.

I have misgivings about chapter 2 targeting new genealogists. I believe the book will appeal mostly to intermediate and advanced genealogists, making chapter 2 of limited value. It would have been more valuable to explain how to use these sources, understand and classify the information therein, weigh evidence therefrom, and from thence make reliable conclusions. But this is a minor point, and some of this information is included elsewhere, such as the beginning of chapter 5.

Subsequent chapters are

  • 3 – Indexes, Finding Aids, and Guides (14 pp.)
  • 4 – Compiled and Printed Records (12 pp.)
  • 5 – Original Records (14 pp.)
  • 6 – Migration, Emigration, and Immigration Records (8 pp.)
  • 7 – Computer Resources and Databases (24 pp.)
  • 8 – Internet Sites (20 pp.)
  • 9 – Periodicals, Newsletters, and Newspapers (12 pp.)
  • Appendix A: Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Terms (12 pp.)
  • Appendix B: Addresses (14 pp.)
  • End notes (14 pp.)
  • Bibliography (52 pp.)
  • Index (8 pp.)

I was hoping for more information about 19th century polygamy. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy until 1890, but no longer tolerates the practice. See “FamilySearch Not Affiliated With Texas Polygamists.”) Chapter 1 lacked all the anti-polygamy legislation dates and the periods of active Federal prosecution that are necessary to interpret some anomalies in Federal census records. I could find nothing in the contents or index for information about the Federal court records of the prosecution of polygamists that might contain genealogical information. What records exist? What Federal repositories hold the records? What are the record titles? Are there indexes?

I was disappointed that Guide did not include call numbers and film numbers, but I understand that like web addresses these too change. There’s no doubt A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources is valuable enough to outlast the numbering systems for many of the sources therein.

So how did Guide do against Burrup’s lecture? Exceptional. Sperry covered every single collection of genealogical value from Burrup’s lecture. The information was exceptional, often calling to mind details mentioned by Burrup, but not present in the class handout. And Guide usually went into greater detail. Using these sources as a statistical sample, I think it safe to assume that A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources is an amazingly complete catalog of Mormon family history sources.

Highly recommended for serious, active researchers of Mormon family history.

A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources
8.5" x 10.9", 231 pp., paperback. 2009.
ISBN 978-1-59331-301-2
Ancestry Publishing
1-800-262-3787, www.theancestrystore.com
$16.95 (list)

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