Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Records of Early LDS Church Membership

When I started to write this post, I had been sitting for a while trying to figure out a reason why I would need to look up early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who joined the Church beginning in 1830. All of my own ancestors are reasonably well documented at least back to the first ones to join the Church. But I also know that my own research is an anomaly since there are a significant number of people whose families joined the Church recently, and who are surprised to find out that they have ancestors who were members of the Church many years ago. I kept thinking about this issue as I went to the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library and spent some time looking at the specific resources the Library had on early Church membership. I also visited the Research Wiki and found links to significant record sources for early members. Then, I even asked my wife and some of the other missionaries on duty, why they would want to look at early Church records. A little later, one of the other missionaries came and told me a patron needed help and guess what? She had questions about early Church membership records, including the Temple Index Bureau records, much of which I had just been reviewing. It is always interesting to me how family history works.

One reason for understanding and using early Church records is that they can give additional information missing from current records. I am sure that there are also many other reasons I have not thought about. In any event, since I am serving here in the Brigham Young University Family History Library and had a little bit of time to look around at the book collections, I went ahead and wrote this post.

My initial interest in this topic came about when I found a reference to Susan Easton Black's 50 volume set of books on the early Church members. This is the citation for the set:

Black, Susan Easton. Membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1848. Provo, Utah: Religious Study Center, Dept. of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1989.

Susan Easton Black and associates researched LDS historical resources and compiled a 50-volume set of information on early members of the church. It is a good beginning point to identify available information and sources for an early LDS ancestor. It is available in hard copy in the Family History Library and Brigham Young University collections and available on microfiche - FHL US/CAN Fiche 6031596. The publication is also available at World Vital Records, a subscription-based website. To access the online format:
I found the set of books on the shelf and took a photo.

I also came to the realization that the World Vital Records copies of these records were being searched by for those who have entered a family tree in that program. The Record Match and Record Detective programs from have been automatically searching the Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830 - 1848 and I guess that I did not realize that this was the set of books authored by Susan Easton Black. These books are extensively sourced. But you need to look at the individual entries in the book to see all the original sources. I also realized that I had copied entries for various of my ancestors from these books when I went to the Land and Records Office at Nauvoo, Illinois. Here are some screenshots of some of the records I got from the Land and Records Office as an example of what is in the books:

Here are the links to pages I found useful in the Research Wiki:
That is enough of a sample. You can find out a lot from the resources linked in the Research Wiki. You can also find out a lot by poking around in the BYU Library. You can find out even more by helping patrons at the Library. 


  1. I know you must have a lot to comment on about Rootstech, but as I have been reading your posts about sources and working through Family Tree to add sources and clean up other people’s sources, I have been getting bothered by a phenomena I can only think of calling “circular sources” and was wondering what you would make of these.

    To explain what I mean, here is an example. I found a source on one ancestor titled “LDS Membership Record.” It turned out to be a link to Susan Easton Black’s work Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1848 which you write about here. The link in the source went to Ancestry’s database version of it which does not include any of the sources for the complied information.

    Now this compilation is a wonderful resource, but I see two problems here. First that whoever attached this source apparently thinks that it represents a real membership record kept by the Church. It is not but is rather information compiled from many sources.

    But my biggest concern is that so much of the information, as can be seen on the pages you display here, comes from Family Groups Sheets and the IGI, along with the IGI’s predecessor the TIB.

    Here is the circle that I am wondering about:

    1) Someone long ago complied a Family Group Sheet and did not include sources so there is no way to know if the information accurate.

    2) The Family Group Sheet was used to generate an entry in the IGI.

    3) Later, the Family Group Sheet was extracted and added to the Ancestral File.

    4) The IGI and the Ancestral File were used to create New Family Search which was then transformed into Family Tree.

    5) Someone now attaches a reference to Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1848 to show that the information in Family Tree is correct.

    6) Checking in that work shows that the source of the information in the reference is the original unsourced Family Group Sheet.

    Cutting out the middle men, it appears that one is stating that the information on a Family Group Sheet, now residing in Family Tree, is correct because the Family Group Sheet contains the information. What is your opinion of this?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. PS: Do you know of any digital copy of these volumes? As stated above, the Ancestry index does not include any source information. The World Vital Records version of its information appears to be a more complete transcription and does include sources, but the formatting is a mess on the screen and worse when copied out. It would be nice to be able to attach an actual copy of the page as the source in Family Tree as that would show the original formatting and the sources used.

    3. Concerning your comments: Attaching a source does not say anything about the accuracy of the source or any of the information derived from the source. In fact, you can attach a source with which you disagree. If the person attaching the source decides that the information is accurate and correct, that is an opinion nothing more nothing less.

      As far as your analysis goes, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) was not derived from family group records. See
      In addition, was not transformed into FamilySearch Family Tree. The data from NFS was transferred to Family Tree but they are separate programs.

      You are correct that the Ancestral File was compiled from user submitted family group records. But again, adding a source says nothing about the correctness of the conclusion. What attaching a source does do is allow subsequent viewers of the record to independently evaluate the source. The real question is whether or not the original family group record had source citations.

    4. With regard to digital copies of the Records of Early LDS Church Members, there is the following
      Early Church Information File, 1830-1900 -

    5. I guess in my attempt at brevity, I wasn't completely clear.

      Re: the IGI, the source you linked to states: "2. Some of the information in the IGI was contributed by members of the Church about their ancestors (approx. 430 million names). The quality of this information varies. Duplicate entries and inconsistent information are common. Always verify contributed entries against sources of primary information." How were the majority of these names contributed? By way of Family Group sheets sent in for temple work. That is how they ended up in the IGI.

      As far as the source of the data for Family Tree, transferred from NFS is a better word.

      I guess to restate my concern, I wonder if people, when they attach a source such as the LDS information discussed here are really understanding what they are attaching, particularly since the version does not have any sources. It just has "Birth Date: DD-MM-YY" whereas the World Vital Records version does at least have "Birth Date: DD-MM-YY (Source: Family Group Sheet)."

      The one example that got me wondering enough to write was the one for which the person who attached the record gave it the title, "LDS Membership Record."

      The other part of my question, regarding which I must apologize for again not being clear, can be restated as: what do you teach people about what to do when Source A gives its source as Source B and you check Source B and Source B quotes Source C and when you check Source C, it gives as its reference as Source A?

    6. OK, those are slightly different questions. First of all Family Group Records are not sources, as such. They are derivative, user generated records and are inherently unreliable. I no longer list Family Group Records as sources at all, even though I did so in the past. I am deleting all my references to Family Group Records as I find them in my tree.

      However, an LDS Membership Record is a source and is like any other Church Record. It might be correct and it might not. My parent's marriage date was incorrectly recorded in the membership records. In you last example of the circular citation, it is only as good as the original or first record. The subsequent records are not original sources but are also derivative records and not worth a lot unless they are the only record available.

  2. “Membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1848” and its companion set, “Early Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” are a valuable collection, mostly because all those names are there in one place.

    However, as Gordon notes, the compilation is derivative and does not stand on its own as a reliable source, so every single fact listed in any of the volumes should be checked in primary sources, and we’re getting to the point that this is easier and easier to do as more records, including the collections of the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, are being digitized.

    There’s a similar source in Mormon studies, the History of the Church (HC). It used to be quoted regularly, including in the introductions to the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, but has been found to be unreliable enough, and so many primary sources are now available including through the Joseph Smith Papers Project, that those references were removed in the 2013 edition of the scriptures. Now, if a reference to History of the Church appears in any sort of writing with any pretensions to historical accuracy, that’s a red flag that the writer isn’t familiar with the source material or field of Mormon studies.