I Hope They Call Me On A Mission…
by James W. Petty, A.G., C.G.R.S., BS (Genealogy)

William Henry Wright hurried up Guildford Street and past New John Street, to Geach Lane. It was raining here in Birmingham, England, and he needed to get to the Latter-day Saints Meeting place on Hunter’s Villa near Farm Street. Today was Sunday, December 24th, 1882; the day before Christmas. He was supposed to speak to the Saints about the Gospel, and what Christmas meant to him.

William was the presiding Elder in the Birmingham District, and had returned to the City after visiting the various congregations in his area. He had been called to serve a mission last Spring; to return to his boyhood home in Birmingham, England, where he could share the Gospel with his countrymen, as well as with family and friends from his past.

This was his first Christmas in England away from his dear Emma. He could imagine her gathering their children and grandchildren together to celebrate the holiday at the family home in Ogden, Utah. Six children were still at home, with his three eldest children married and having homes and families of their own. His son, Angus, was minding the store (Wright and Sons), a thriving mercantile business that William had built up over the past twenty years since his arrival in Utah. Son, Parley, worked with the firm as well. The younger children, Charles, Joseph, William, and Frank were at home with their mother. Little Emma Florence, his youngest at age six, was the darling of his brood, and being apart from her this Christmas was especially difficult.

William turned west on Guthrie Court, and as he passed St. George’s Church, he thought back to Emma again; but now his thoughts were of his youth when they first met, not far from this place almost forty years ago. He’d been working as an apprentice silversmith, in the shop of his step-father, William Cam. William H. had joined the Mormon Church in 1844 at the age of 17, and a young woman named Emma Taylor had joined a year later. They met at the Latter-day Saint Meeting place on Bishopsgate Street in the center of Birmingham City. Eighteen months later they were married there by the Elders. They began their family in 1847, and started plans to move to America where they could join with other Saints and give their children a home in Zion. William and Emma finally left Birmingham in 1855, and crossed the ocean to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had a job lined up as a Master Silversmith and jeweler. Four years later he’d saved enough money to move his family west to Utah, where the LDS Church under the leadership of Brigham Young had settled.

Walking down Farm Street, William still felt amazed to be back in England. He had arrived last October, 1882, and had been able to locate a few of his surviving siblings and in-laws. About half of his family had moved to America, although only he and Joseph had joined the Church. Samuel was in Connecticut, and Julia was in Milwaukee. He had been able to see them during his trip across America on the way to the mission field. Upon arriving in England, he tracked down his brother, Edward, and sister, Ellen, and had spent many wonderful days with them and their families. He finally found his sister, Catherine, and met her husband, William Eustace. But sister, Jane, had not been found. Edward hadn’t seen her in years, and Ellen hadn’t had any recent communication.

He came to Villa Street and turned onto Hunter’s Villa, and entered the meeting house. There was a Aslim attendance because of the rain. William spoke about his feelings on Christmas, away from his home and family. As he turned his words to the restoration of the Gospel, he felt a power come over him, that he later described Aas though the Lord bestowed a portion of the Holy Spirit upon him. After talks by several of the Brethren, he closed the services with prayer. During the meeting a woman and her daughter had entered at the back, asking for AMr. Wright. When shown William, she burst out crying. He stated in his journal that A It was my Sister, Jane. I approached her and took her by the hand, and called her by name, and we kissed aplenty. Her daughter then asked, AThis is my Uncle? And they also kissed. It had been almost thirty years since he had seen his sister. She said, AI wouldn=t have known you if I hadn=t been shown. It was a joyful occasion. AI went back to the Meeting and spoke again, and then we went to her other daughter=s home and spent a wonderful evening. (Mission journal of William Henry Wright pg. 68, 1882-1883, Birmingham, England.)

William H. Wright served a happy and successful mission to his homeland in England, before returning to Ogden, Utah in April, 1884.

I have often shared these stories, and others, from the journal of my great-great- grandfather William Henry Wright with my family. His testimony, found in his own words, and through his personal experiences, have been a source of strength and inspiration to me, both as a genealogist, as well as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His journals and letters, and other mission records provided names and dates of relatives and friends that he met during his journeys, that we continue to use today in preparing names for temple work.

Many LDS families can trace their genealogy back to an honored grandparent who served a mission. By seeking out the records of these ancestors in their mission fields, members of the Church can strengthen their own testimonies, and discover new sources for genealogy research and temple work.

Records of ancestors, and the service they provided to the Church can be found in many places. Journals and letters may have been handed down from parents to children as family treasures. There may also be other artifacts from their missions that were brought home, such as a book of scriptures, or photographs that have been stored, and are brought out at reunions and special occasions.

Where do we look for such records? The Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Church Historical Library and Archives have extensive collections of records that can tell you about your ancestors and their missions and experiences.

The missionary program of the Church during the early days was under the direction of the Seventies. Consequently, one of the first sources to check are the Seventies Quorum Records of the Church. These priesthood records are accounted for in a microfilm inventory of LDS Church Ward, Stake, and Mission Historical Files, available at the Family History Library and local Stake Branch Libraries. Records of the early Seventies Quorums #1-90, are also available on microfilm. I found that William Henry Wright was ordained a Seventy in the 64th Quorum of Seventy, at Richmond, Utah on Jan. 31, 1862.

Records were kept of missionaries as they were called and sent into the mission field. William Henry Wright was called on two missions. His first mission was to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning Oct. 9, 1869. A newspaper article, published years later, noted that his wife, Emma Ahad sole care of the family, and many were the privations experienced in protecting her charge. Indians were plentiful, and the crops were scanty because they were destroyed, or partly so, by the grasshoppers. The article neglected to mention one other small privation. Seven months after her husband left on his mission, Emma blessed him with the birth of a son William Clarence. Twelve years later, William H. Wright was called and set apart for his second mission, to the U.S. and England, on April 10th, 1882. The information about his missions were found in the Church Missionary Index, 1830 to 1970, which is available on microfilm at the Family History Library and branches. Missionary records prior to 1860, were compiled by the Church Historians Office at that time, and information since then has been maintained up to the present time by the CHO.

Records of ancestors and their missionary service can be found in several different sources. Mission Presidents and Recorders maintained journals and registers regarding the Elders and Sisters serving in their areas. These records of the early missions can be obtained through the Church Historian’s Office. Branch and District records often identified missionaries as the persons who performed the baptisms and confirmations shown in their records. But the most complete accounts about individual missionaries were kept in the journals and letters of the missionaries themselves.

Missionaries were encouraged to keep journals and diaries, especially in the early days of the Church, because their writings were often the only record kept about baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, blessings, and other priesthood ordinances. As mentioned before, these records, where they still exist, may be held by the families of the individual missionaries. Others have been placed in the archives of the Church Historian’s Office, or might be found in the special collections of local universities, libraries, and museums. If families have records such as these, they are strongly encouraged to submit them to the Church Historian’s Office where they can be microfilmed, and thus the history they contain can be studied and shared with the rest of the Church.

When searching journals and diaries of missionaries, keep in mind that, an ancestor’s record is only one source. Journals and diaries identify companions, members, and investigators that the missionary knew or met during his service. Those people in turn, kept records which may contain valuable information about the ancestor you are seeking.

Missionary correspondence are rare items that are often hard to locate. Letters are often more personal and elaborate than most journals (unless the author was very good at keeping his record), and letters are often discarded or lost. However, letters from missionaries in pre-1900 time periods, were often shared with local newspapers, and then published and shared with whole communities, especially in areas that were small and clamored for local news. When William Henry Wright returned home from his mission on April 27th, 1884, he was interviewed by a reporter for the Ogden Daily Herald, and an article was published on May 7th, telling of his experience in Birmingham, and then at the Isle of Wight, and finally as the presiding elder over the Sheffield, England Conference. A few weeks later, William H. Wright wrote a letter that was published June 9th, 1884, in The Millenial Star, the Church’s periodical for the Saints in Great Britain. In it he shared his parting feelings with the members of the Church that he had known and loved during his mission, and shared a final testimony with them:

AI feel to bear my testimony once more to the Saints and to the World, that God has again spoken from the heavens, and revealed the fullness of the Gospel to his servant Joseph Smith. All may know that this is truth by obeying the Gospel. I thank God for this knowlege, and wish to be faithful until death. – William Henry Wright (Millenial Star, June 9, 1884).

This testimony shared with the World and his family, now is shared with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, over a century later, because of records that told about his life and times; and have been preserved for us to search and use in our family history and genealogy research.

(This account is excerpted from Lesson Three, of Heritage Genealogy College’s course, LDS Church Records and Research. For more information about these classes and course material, contact Heritage [email protected] College, at www.genealogy.edu. )

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