By James W. Petty, AGCM, CGSM

A few years ago, I was contacted by a woman in England who was searching for her American cousins, and felt she needed professional assistance to do so.  May Jackson, at age 86, was a grandmother living in Bexhill on the Sea, in East Sussex, England, and she was writing a history about her ancestry for her family.  May explained that her great grandparents, John and Sarah (Dengate) Winchester, had raised a large family in Ashburnham, Sussex, England, just a few miles from where she lived.  In the early 1880’s after most of their children had grown and married, John and Sarah Winchester met two missionaries from the Mormon Church.  They listened to their religious instruction, and together with their two youngest children, Mercy, and Stephen, who were still living at home, they accepted baptism and became members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In 1885, they sold their home, divided up family belongings among the married children, and sold the remainder; after which they purchased tickets to immigrate to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they could join others of their new found faith, and be close to a living Prophet.  The Winchester family arrived in Utah in the Fall of 1885, and settled in Centerville, just a few miles north of Salt Lake City.  May didn’t know what happened her great grandparents, but family records indicated that John and Sarah had died in Utah in 1886, and no one knew what happened to Mercy and Stephen after that.  Could I help?

We began our search in the 1881 Census of England, to confirm information about the family, and establish facts about John and Sarah Winchester and their children.  The 1881 Census has been indexed by the Family History Library, and made available on the Internet, so it was very easy to identify John and Sarah and their children in Ashburnham.  John was 61, Sarah was 54, Mercy was 12, and Stephen was 7.

After the death of their parents, Mercy and Stephen Winchester living in the homes of neighbors until they could go out on their own.  Mercy was married to William Oakden in 1891, by whom she had four children.  Stephen Winchester married Belle Wattis in 1902 in Uintah, Utah, and had five children.

We searched a broad variety of records to learn about these families, but a key source to identifying each family were census records.  The 1900 Census of Utah, which is available and indexed on on the Internet, identified Stephen F. Winchester, age 25, as a logger, boarding in the home of Heber Robinson.  This census also found Mercy with her husband William Oakden and three children in Centerville.  The federal censuses were available to search for 1910, 1920, and 1930, and we were able to identify these families in each of the census records and learn more about the children and grandchildren.  But in addition to federal census records, we were able to learn more about these families through LDS census records.

The LDS Church made enumerations of the Wards and Branches as a method of keeping track of members during a time period preceding computerized membership record management.  Censuses were taken in 1914, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1935, 1940, 1950, 1955, and 1960.  The program was discontinued after 1960, because the Church had established a central computerized system of keeping records, through which they were able to communicate and coordinate membership activities with wards and stakes throughout the world.

By examining the LDS censuses for the descendants of Mercy Winchester Oakdale, and Stephen F. Winchester, we were able to identify where the families lived throughout their lifetimes, and also which Church wards they belonged to, which led us to additional records and information.  We continued to compile information through these sources, and by the 1960 LDS Census we found we were gathering data on more than twenty families.