I Hope They Call Me on a Mission – LDS Church Records and the Family History of William Henry Wright
I Hope They Call Me On A Mission…
By James W. Petty, AG, CGRS
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, and 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 home in Birmingham, England, where he could share the gospel with his countrymen, as well as family and friends from his past.
This was his first Christmas apart from his dear Emma, and he could imagine her gathering their children, and now grandchildren, together to celebrate the holiday at the family home in Ogden, Utah. Six children were at home, while his three eldest children were married and had their own homes and families. 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, but the younger children, Charles, Joseph, William, and Frank were at home with their mother. Little Emma Florence, the 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 Emma 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. He had joined the Mormon Church in 1844, and so had a young woman named Emma Taylor. 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, and also started plans to move to America where they could join with other Saints and give their children a home in Zion. William and Emma left Birmingham in 1856, 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 been able to save 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, 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 “slim” attendance because of the rain. In his journal he recorded that he spoke with a “portion of the Holy Spirit”, and after talks by several of the Brethren, he closed the meeting with prayer. During the meeting a woman and her daughter entered at the back, asking for “Mr. Wright”. When told, she burst out crying. William stated in his journal that “I approached her and took her by her hand, and called her by name, and we kissed aplenty.” Her daughter then asked, “This is my Uncle?” And they also kissed. It had been almost thirty years since he had seen his sister. She said, “I wouldn’t have known you if I hadn’t been shown.” It was a joyful occasion. “I 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 before returning to Ogden, Utah on June 9, 1884.
I have often shared stories from the journal of my great grandfather William Henry Wright with my family. His testimony, found in his words, and through his experiences have been a source of strength and inspiration both as a genealogist, as well as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Thousands of LDS families can trace their genealogy back to an honored grandparent who served a mission, and many of them served in the lands of their birth. Records of their ancestors, and the service they provided to the Church can be found in many sources. Perhaps journals and letters have been handed down from parent to children as family treasures. There may also be other artifacts from their mission that were brought home, such a book of scriptures, or photographs that have been stored, and are brought out at reunions and special occasions.
The Family History Library, and the Church Historical Library and Archives have extensive collections of records that can tell you of your ancestors and their missions and experiences.
The missionary program of the Church during the early days was under the direction of the Seventies Quorums. Consequently, one of the first records to check are the Seventies Quorum Records of the Church. These Priesthood Quorum Records are accounted for in a microfilm inventory of LDS Church Ward, Stake, and Mission Historical Files, available at the Family History Library and Branch Libraries located in local Stakes. Records of the early Seventies, Quorums 1-90, are also available on microfilm. 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, beginning Oct. 9, 1869. A newspaper article, published years later noted that his wife Emma “had 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 didn’t bother to mention that seven months after leaving his family, William’s wife blessed him with the birth of a son, William Clarence, on June 13th, 1870. William H. Wright was called and set apart for his second mission on April 10th, 1882. These records were found on the Church Missionary Index, which is available on microfilm, from 1830 to 1970. Records prior to 1860, were compiled by the Church Historians Office at that time, and information since then has been maintained on a current basis.
Records of missionaries during their missions can be found in several different sources. Mission leaders and recorders maintained current journals and registers regarding the Elders and Sisters serving in their areas. Records of the early missions can be obtained through the Church Historian’s Office. But most records and information 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 have been the only record kept about baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, blessings, and other priesthood ordinances. As mentioned before, these records, if they still exist, often are 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 university 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, at least, and that way 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 kept by missionary companions, and records of members and non-members alike, 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 is 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 regarding his experience 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 Conference. A few weeks later, William H. Wright wrote a letter that was published June 9, 1884, in The Millenial Star, the Church’s publication for the Saints in Great Brittain. 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:
“I 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 is also shared with his children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, over a century later, because of the records that told about his life and times; and which have been preserved for us to search and use in our study of family history and genealogy.
James W. Petty, AG, CGRS
BS (Genealogy), BA (History)
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