Posted in Letters, Manuscript Collections, Mormon Migration Index, Pioneer Overland Travel, Utah pioneers, Websites

What kind of pioneer are you?

On July 24th Pioneer Day is celebrated as a state holiday in Utah. In 1847 the first LDS (Mormon) pioneers entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake.  The Pioneer Overland Travel database at has an introduction which reads:  “Between 1847 and 1868, Mormon emigrants traveling in more than 300 companies departed from various places and headed for the Salt Lake Valley. More than 60,000 LDS Church members traveled in these companies — some traveling by foot, some in wagons, and some pulling handcarts.”

Check out this database if you have Mormon pioneer ancestors, and you will find them listed with other family members and rosters of entire pioneer “companies” (the group they traveled with); you might find journal excerpts from individuals they traveled with, letters, and other valuable source material connected to their trek.  Here is what an entry looks like – note the wonderful source references:

Jacob Foutz entry
Pioneer Overland Travel Database at, entry for Jacob Foutz

Notice the blue link to “Trail Excerpt”.  Click it and you will see a letter written to Brigham Young from Edward Hunter and Jacob Foutz, leaders of a particular pioneer company:

Edward Hunter and Jacob Foutz letter to Brigham Young, 17 Aug 1847
Edward Hunter and Jacob Foutz letter to Brigham Young, 17 Aug 1847

Finding a name in the database is just the start of your research.  Be sure to follow up with the sources named, and tap into the Journal History of the Church,  Selected Church History Manuscript Collections ( I found some great information in Brigham Young’s Letterpress Copybooks regarding dealings with Native Americans in NE Arizona), and General Church Minutes 1839-1877. Those are some of the primo resources at

Of course there are a zillion sources I could direct you to for early LDS research, but I will just direct you to the Research Wiki link for Tracing LDS Ancestors and you can take it from there.

I created a fan chart and color-coded it to show my children how many Mormon Pioneer ancestors they have.  Red=crossed the plains with a Mormon pioneer company, Blue=Mormon, but not part of a pioneer company:

Pioneer ancestors of the children of Reed and Dayna Jacobs
Pioneer ancestors of the children of Reed and Dayna Gooch Jacobs

My Gooch line is full of pioneers as well, but their records will not be found in the Pioneer Overland Travel database above, since they were not Mormon.

I owe everything to my pioneer ancestors, and I have loved learning about them as I have researched their lives, and I love them even though I have not yet met them.  I hope my children can get a sense of who they are from looking at this chart, and cherish their roles as the “keepers of the flame.”  I think we can all discover something about ourselves that qualifies us as a pioneer – taking a path that nobody has trod before – whether it is with a covered wagon or with our lives. Happy Pioneer Day to you all!


I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

3 thoughts on “What kind of pioneer are you?

  1. What a lovely post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the migrants in my own family history. Not pioneers in the traditional sense, as many moved from rural areas to cities looking for work during the nineteenth century, but certainly breaking the mold of their own families. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Su. You are right, anyone who left the farm to find work in the big city was a pioneer in their own right. It seems like the 19th century was so full of new things and places there were lots of opportunities to be the first at something. I really admire the folks back then.

      1. Me too. My partner is descended from both British and German migrants who arrived in New Zealand in the 19th century. They spent weeks aboard ships to get here – and couldn’t turn around and go back if they didn’t like it. My family arrived here in 1967 having spent three days flying and also felt they couldn’t go back so had to make the best of it. Very different to the world we live in now.

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