Early Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The collection identifies 25,350 records of early RLDS members. It is organized alphabetically by surname. It contains vital records and brief biographical information.
Notes from the compiler: In 1982 invitations were extended to historians to attend a meeting conducted by Earl E. Olsen, Director of the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To this meeting were invited the expert, the novice, and even the hobbyist historians who had expressed interest in the early history of the Church. Excitement filled a room in the Church Office Building on 26 February 1982 as we gathered and greeted each other, renewing friendships. The topic for the meeting was the need for a membership record of the early Saints, who had known and loved Joseph Smith. The posterity of these early members were seeking information on their ancestors and were often frustrated to find that their names had not been systematically recorded. The need for a well-documented record was also punctuated by many widely conflicting "guesstimates," such as, approximately 7,000 to 15,000 fled from Missouri persecution and the early Church membership totaled somewhere between 20,000 to 100,000 by 1844. I accepted the opportunity to reconstruct from hundreds of relevant sources, the membership record. As I began the process of member identification, I wrote to many historians. On 24 August 1982 a letter from Richard P. Howard, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) Historian, expressed his interest in the project: "I have been for several years interested in a more accurate projection of early Latter Day Saint membership figures. I'm familiar with many exaggerated reports of membership in excess of 150,000 to 200,000 and have often wondered if there were that many, where were they?" He recognized as I soon discovered, "the records are woefully incomplete, and . . . they are so unsystematic and variant in character that it is extremely difficult to synthesize anything on the basis of the haphazardly gathered and recorded data." His letter introduced me to holdings in the RLDS Library-Archives in Independence, Missouri: As an example of the paucity of data available here, RLDS membership records begin with voluntary and sporadic reports to semi-annual conferences sending a representative to said conferences. The report would be in the form of a membership list which simply listed the names of persons currently enrolled in the respective branches. Not all of the branches were represented and many of those who were did not give the same kind of report. Some branches would only report the total number of members without listing names and the total number of persons serving in the various offices of priesthood, again not listing names. Gradually over the years a more systematic membership record keeping system evolved. . . . Many of the RLDS membership records were destroyed in the fire at church headquarters in January 1907. This adds a further complexity to any attempt to do statistical or demographic studies on the character of the early reorganization. Despite these barriers to accurate research, I requested permission from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leadership to extract information from the records then housed in the RLDS Auditorium. In 1982 I was denied the request because of the restricted access policy of the Deceased Members Cards, also known as the RLDS Deceased Files. From 1982 to 1989 I continued to seek permission but it was not granted. On the assumption that access to the restricted information would not be available, the fifty-volume text Membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1848 was published by the Department of Church History and Doctrine and the Religious Studies Center in 1989. Later a letter from Ronald E. Romig, RLDS Church Archivist, dated 31 May 1989 gave me my first hope of obtaining permission to research the Deceased Members Cards, "I cannot answer now, about their availability in the near future, but I will begin exploring that possibility. . . . I will let you know what I find out." Through his efforts and the good will of many, the First Presidency of the RLDS Church graciously opened their records in 1989 to my research, under the signature of M. Grant McMurray, then serving as World Church Secretary, currently in the First Presidency.
Compiled by Susan Easton Black. The process of compiling a list of early RLDS members who were contemporaries of those in my earlier study, but not necessarily originally members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, extended from 1989 to 1993. It included searching the Deceased Members Cards. For many years these cards had been preserved and meticulously organized by Barbara J. Bullard, the World Church Recorder, and her competent Membership Records staff. Barbara willingly opened her office to me and to Anne L. Romig, Member RLDS Children's Peace Pavilion Committee; Barbara Bernauer, Assistant RLDS Archivist; Dr. John Horner, RLDS playwright; and Hemda Salonamer, RLDS music teacher, who helped xerox and refile the information. The cards provided documented entries for 7,593 members born before 1849. Vital statistics, priesthood ordinations, and attendance at RLDS Church branches were the most consistent data entries on the cards. The collection entitled Early Reorganization Minutes, 1851-1872, Book A are handwritten minutes and other branch records that provided additional information on 9,841 members. RLDS Membership Record Book, 1872-1905, Books B-M added 17,950 additional items of information. I appreciate the willingness of the leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to make available primary sources and to cover the expense of microfilming the original records for this research. I am grateful for the able assistance of Patricia Struble, RLDS Library-Archives, Librarian, 1989-1992; Sue McDonald, RLDS Library-Archives, Librarian, 1992-present; and Ada Bauman, Assistant RLDS Librarian. Ron Romig, RLDS Church Archivist, has been continually available for consultation and guidance throughout the project. His scholarly suggestions and personal kindness facilitated the work. In July 1992, after three summers in Missouri, I asked Ron, "What have I missed that would be of importance to the compilation?" His comment, "You have our most valuable records." With that assurance, I returned to Utah to complete the text.