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How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors

If you’re wondering how to find your pioneer ancestors, you are in the right spot! I’m going to show you six easy ways to discover some different types of ancestors in your family tree. Pioneer Day is something widely celebrated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because the founding members of the church fled from religious persecution and crossed the plains as “pioneers.” After you explore these pioneers in your family tree I want to challenge you for just a moment.

What is a Pioneer Ancestor?

The most common usage of the term “pioneer ancestors” refers to the first people in your family to immigrate and settle in a new place. While this is true, and those people are important, I believe we shouldn’t stop there. A valuable and sometimes overlooked definition of pioneer is a person who opens a new line of thought.

Quote: "Pioneer: a person who opens a new line of thought."

There are so many in our families who have sought freedom from oppression, fear, rejection, depression, abuse, and vices big and small. We are all seeking a better future for ourselves and those that follow us. Let us consider and celebrate all the pioneers in our lives, including yourself! You are doing better than you think you are. I can prove it because you’re here trying to learn something new about your ancestors and yourself. Happy exploring, friend!

How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors on FamilySearch

With just the click of a button, FamilySearch automatically generates up to 20 of your traditional pioneer ancestors who crossed the plains. You can easily see how you are related, and click through to view photos and stories of your ancestor. Their infographic shows how old they were on the trek, and how long they traveled for. 

One of my favorite features is the link to the group they traveled with (often called a company). You can see the details of that group, including how many people were traveling together and links to newspaper articles and journal entries from others who were traveling with your ancestor. While they may not mention your ancestor, they likely experienced a lot of the same things while traveling together so you can get a glimpse of what it might have been like.

How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors who were Children

Often kids sing the song “Pioneer Children Sang as they Walked,” but who were those pioneer children? Do you have some in your family tree? FamilySearch will autogenerate these neat infographics for up to 20 of your ancestors who were pioneer children! Each one shows a photo (if there is one available), how old the child was, and how long they traveled for. Like the other pioneers, you can link through to information about the group they traveled with.

If you scroll down the page below the infographic, there is a fun quiz that kids can take to see which personality trait they share with a pioneer child. you’ll also find a fun story to go with it. You can take the quiz over again and choose different answers to discover different pioneer children and their stories. While not wildly accurate (I was daring) it is quite fun!

How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors who Traveled by Sea

Before they crossed the plains, many of your ancestors came to join the Saints in America by boat. This FamilySearch campaign is one of my favorites because I love to read accounts of their voyages. It must have taken such great faith and courage to travel to a new country with new language and tradition. 

You can often find a picture of the boat they traveled on, as well as links to accounts of the voyage. It is so fun to read things such as the following: “The Saints are enjoying themselves with singing, in which both English and Swiss join. So far everything has passed off in an agreeable manner. The officers and stewards are kind and obliging” (source). Another account from the same journey reads: “Across the ocean we had head winds all the way, and at times the weather was somewhat unpleasant. We had the misfortune to bury three children…This had a tendency to throw a gloom over the otherwise joyous company” (source). These accounts bring to reality the challenges our ancestors personally faced.

How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors who Lived in Nauvoo

A lot of our pioneer ancestors who traveled by ship to America were heading to Nauvoo. This can be particularly interesting if you are planning a trip to Nauvoo or learning about the history there.

How to Find your Pioneer Ancestors who were on the Mayflower

Going way back to some of the first voyages by boat, did you have any who came on the Mayflower? This FamilySearch campaign includes a short story about your ancestor. As you scroll down the page you will also discover an interactive ship layout of the Mayflower where you can learn about life abour the ship.

If you scroll even further, there is a quiz to see which Mayflower passenger you are most like. It is fun to discover Mayflower passengers and their incredible stories. If you click their names, you can then view your relationship to see if you’re related! This is a great way to help kids relate and connect themselves to strong character traits they share with their ancestors.

How to Find your Early Missionary Ancestors

Okay, I cheated a bit here. These aren’t necessarily pioneers, but they made great sacrifices (sometimes leaving wives and children) to find pioneers who blazed the trail for their families in faith. Those who had the courage to join the church when it was sometimes even dangerous are a miracle to me. Do you know who the first people to join the church in your family were? If not, ask your family and write down what you know of their conversion story. Then you can upload your story to FamilySearch!

If you want more pioneer activities, FamilySearch has a fun way to see what you’d look like dressed in your traditional ancestral clothing. You can even see which ancestor you look most like