Our family is very proud and excited about the new mission my father and his wife, Judy, are currently serving! They were called to serve at the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah a couple of months ago. We are particularly excited because they are assigned as researchers for the Pioneer Overland Travel database (or POT as they call it), which means that new insights into the companies our ancestors traveled with across the plains to Utah are coming to light!
The Pioneer Overland Travel database is available online, and is being updated as more research is done. The link is: http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/0,15773,3966-1-2068,00.html
All you have to do is enter in the last name of your pioneer ancestor. They will not be in the database if they came to Utah in 1869 or later, because that is when the transcontinental railway connected coast to coast and travel over land by wagon was not as convenient or as inexpensive (or as fast, comfortable, dangerous, etc!)
Some tips about searching using the POT: the best way to search is to enter a last name of your ancestor. If you know the year or the company they traveled with, you can search that way. Sometimes the names were not spelled correctly, or were transcribed incorrectly, so doing a name search might not give any results. In that case, it is best to find what year in which your ancestor emigrated, and search through the lists, looking for other family members known to have traveled with them, keeping an eye out for misspellings of the name.
If you don't know what year your ancestor emigrated, one way to find out is to use the "Perpetual Emigrating Fund", a list of names of converts who borrowed money from the LDS church in order to emigrate to Utah. This list can be accessed many places online, but I prefer this site: http://archive.org/details/namesofpersonssu00perprich
You can do a name search of this online book with this site.
Another thing to keep in mind is this: I had an ancestor who was from
Denmark whose last name we knew as "Schultz." I couldn't find her in
the database under the name of Schultz, and unfortunately her sister's
name was completely misspelled, or otherwise I could have found her that
way, looking for both girl's names and their approximate ages. I found
two girls traveling with a family which a personal history had listed as
coming across with the two girls, but, as mentioned before, the
sister's name was completely misspelled, AND their last name was listed
as Johansen. I realized that their patronymic Danish name would have
been Johansen, since their father's father was named Johan. I confirmed
that they had traveled under the name Johansen in other immigration
records. So make sure you watch out for situations like this one. Look
for people who mostly match in age, etc. Sometimes people changed
their names after coming to Utah, too, exchanging hard to pronounce and
spell foreign names for more "American" names.
One more site than can be helpful for finding pioneer ancestors is "Mormon Migration". Here is the link: http://mormonmigration.lib.byu.edu/ This site is really well done (sponsored by BYU) and includes autobiographical accounts of most of the voyages. It also recently includes images of the original lists that they used to compile the database. This is particularly helpful because sometime the names are transcribed incorrectly (especially if the name is complicated or foreign) - this way you yourself can go through the lists and search for your ancestor if you can't find it in the transcribed database. One thing to keep in mind about Mormon Migration's images of their lists - the lists are not complete passenger lists. They are lists of Mormon immigrants, only those who officially traveled with the LDS church. If your ancestor isn't listed in this database, there is a chance that they emigrated separately from the LDS saints, and you'll have to look at the actual ship manifests and passenger lists. These are mostly available on ancestry.com, but you will have to pay to access them.
If you know your ancestor traveled with a particular company of saints across the plains and you don't find them in the database, please let me know so I can put you in contact with my father - especially if you have a biography, journal, letter, etc. from your ancestor verifying the company. He then can enter them into the POT so that they are listed correctly for others to find!
My thanks to Dad and Judy, for your selfless service at the Family History Library! Already in just two months, their service has paid off - they have been able to pin down some of the companies that our family traveled in and updated the POT for future reference!
My name is Mary Ann Whitehead Overson and this blog is dedicated to all the amazing men and women who came before me: my ancestors. I also want to acknowledge my father, Armand Toyn Whitehead, who is the person responsible for a lot of the content in this blog; my dad has spent countless hours collecting and preserving photos and histories, and preserving them on the computer so that they can be handed down for generations. Thank you, Dad!