by Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
In the mid-19th century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) led a very successful missionary effort in Wales. Dr. Ronald Dennis, Professor of Portuguese and Welsh at Brigham Young University (BYU), has launched a website documenting the families of each of the Welsh converts who emigrated to America. Since 20% of the current Utah population descends from this group of individuals, this website promises to become a popular Internet attraction.
Dr. Dennis, himself a descendant of the famed LDS Welsh missionary Dan Jones (1810-1861), has an insatiable desire to accumulate quote, “everything Welsh Mormon.” Dennis’s collection, in conjunction with the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU, is now available online at www.welshmormonhistory.org.
The Welsh Mormon History website contains hundreds of superb photographs, transcribed journals, biographies, autobiographies, and other material produced by descendants, bringing this substantial group of LDS pioneers to life. Particularly interesting are the over 500 photographs depicting many of the original Welsh converts and also the Welsh homes and towns they left behind. Some of the sources he used to compile this information include: LDS Welsh Branch Membership Records, original journals and autobiographies, the 1880 US Federal Census, and the Mormon Immigration Index.
The website provides simple interface for users. Simply click on one of the headings, i.e. Immigrants, Resources, or About. You can find photos, journals, and bios under the heading Resources. In addition, these materials are linked to the described individuals under the Immigrants category. The About section includes a lovely article published on Dr. Dennis’s project in the Fall 2002 edition of BYU Magazine.
For those interested in LDS history, the website includes many of the early writings of Dan Jones and other initial missionary leaders of the LDS Church in Wales (see Writings section under Resources). Dan Jones came to America from Wales as a young man. He operated a steamboat on the Mississippi River. After joining the LDS Church in America, he actively engaged in its cause. A close friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, he visited the church leader a few days prior to his martyrdom in 1844. Joseph Smith made his last prophecy to Dan Jones. The Prophet, when Jones stated that he feared he would die alongside him, prophesied that Jones would not die at that time. Joseph Smith told Jones that he had an important mission to perform in his native land of Wales. Jones later stalwartly served that mission to Wales. Driven by his desire to serve Christ and propelled by his testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet called of God, his preaching converted several thousand individuals. Before entering a Welsh community, Jones boldly sent letters to the religious and civil leaders in the area announcing his coming to bring them the message of the Restored Gospel. When he arrived, hundreds gathered to hear the debates between Jones and the local authorities. Many individuals in the attentive audiences joined the Church. Early Welsh members of the Church would have either been taught by Elder Dan Jones, or heard of his efforts, and due to his extensive writings, most Welshmen would have heard about the LDS Church from him. A painting depicting the valiant Elder Dan Jones proselyting in a Welsh street meeting, commissioned by Dr. Dennis, who himself served as an LDS Mission President in Brazil, adorns the wall in the front hall of the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. For a more detailed biography on Dan Jones, go to http://historytogo.utah.gov/danjones.html.
Dr. Dennis estimates that approximately 5000 of the men, women, and children who joined the LDS Church in Wales migrated to “Zion,” settling in Utah, Idaho, and other Mormon colonies. Welsh immigrants established the towns of Malad and Samaria, Idaho, as well as Wales, Utah.
Dr. Ronald Dennis has identified around 4000 of the estimated 5000 LDS Welsh immigrants. He welcomes additional information. Dr. Dennis would be delighted to speak with anyone interested in this topic and can be contacted at [email protected].
Originally published by GenWeekly. Republished by permission.