What older newspapers reported about Mormons

Published: Monday, April 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Views of the early members The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints were recorded in newspapers.


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Tom Kemp has searched extensively for mentions of Latter-day Saints in older newspaper archives.

And for the director of genealogy products for GenealogyBank, a newspaper digitization archive, the biggest surprise was the amount of positive information he found from the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Surprisingly, everything wasn't negative," Kemp said. "You get a lot of surprising stuff. You get a lot of sensationalized, but remarkably there's some terrific articles and good history. People would be surprised that the activities of Mormon missionaries anywhere in the country could be written up."

In an article by Christopher Webster from the Daily Herald of Biloxi, Miss., published April 18, 1904, Webster praised Mormon missionaries for their efforts.

"Mormon Missionary. He visits every civilized County of the globe and finds a reward for his labor wherever he preaches the word of his faith. … In nearly all the large cities of the country Mormon missionaries are at work. … It has long been the custom to send the Mormon missionary forth without scrip or purse. That he has returned often with riches and an army of followers suggests the zeal with which these men carry on their work, or at least the ingratiating manner by means of which they are able to make headway."

Old newspapers can offer surprising commentaries on Latter-day Saint history. In one instance, the Hartford (Conn.) Daily Courant described the death of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the LDS Church. The July 9, 1844, edition states, "The following slip from the office of Warsaw Signal explains this dreadful tragedy: 'Joe Smith and Hyrum are dead — Shot this afternoon. An attack from the Mormons is expected every hour.’ ”

The Norwich Aurora paper from Connecticut wrote about a different "Mormon question" than we see today — the question of who should lead the government's charge to deal with what they considered to be the rebellious Latter-day Saints in Utah. On Jan. 16, 1858, one article said, "The interest attached to the Mormon question naturally excites some curiosity as to the individual charged by the government with the difficult and delicate responsibilities of the present Utah expedition. He has not only to exhibit military abilities of a high order for the security of his little army in its Siberian campaign, but he must be possessed of superior civil qualifications to guide his dealings with the misgoverned people who are represented as denying the authority of our constitution."

The article continued on to discuss the qualifications of Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, who was to lead the army.

One article from the Kalamazoo Gazette in Michigan even mentioned the murder of a Mormon missionary in Georgia. On Aug. 16, 1879, the paper published the following: "The killing of Joseph Standing, a Mormon elder and missionary in Georgia, brings to light the remarkable fact that the Mormons have been making many converts in the northern part of that State."

Mentions of the church show up in many newspaper stories because of its vitality to communities and can be helpful in family history research, according to genealogist Barry Ewell.

"The newspaper gives you the insights that family and friends won't and so when you're looking at the newspaper, look for everything about your family," Ewell said.

For additional information on searching newspaper archives for family history, visit Ewell's Facebook page at ­­­­www.facebook.com/barry.ewell, where a free e-book is available for download.

Email: ajones@desnews.com

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