News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Historian's Corner: A Conference Comes Before a District

A plaque in the Second Ward building charts the congregation’s evolution from one of the first branches in the Pittsburgh area to a suburban ward in the Pittsburgh Stake

To pick up from where we left off the last time, the modern history of the Church here began in 1886, when a conference was convened at the New England Branch (near the present-day location of the Pittsburgh Second Ward) on May 16-17.  The members of the branch had asked to be re-baptized into the Church the year before.  Another branch was organized that same year in Little Redstone in Fayette County (further south of Pittsburgh) and three more followed in 1887.

At that time, western Pennsylvania was under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Conference, a “conference” in this sense being a smaller version of a district.  The process of re-introducing the Church into the eastern United States was long and difficult.  It was likely made more difficult by the legal proceedings undertaken against the Church in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Western Pennsylvania was transferred to the Northern States Mission in 1889 and then to the Eastern States Mission in 1897.  The Eastern States Mission had been organized in 1893 when Elders Job Pingree and Seymour B. Young Jr. were dispatched to New York City to restart missionary efforts in the East following the resolution of the Church’s legal difficulties.  The mission was headquartered in Brooklyn and included New York, Maryland, the southern part of West Virginia, New England and eastern Canada in addition to Pennsylvania.

The mission expanded into Virginia shortly thereafter and counted 975 members in eight conferences by the year 1900.  Thirty years later, the mission counted 4,281 members in twelve organizational units, which by this point included districts and conferences; the Pittsburgh area was part of the West Pennsylvania Conference.

Despite having so many members, the mission counted only six chapels, including two in Pennsylvania.  During these early days of the Church, each branch was a handful of families that met in different members’ homes at varying times.  This was generations before the current consolidated meeting schedule was introduced (that occurred in 1980), so there was no organizational expectation of so much to take place on Sunday as there is now.

Two of the main priorities of the early branches were creating Sunday Schools and Relief Societies.  The first record of the latter in Pittsburgh dates from May 25, 1916, when a Relief Society presidency for the branches in the area was called.  The members of the presidency lived far apart and could not meet often, owing to the difficulty of transportation and communication in those days.  This also contributed to the fact that the Relief Society presidency’s membership changed three times in the ensuing year.

The challenges of leadership were ameliorated in 1922, when Sister Marble Holmgren was called as the Eastern States Mission’s first mission-wide Relief Society President.  She traveled around the mission to instruct the sisters in their duties, visiting the city of Pittsburgh on October 1, the Fairview Branch (in Butler County, north of Pittsburgh) on October 18 and the New England Branch on October 25.  Three years later, the five branches in the area organized their own Relief Societies.

From 1941 until 1963, the wives of mission presidents were asked to “take direct charge” of the Relief Society work in their missions’ areas.  This provided the relatively young branches with a veteran leader who may likely have had experience in areas with a fully formed Church organization.

The next step in the evolution of the Church in the Pittsburgh area came in 1943, when the West Penn District was organized.  But that is another tale for another post.  Until next time…

Respectfully submitted,

Rush David
Pittsburgh Stake Historian

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Visit the Green Tree Family History Center

 The Green Tree Family History Center, located at 46 School Street (near the corner of  Mansfield Avenue and Poplar Street) is one of 4,600 local FamilySearch facilities in 126 countries where anyone can access genealogical records and receive personal assistance with their family history. (Jim Stuber's numbers in the video were just a bit out of date. The number of centers and countries grow every year.)
Family history centers are free, open to the public ,and staffed by knowledgeable volunteers. Each facility offers both novices and experienced family historians the tools and resources to learn about their ancestors. The centers provide free access to subscription genealogical websites. For a small fee, patrons also have access to the vast circulating collection of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes 2.5 million microfilms from over 100 countries.
Lorrie Danko Guthrie serves as director of the Green Tree Family History Center. She has held this unpaid Church-service position for many years. As director, she oversees the center's operations, staffing, and finances—and she does a great job. You will find the facility comfortable, the staff knowledgeable, and the resources extraordinary.

Following are Lorrie's "11 Reasons to Visit the Green Tree Family History Center."

  1. Free help getting started with FamilyTree to create a permanent pedigree chart online.
  2.  Free access to Premium Family History Web sites through the Family History Center Portal.  These include Ancestry. com, MyHeritage.com, Findmypast.com, Heritage Quest Online, Godfrey Memorial Library, World Vital Records, etc.  Usually you have to buy a subscription to these sites.
  3.  Experienced family history staff to help you get started or to get you over your “roadblocks.” Many of our staff have spent 30 to 40 years researching their families and helping others.
  4.  Free one-on-one help with your family history research needs.
  5.  Almost 1100 films on loan from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  These are national and international films.
  6.  Many research books on our shelves that are not available elsewhere.
  7.  All of the microfiche ordered by our patrons kept on permanent loan.  Since we opened in 1978, there are thousands of microfiche available for you to review at no charge.
  8.  Surname index to all of our family history books and files.  Again, many of these books are unique to our Family History Center.
  9.  Family History files which have been donated only to our Family History Center.
  10.  A nursery next door to the Family History Center, stocked with toys and books.  However, you must bring your own babysitter.
  11.  Free parking.
Hours of operation are:
  • Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursdays, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
We invite you to experience how the Green Tree Family History Center can help you learn more about your own family.