Early Mormon Marriage Research


UVA’s Mormon Studies program, in partnership with UVA’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), has created a searchable database in order to advance research and facilitate inquiry into early plural marriage.

The database is composed of life and marriage information on approximately 36,000 first-generation members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from between 1840 and 1852.

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Visualizations | Special Queries | Research Papers

Research in Five Phases

For approximately seventy years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced a unique form of polygamy which they called variously plural, Abrahamic or celestial marriage. Our research is presently limited to the years between 1840 and 1852, before the debates with outsiders began to influence the Saints’ self-understanding of the practice. In addition, while not ignoring the marriages of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, our focus is on the ordinary and the average to the extent that the data, numerical and historical, permits. We believe this will provide a clearer picture of early Mormon marriage as a socio-political practice.

Many have addressed the “whys” of plural marriage, as have we, elsewhere. Here, however, we seek to understand the practice in relation to its quantifiable facts and historical contingencies: the who, how, where and when of its practice. Ultimately, we seek to answer the question “what did they think they were doing” by gathering the data of what they actually did and in context, as nearly as it can be known. As with monogamous marriages, no single answer will emerge for all cases. But, as a consequence, what does emerge about the “whys” is all the more interesting and instructive. We hope you agree.


We gratefully acknowledge UVA’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) and its Digital Humanities Fellowship that supported the conceptualization and design of the Early Mormon Marriage Database. We are especially indebted to IATH Acting Director Worthy Martin, Associate Professor of Computer Science, and to John R. Hott and Luther A. Tychonievich, Assistant Professors of Computer Science. We are also grateful for the collaboration of BYU’s Nauvoo Community Project and its Director Jill Crandell, who supplied the life data for early residents of Nauvoo, Illinois, as well as expert advice along the way. Our initial source for ordinance data was Lisle G. Brown’s compilation, Nauvoo Sealings, Adoptions and Anointings: A Comprehensive Register of Persons Receiving LDS Temple Ordinances, 1841-1846, published by the Smith-Petit Foundation in 2006. Additional data was gathered from a variety of sources and scrubbed by many hands, including Laura Anderson, Stephen Betts, Rachel Carter, Joseph Stuart and Spencer Wells. Deserving special mention is Dr. Anoush Anderson, who consistently brought order to our early chaos.