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Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Kewanee IL Branch

Submitted by Susie Martin-Rott


You'll see many reference to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) in Henry County history, particularly in the Kewanee area. RLDS members broke with the original LDS after the murder of their leader Joseph Smith.   Some of those who did not believe in values brought to the religion by new leader Brigham Young, particularly poligamy, left the LDS. One of the churches formed was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This church, as of 2001, is now known as the Community of Christ.

The RLDS held regular meetings in Kewanee and many families in the area were at one time members of the church. My great grandparents were RLDS members, though my great grandfather caused great controversy within (I'm working on transcribing this "scandal" and will make it available at a later date).

The RLDS has excellent archives and through them I have found MUCH information regarding my family and Henry County. If you had family connected with RLDS, or were tracking a group of Henry County ancestors who seemed to drop off the map in about 1882, they may have been part of a group of RLDS members who left Kewanee and the surrounding areas and relocated in Lamoni, Decatur County, Iowa.

A community and large RLDS college called Graceland (no, Elvis was NOT in the building) was established, and the Lamoni area, including Harrison County, Missouri became a new home for many RLDS members.

The RLDS church records and archives are held at their main headquarters located in Independence, MO. The archive research services cost is $10.00 an hour (plus 20 cents per copy) and well worth every cent. Most searches do not exceed $25 total, but should it appear as though yours might, they will notify you before prodeeding.

Their records are strictly by name and family information is not "linked" together. You will need to submit each individual name you want them to check, as well as the branch you think the person may have belonged to. This is usually the branch closest to the town your family lived in.

The RLDS Archives do have a listing called the "The Early Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" which was compiled by Susan Easton Black and is an alpha list of early members and gives some information on them.

I also received copies of several family member's obituaries which appeared in "The Saints' Herald", the official publication of the RLDS. The obituaries held a wealth of information, often even including the prayer read at the services for the deceased.

The LDS in Salt Lake City now has old RLDS Kewanee branch records and minutes on microfilm. It is tedious research as the filmed records had missing and deteriorated pages and are NOT indexed. There is a wealth of data in them if you have the time and patience to read them page by page. These records are now available by order at your nearest LDS Family History Center.

"RLDS Local Jurisdictional Records"
Microfilm Rolls 50, 51 and 52
Reel Number 1955601 MO 04810

Some Family History Centers may tell you they don't show these films on their list. I got the numbers directly from the Reorganized Church and when my FHC ordered the films from the above information, they DID arrive. Some of the FHC libraries may not be working from the most updated film availability listings.

If you think your Henry County family may have been part of the RLDS, you may want to contact their archives at:

Community of Christ
Archives Division
c/o Barbara Bernauer
1001 W. Walnut
Independence, MO 64050
A brief outline for researching was obtained from Barbara, who by the way is an incredible researcher (I owe a lot of my knowledge of my family history to her diligent work):
We have membership records only for deceased members of the former Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Very few early LDS or "Mormon" records.
Our records usually show NO family relationships. (in other words,they are not grouped as families)
We need surname and first name; date of birth & death, if known; area of residence, if known.
Best to contact us in writing, e-mail or regular. We will provide information at that time in detail.
Records are open to research in person. Hours: M-F 8 to 5. Closed on Saturdays and holidays.
Phone: 816.833.1000 ex 2457 or 2401. Headquarters at Lexington and River, Independence, MO.
Special thanks to Barbara Bernauer at the Archives for the updated information!