Nearly two years after a Church History Symposium devoted to the subject of Mormon women’s history, selected papers from the event are now available in a new volume published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
The volume includes chapters by Keith A. Erekson, Jenny Hale Pulsipher, Andrea Radke-Moss, Amy Harris, Amy Easton-Flake, Heather Belnap Jensen, Josh E. Propert, Julie K. Allen, Benjamin E. Park, and R. Marie Griffith. It was was edited by Rachel Cope, Amy Easton Flake, Keith A. Erekson, and Lisa Olsen Tait.
The book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Visit the book’s page on my website to learn more, download a chapter, or purchase copy.
Keith Erekson, current director of the LDS Church History Library, has worked really wherever history could be found or needed. When faced with new opportunities, he’s thought, “let’s go there, and let’s see what we can do.”
In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast Russell Stevenson sits down with Erekson and discusses preserving the artifacts of, reconstructing, and interpreting history.
“We always like to say,” declares Erekson, “‘Well, history’s 20/20. It’s hindsight.’ No, it’s not. We’re just here in 2017, and we’re doing our best.”
He urges a different view. If we break that mindset that we know it all and just say, “I’m looking for the best I can find, and tomorrow I’ll find a little more — and next year I’ll find a little more,” then we don’t get discouraged when something changes because that’s the way it works: it’s always changing. We’re always learning.
His experience working outside of the LDS tradition has shown him that Mormon are not so different than other social groups. We have challenges with our history — the same challenges that exist with every other history.
There are sources missing from Joseph Smith’s experience that we wish were around. Well, there are sources missing from Lincoln’s experience and from Washington’s experience — that’s just how history works. The past is gone. It’s not some great conspiracy that Joseph Smith’s sources are gone — that’s just what happens. The past is past.
In the present, no matter what we’re talking about — whether the 19th century or the Middle Ages — we’re trying to reconstruct it and put it back together, and figure out what it means.
Sometimes people see the Church Archives as sort of a mystical place full of mysteries, but they’d be disappointed; inside the archives, it is quite boring with its concrete walls, metal shelves, and acid-free boxes.
The mission of the church archivists is to collect everything by and about the church, but particularly things by the church. That means they want every copy of the Book of Mormon in every language and in every edition. They want every handbook and every manual. So in some ways, the inside of the archive looks like the library in a local church building, except it’s a little more organized and the scriptures aren’t all destroyed because some deacons played with them.
One takeaway from the ordinariness of the archives is that Mormon history is not as exciting as we think it is. We do have fantastic stories in our history, but more often than not they tend to be exaggerations of events. These types of inflations happen as the generation involved in an event — and this happened in World War I and World War II — starts to pass away, there becomes an awareness: “Oh, we’re losing something; we ought to catch it.” But a lot of times, they’ve already lost it.
Erekson urges listeners to be critical consumers and become aware of how history works and then to be on the lookout for signs of good scholarship. One of the most basic ones is source citations. They’re not there just for fun. They’re there to say the author spent 10,000 hours to write a sentence.
As consumers we needn’t rush to conclusions. The past is over; we’ve got time to think about it.
This text is re-posted from R. Scott Lloyd, “‘History skills’ can strengthen study of Book of Mormon witnesses, speaker says,” Deseret News, August 4, 2017.
As the director of the Church History Library, Keith Erekson has charge, among other things, of manuscript records pertaining to the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
“But we also happen to have the world’s largest anti-Mormon collection,” Erekson quipped as he spoke Thursday, Aug. 4, at the annual FairMormon Conference. That’s because of Doctrine and Covenants 123, he said, which counseled the early Saints to “to gather up libelous publications, magazines, encyclopedias, histories.”
“That’s a practice we’ve continued into the 21st century,” Erekson said at conference convening at the Utah Valley Convention Center. “In those materials the witnesses come under quite a bit of scrutiny.”
Dealing with such criticisms falls under the province of FairMormon, which is not affiliated with the Church but, according to its mission statement, is dedicated to using scholarship, scripture, doctrine, historical literature and logic to address criticisms leveled at the Church.
In his address, Erekson examined accounts of the witnesses, both favorable and antagonistic.
“Along the way, I hope to demonstrate and articulate some history skills that you can use to strengthen your study and your discipleship,” he said. “I also hope we can expand our view of witnesses and witnessing as we do this.”
One of the history skills Erekson shared was to examine sources. He cited an excerpt from the book No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie, a famous critic of Mormonism and Joseph Smith. Brodie cited an article from the newspaper The Palmyra Reflector, which indicated that Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer had spoken to the newspaper editor.
Erekson said that as Church History Library director he has convenient access to that issue of the Reflector in the library’s archives, so he looked up that article. It had a reference to an “informant” between David Whitmer and the editor.
“Many of the pieces in the Reflector were satirical,” Erekson said. “This device of having the shadowy ‘informant’ who may or may not remember everything particularly works well in satire, because you tell a story, you attribute it somewhere fuzzy, and then you’re off.”
Erekson recommended the book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard Lloyd Anderson as “the single best study of the witnesses and their testimony.” From the book, he quoted one of Anderson’s conclusions: “A main safeguard exists for testing claims that a witness modified his testimony — be sure that all statements come from the witness himself.”
Collectively, the witnesses have provided more than 200 first-person accounts of their experience and testimony, Erekson said.
Another “history skill” that Erekson recommended is to closely read multiple accounts of the Book of Mormon witnesses, analyze them and corroborate details.
“One of the things you want to do is expect citations,” he said. “There are publishers who will publish things without citations. That’s the first the sign: If they don’t even care enough to tell you where they found their historical information, don’t worry about spending the time to figure out if they’ve made it up or if they haven’t.”
Erekson suggested using the Book of Mormon itself and other scripture to discover or notice important information about the witnesses. He highlighted a phrase in Ether 5:3 that declares the Three Witnesses would be shown the Book of Mormon plates “by the power of God.” Similar language is in 2 Nephi 27:12 and on the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it was translated “by the gift and power of God.”
“Every time Joseph was asked how he translated the plates, this is the type of language he used,” Erekson said.
It is important to note, he said, that the phrase lacks the trappings of affidavits or other legal documents. Thus, another skill, he said, is to ask questions and make comparisons about what is or is not present in writings concerning the witnesses.
“That leads us to one of the most important skills we need when we understand anything from history: Avoid present assumptions,” he said.
Another such present assumption modern-day readers “inflict upon the past” is that phrases such as “by the power of God” mean that the witnesses did not see the physical plates with their own eyes, but rather, beheld them in vision.
It is a false dichotomy, he said, to assume that it was either by physical sight or by spiritual vision; it could be both.
“Replace ‘or’ with ‘and,’ ” he said.
Citing Ether 5:2, Erekson said the witnesses were referred to as “those who shall assist to bring forth this work.” The witnesses assisted in many ways, he pointed out, including sharing the burden with Joseph Smith of testifying to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon account.
Mary Whitmer, who was visited by the angel Moroni and shown the plates, assisted by keeping house, milking cows and caring for guests while men in the household brought forth the Book of Mormon.
“The men were given a witness to share with the world; Mary was given a witness to strengthen her personal faith,” Erekson commented. “Clearly, Moroni, who understood a thing or two about loneliness, had a larger view of what it means to assist in this work.”
Doctrine and Covenants 5 talks about the testimony of the witnesses going forth to the world and promises their testimony will be followed by a spiritual manifestation to those who ask for it, Erekson noted.
“This manifestation is a kind of reinforcement,” he said.
Thus a final item in Erekeson’s “history skills” list is to combine the best historical and spiritual evidence.
“So if you were to pick up something now that was critical of the witnesses — whether it was the Palmyra Reflector or Fawn Brodie or something more recent on the internet — these skills will help you,” he said.
In summation, the skills are close reading, following the sources, asking questions, being wary of “present assumptions,” changing “either/or” to “and,” and combining the best historical and spiritual evidence.
Erekson suggested two articles he has authored for learning more about history skills. One is “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith” in the February 2017 Ensign, and the other is “A Pattern for Learning Church History by Study and Faith” on the Church History website, history.lds.org, April 12, 2017.
Today the Deseret News reported on Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s retraction of a recently-told missionary story. The portion of the article quoting Keith Erekson is reproduced below; the full article is Tad Walch, “Elder Holland withdraws Church News Missionary Story,” Deseret News, July 31, 2017.
It is important to differentiate between someone who knowingly embellished a story and someone who retold a story the way it was received, said Keith Erekson, who left his job as a history professor and special assistant to the president of the University of Texas at El Paso to become director of the LDS Church History Library three years ago.
In Elder Holland’s case, he retold the story as it was given, he said.
. . .
Stories have been embellished since people began telling them, Erekson said. Some LDS Church members have embellished stories of faith since the church’s beginning. For example, some early Mormons exaggerated their personal connections to Joseph Smith.
“Typically, any story is incomplete, and different tellings of the story become contradictory,” he said. “The past is gone. We have just pieces of it in the form of stories. Whenever we encounter a piece of the past, we always have to ask, what is this piece? Who did it come from? How do I make sense of it today?”
“This particular experience has a twist that makes it even more difficult,” Erekson said. “One of the most common recommendations is to go to the source of the stories, not just accept hearsay or second-party retellings. This time, there is a twist that a participant in the story was involved in the embellishing or changing the story. That frankly makes it more difficult.”
The church has plenty of authentic missionary stories. In fact, the Church History Library collects and records them, Erekson said.
“Maybe this is an opportunity to invite people to tell their stories so we have more of them on the record.”
This text is re-posted from “New Views into Missionary History,” Church News, July 16, 2017.
As soon as the Church was organized in 1830, its members set out to preach the gospel to family, friends and neighbors. One hundred years later, nearly 38,000 men and women had served proselytizing missions for the Church. Now, almost two centuries after the first preaching, a new database provides fresh new insights about the earliest missionaries.
The Church History Library’s Early Mormon Missionaries database, online at history.lds.org/missionary, attempts to document every proselytizing missionary who served during the first century of the Church’s history. The database currently lists nearly 38,000 individuals with links to thousands of original and authoritative records of missionary experience. The database can be searched by name or by mission to find stories, photos and sources of early Mormon missionaries.
Here are five things we learn from this powerful new resource:
1. Many were called and repeaters were welcomed.
In the first century of missionary work, 37,567 individuals served proselytizing missions. Samuel H. Smith was among 16 who departed in 1830, the year the Church was organized. The youngest missionary left for service at age 14 while the oldest left at age 83. The database also contains 143 mission presidents and their wives.
Additionally, the database documents 41,769 missions served between 1830 and 1930. The difference between missionaries and missions served means that many missionaries served more than once. In fact, 3,097 missionaries served more than one mission. Orson Pratt Sr. served the most with 24 missions between ages 19 and 67, throughout the eastern United States and Canada, the Midwest, four times to Britain, and once each to Europe and Austria. The award for the longest mission served goes to Samuel O. Bennion for 28 years as president of the Central States Mission.
2. Early missionaries carried the gospel across the world.
During the last few decades of the twentieth century, it became common to speak of the Church as a global church, but the foundation of this worldwide reach began in the earliest years.
Missionaries first left the United States to take the gospel to Canada, adjacent to New York, and to Indians, who had been pushed westward outside of federal territory. In 1837, the British Mission was established and by 1844, the year of Joseph Smith’s assassination, additional missions had been organized in the Eastern States and Tahiti. By the middle of the 1850s, formal missions had been established in Europe (1850), Australia (1851), India (1851), China (1853), and South Africa (1853). Outside of formal missions, individual missionaries had preached in Palestine (1841), Jamaica (1841), and Chile (1851). One hundred years after the Church was organized, formal missions existed in 36 countries with missionaries preaching in 22 languages.
3. Sister missionary numbers rose rapidly.
The first two single, female missionaries to be called and set apart for proselytizing — Amanda Inez Knight and Lucy Jane Brimhall — served in England in 1898. Before their call, more than 200 Latter-day Saint women had ventured into the field, some accompanying their husbands on proselytizing missions, while others were called to conduct genealogical research or study at distant universities.
But the formal calling of sister missionaries — known as “lady missionaries” in the earliest years — transformed the mission experience. The database documents 2,796 sister missionaries who served between 1898 and 1930, numbers which grew over time. In the Central States Mission, for example, the percentage of missionaries who were women rose from 2 percent in the 1900s to 11 percent in the 1910s, peaking at 36 percent in 1918 during World War I.
4. Missionaries left many records.
The Early Mormon Missionaries database assembles thousands of missionary journals, correspondence, photographs, sermons, histories and reports. By far the most popular set of records are handwritten letters sent by missionaries to presidents to accept their calls. Often the letters describe family situations and detail sacrifices the missionaries made to serve. Sometimes there is a note acknowledging that the letter was read by Wilford Woodruff or Joseph F. Smith.
Many missions hosted their own periodicals, rich with information about mission life — the Millennial Star (British Mission), Der Stern (Swiss and German Mission), Te Karere (New Zealand), Te Hereuraa Api (Tahiti), and Liahona, the Elder’s Journal (Central States).
If your family maintains records of a missionary ancestor, you may contact the Church History Library through the database to identify the best way to share your records to help document the early missionary experience.
5. Missionaries had fun (and took pictures).
Because missionaries regularly served in large cities with photography studios, they often sat for portraits and some carried photographic equipment in their travels. Thousands of photos in the database portray missionaries in meetings, on bicycles or on the streets. They took photos of themselves cooking, doing laundry, and reading. And they also had fun. Visit the database online to find photographs of missionaries wearing kilts or boxing gloves, stacked four high on each other’s shoulders, riding an old-fashioned flying machine or posing with dolls and teddy bears.
This year, the Early Mormon Missionaries database has been integrated with FamilySearch, linking the trees of FamilySearch users with the missionaries in the database. The database was created by the Church History Department, in partnership with the Missionary Department, FamilySearch and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. It is one of several products produced by the Church History Department that cater to family historians, including the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database, the premier source for information about the 19th-century Mormon migration.
This text is re-posted from the Juvenile Instructor blog, published today. Visit the blog for questions and my responses.
One of the most common tropes in Mormon literature asserts that Mormon practices are veiled in secrecy. In the realm of historical practice, the trope has been employed to describe the archival and historical collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presently housed in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. What lies in the vaults at the Church History Library? What is restricted, and why? Is it possible to use restricted items in your research? What restrictions influence the intellectual property request process? Are restrictions ever lifted?
On February 21, 2017, the public areas in the Church History Library building will re-open after four months of remodeling. While we are very excited about the new classroom and enhancements to the reading room, the occasion also seems to present an opportunity to “unveil” our process for making decisions about access to the Library’s collections. Like all institutional archives, we hold records that must be restricted for statutory, regulatory, contractual, and confidential reasons. Unlike most institutional archives, we have used modern technology to provide unprecedented access to the Library’s collections.
In 2011, the Library’s catalog went online and the following year we began digitizing our records in a systematic, large-scale way. Today there are more than 8.5 million images available in the catalog, 2.7 of which were digitized in 2015 (at a rate of 307 images every hour!). Many sources—such as the Joseph Smith Papers, Relief Society documents, and George Q. Cannon’s diaries—are being transcribed for full-text online searching. In 2015, we began a practice of redaction that now allows us to open thousands of previously restricted items. In the past, if a missionary diary contained the details of a disciplinary council on one page, the entire volume was restricted. Now, we digitize the volume, redact the name(s) of those involved, and release the entire volume (sans redaction) online. In 2015, more than 1,100 existing collections were opened for research. Three quarters of the Library’s holdings are open and available to research.
To put this recent work into context, I’ll share the considerations that influence an access decision, including types of materials in the Library, reasons for restricting access, levels of restriction, and delivery method. At the 2016 meeting of the Mormon History Association, I led a workshop on access restrictions at the Church History Library and this post summarizes that presentation.
1. Types of Materials
The first important consideration for access is the type of material you are seeking. Different reasons for restriction devolve directly from the type of materials in our collections. The Church History Library actually blends three types of institutions under one roof—archives, special collections, and library.
An archives, like the National Archives, is the official final resting place for records produced by an institution during the course of its normal activities. In the Church’s context, for example, when the Church builds a temple, the natural work process produces a record of property purchase, architectural plans, photographs of construction, dedicatory services, media releases, and so on. Other examples include patriarchal blessings and records generated by local church units, such as membership records and ward leadership meeting minutes. As each of those items cease to be needed in day-to-day work, they may be transferred to the Library. Thus, archival collections are typically unique, unpublished, and may be created in many formats (handwriting, photo, electronic document, audio, visual, maps, etc.). Archival materials are assembled by the institution, kept onsite, and preserved for future use. Most government, educational, business, and religious institutions maintain archives. Because private institutions keep the records for their own use, they are often under no obligation to share. Many institutional archives are simply closed to external use—the case with the archives for Coca-Cola, Coach (leather goods), JP Morgan Chase, Motorola, or the Pampered Chef. Some may be accessed by permission of the archivist, general counsel, and/or public affairs (the case with Wells Fargo or Campbell Soup) or by application and letters of reference (Citigroup). At the ABC News archive, finished products are not accessible but b-roll footage may be purchased. Even in archives of government or public entities, records are subject to legal or internal restrictions.
To put the Church into historical context, access to the Church’s archival collections have changed over time. In the 1880s the collections were closed (like Coca-Cola), and by the 1950s research could occur by permission (like Wells Fargo). The Hofmann forgeries and bombings produced a general tightening of restrictions during the 1980s and 1990s, but we have become increasingly more open since the turn-of-the-century.
A special collections institution, such as the Huntington Library, proactively seeks special, rare, and valuable materials. Sometimes the materials were published and have become scarce over time, such as rare books, specialized pamphlets, or broadsides. Other special collections materials are unique, such as personal papers, correspondence, photographs, and other manuscripts. In the Church’s context, these materials include early diaries of Church members, correspondence, personal and family papers.
A library, such as the Library of Congress, collects books, printed materials, and AV materials. In many libraries, the materials are not unique, are mass-produced, may be checked out, taken home, worn out (and simply replaced later). In the Church’s context, these materials include newspapers, pamphlets, the books we purchase from university presses, the materials produced by Church Distribution, scholarly journals and magazines to which we maintain subscriptions.
To put the Church History Library into institutional context, the type of materials that we collect and hold represent a combination of the National Archives, the Huntington Library, and the Library of Congress (we have very little in common with a public library). Researchers often visit the University of Utah and then the Church History Library, and leave wondering why things are restricted without realizing that the Marriott Library is primarily a special collection (with a small university archives component)—this makes the comparison between them and us more like an apple and a fruit basket. You may be interested to know that the scale of our operations is also dramatically larger. According to Archives West, Utah State University holds approximately 900 collections and the University of Utah has 3,300. BYU’s special collections holds 15,000. By comparison, the Church History Library provides access to approximately 179,000 collections that are stored onsite, in the Granite Mountain Records Vault (microfilm, digital, and selected book, manuscript, and AV collections), and in approximately two dozen storage locations in countries around the world. In 2015 alone, our archivists and librarians processed 3,300 new archival and manuscript collections and 6,200 new printed and rare items.
2. Reasons for Restriction
In the past, the staff of the Church History Library has talked about records that contain information deemed sacred, private, or confidential. As with other institutions, there are many reasons to restrict access to items and collections.
Some reasons are imposed by external statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirements. We are required by law to protect personal privacy, both in the specifics related to personal identity theft as well as more general respect for living persons. We follow laws created by the legal jurisdictions in which records are created (nations, states) that govern intellectual property, sharing across borders, or records known to be defamatory. Donors may also place restrictions on access as part of a signed donation agreement that becomes legally binding. My favorite example of this type of donor restriction occurred when Abraham Lincoln’s son donated his father’s personal papers to the Library of Congress but prohibited access until 21 years after the son’s death. Lincoln’s papers opened for research in 1949.
Other restrictions are derived from the physical or technical characteristics of the item in question—fragile physical condition, existence on an obsolete media form (very applicable to AV), high monetary value (we won’t send a million-dollar item into the reading room), the location where the item is stored (if it is offsite or in our cold storage vault it will not be available to view immediately).
As the institutional archive of the Church, we are obligated to restrict access to materials that are confidential. This includes records of Church disciplinary proceedings and priest-penitent communications with Church members as well as records that were created in a confidential setting and not intended for public distribution, such as meeting minutes, financial records, and the papers of Church leaders.
Other restrictions are defined by the Church History Department. We do not grant research access to items that are currently on exhibit, being digitized, or that have been acquired but not yet processed. Finally, some items are only temporarily in our custody, because they are on loan from another individual or institution (we had photographs of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon in the Library while they were being prepared for publication in the Joseph Smith Papers but they were not available to researchers).
We have posted an explanation of these reasons for restrictions on the Library’s website at https://history.lds.org/article/access.
3. Levels of Restriction
The Library assigns different levels of restriction—unrestricted, restricted, and highly restricted. The level is not categorical based on the reasons identified above, but is defined by assessing the mix of all the potential reasons. This is best illustrated by specific examples.
For example, we hold copies of patriarchal blessings. The primary reason for restricting access is that they contain sacred content. But they may also contain information about living persons (a mother’s maiden name, for example, rises to the level of personal identity protection because they are commonly used in security questions). Thus, to almost all requesters, official copies of patriarchal blessings are restricted—official copies enter our collection as the archival copy of work conducted by church officials. However, to the recipient, they are unrestricted (pending verification of the requester’s identity via an LDS Account). Recently, we have also begun to provide copies of blessings for direct-line ancestors and for deceased spouses and children. On the other hand, when individuals make a personal copy of their blessing, such as by writing it into their diary and then donating the diary to us, those copies are unrestricted (they came to us as personal manuscripts, not as official archival records). Some blessings, such as those of Joseph and Emma Smith, have been released for publication as part of the Joseph Smith Papers.
To take another example, materials created by General Authorities receive an initial designation as restricted because the day-to-day work of General Authorities routinely involves numerous sacred, private, or confidential matters. However, on a case-by-case basis we are beginning to change the designation and make some church president materials available. The Joseph Smith Papers are a prime example, so too is the journal of George Q. Cannon. Brigham Young’s office files are available digitally in our online catalog.
As a final example, consider records of disciplinary action. The official records created by priesthood leaders are highly restricted (they were produced in a confidential setting, and they were submitted to us for archiving through an official internal process). Personal manuscript records, such as the diary of a priesthood leader who commented about the process, are restricted (to protect confidentiality, for the legal protection given to priest-penitent communication, and the privacy of living persons may also apply). When a party to a disciplinary process shares his or her perspective publicly, such as in a newspaper or other publication (including in previous eras when the Church published a notice of the decision), the item is unrestricted.
4. Delivery Method
The final consideration in making an access decision involves factors inherent in the delivery method. Our preferred method of delivery is full-text online – this protects the original item from physical handling and makes the item available to all. Redaction permits us to share items online that could not be shared physically. The most significant impediment to online delivery is intellectual property—rights related to copying, publishing, and earning income. For example, due to copyright restrictions, we cannot digitize and post an electronic copy of a newly published book by a university press, though you may visit our building and read that same book on site.
We can also provide access to items in our reading room, and sometimes donors will restrict access to the reading room. In recent years, we have developed an electronic reading room that we call Individual Temporary Access (ITA) to facilitate the fact that some researchers are unable to physically travel to Salt Lake City (the access is managed through an LDS Account for members or guests).
Lastly, in some instances in which a record is restricted, rather than redacting a small portion of an item, we can release a small excerpt. Or, when a researcher has a specific request, we can verify the information in a restricted record.
Access designations of unrestricted, restricted, or highly restricted are the result of a decision-making process that considers material type, multiple external and internal reasons for protecting information and artifacts, and methods of potential delivery. I invite you to access our collections and services online at ChurchHistoryLibrary.org or in person in our newly remodeled reading room in Salt Lake City. Beginning February 21, 2017, we will be open every day at 10:00 a.m., closing most days at 5 p.m., except for 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Click the “Ask Us” button anywhere on our website or in our catalog for personalized help. We look forward to helping you in your research.
The February 2017 issue of the Ensign and Liahona magazines contains an article I wrote titled, “Understanding Church History by Study and Faith.” In the article, I introduce five concepts that help make sense of historical questions:
- The past is gone – only pieces remain
- Facts don’t speak, but storytellers do
- The past is different from the present (and that’s OK)
- Present assumptions distort the past
- Learning history requires humility
Read more at any of these links:
This text is re-posted from Rachel Sterzer, “Top 10 Treasures in the Church History Library,” Church News, September 9, 2016. The original contains many photographs, and some errors.
The Church History Library, located at Church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, is a special place, said the library’s director, Keith A. Erekson. The library houses a quarter of a million books and magazines as well as manuscripts, thousands of audiovisual materials, two million photographs, and many other artifacts that document the history of the Church in the latter days.
The Church goes to great lengths to preserve these treasures. The library retains secure storage vaults and is built to the highest seismic standards. It is climate controlled to reduce fluctuations in temperature for items that are temperature sensitive. It is also secured with cameras and sensors and lasers and “everything we need to keep the records safe,” Brother Erekson explained.
But amid the library’s trove of historical objects and documents are some extra special items. During a session of BYU Campus Education Week, Brother Erekson shared what he considers to be the “Top 10 Treasures of the Church History Library.”
10. President Hinckley’s sketch of small temples
In the 1880s the Church sent several families to northern Mexico to settle. They built a community—Colonia Juarez—including a school that continued to operate 100 years later. President Gordon B. Hinckley traveled there to celebrate the school’s centennial and on the four-hour drive back to El Paso, Texas, began thinking about the Saints he had met.
“[He thought] about their faith, about their history, about their long ties to the Church,” Brother Erekson said. He also thought about how the Saints had to travel six hours across international boundaries to go to the temple in Arizona.
On the plane ride from El Paso to Salt Lake City, President Hinckley sketched the plans for small temples, which he immediately presented to the Church architects, Brother Erekson said. By the October 1997 general conference, President Hinckley announced that they were going to experiment with small temples in Colonia Juarez, Mexico; Monticello, Utah; and Anchorage, Alaska. By July of 1998, the Monticello Temple was completed—13 months from idea to fruition, Brother Erekson noted.
In the April 1998 general conference, President Hinckley announced plans to construct 30 smaller temples immediately, in addition to 17 temples already under construction, to make a total of 47 new temples, plus the 51 then in operation. After naming the countries where the new temples were to be built, President Hinckley said, “I think we had better add two more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2,000 years ‘since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh’ (D&C 20:1). In this program we are moving on a scale the like of which we have never seen before” (“New Temples to Provide ‘Crowning Blessings of the Gospel,’” Ensign, May 1998).
“You remember how startling that was?” Brother Erekson asked. “The document of that revelation—of how he worked out the details and followed through—is preserved in the Church History Library.”
9. Emmeline B. Wells’s editorial in the Woman’s Exponent
In the late 19th century President Brigham Young called Emmeline B. Wells, who was serving in the General Relief Society Presidency, into his office. “He tells her, ‘We’ve been here in the valley for 30 years and I have been asking the men to save grain and they haven’t done anything, so I give up. So I’m asking you. I know you’ll get it done,’” Brother Erekson related.
As the editor of a women’s newspaper, the Woman’s Exponent, Sister Wells immediately penned an editorial issuing the challenge by the prophet. “And the sisters began that very day storing grain.”
In the early days, the women stored and used the grain to help those within their own community, but by the 20th century they began sending it to help others in need. They sent grain to help survivors of the San Francisco fire and to China following a devastating earthquake, Brother Erekson explained. During World War I, they sold the grain to the federal government, invested the money, and used the interest to provide insurance and medical assistance to pregnant women and their children.
“So we can see the roots of the Church’s welfare services, humanitarian services, and social services programs.” The impact of those women’s dedicated service goes back to Emmeline B. Wells and her editorial in the Woman’s Exponent, he said.
8. The letter from Liberty Jail
When Joseph Smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail, he dictated a letter to his scribe, Alexander McRae, who was also there. Joseph signed it. His brother Hyrum signed it. All of the men jailed with the Prophet signed it. In 1876 parts of the letter were used as sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
“But the actual letter that Joseph dictated, that a scribe wrote, that they all signed, is there in the Church History Library,” Brother Erekson shared.
7. Joseph Smith’s first journal
Two years after the Church was organized, Joseph Smith sat down for the first time in his life and started to record his activities.
“Joseph Smith was very aware that he didn’t have a lot of education,” Brother Erekson explained. The Prophet became a very good speaker but never became comfortable as a writer, which is what makes his journal “so precious,” Brother Erekson said. The journal captures his handwriting but also captures his inadequacy.
On the first page of the journal, the first sentence is scratched out. Joseph writes, “Oh may God grant that I may be directed in all my thoughts. Oh bless thy servant, Amen.”
“He can’t even get through the first page without a prayer for help because this is hard for him,” Brother Erekson said. “It’s a very precious record of his life and his experience.”
6. Wilford Woodruff’s copy of the Book of Commandments
In 1833, Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her sister, Caroline, saved a pile of printed revelations from an angry mob in Independence, Missouri, by gathering the pages, running, and hiding in a cornfield.
Shortly after, the salvaged pages were combined with other pages to create a tiny book called the Book of Commandments. “Individual members of the Church hand stitched their own personal copy of these revelations,” Brother Erekson explained. Only 29 copies of the book survived. The Church History Library owns six copies. The Library of Congress has one. Many are in private collections.
“This is one of the rarest and most prized items in all of American book publishing and collecting,” Brother Erekson said.
One of the copies in the library’s possession belonged to Wilford Woodruff. Brother Woodruff kept a few blank pages at the back of his copy. When Joseph Smith received the revelation known today as section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants—the Word of Wisdom—Brother Woodruff handwrote the revelation in the back of his book.
Wilford Woodruff’s handwritten, signed copy of the Book of Commandments “is one of the great treasures of Church history and we’re happy it is in the library,” Brother Erekson said.
5. Fragments of the papyrus scrolls
Brother Erekson explained that the library has 11 fragments that date back to about 200 B.C. “Obviously these are not the things that Abraham wrote on. Papyrus does not last that long. These are copies of copies of copies of copies.” Brother Erekson said they are unsure where the fragments fit within the scrolls that Joseph translated as the book of Abraham.
The scrolls were uncovered in Egypt in the early 1800s and made their way through dealers and collectors to Italy, then to New York City, and then to Ohio, where Joseph purchased them. After translating the book of Abraham, Joseph gave the scrolls to his mother, Lucy Mack Smith.
Brother Erekson said historians’ best guess is that the scrolls were separated when the Saints left Nauvoo. There is historical evidence, he said, that a museum in Chicago was collecting the material before being consumed in the fire of 1871. The fragments now on display in the library were discovered in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 before being acquired by the Church.
“They’ve all been digitized and are online on the Joseph Smith Papers website. They’ve never been on display publicly until just a little bit ago.”
4. Hyrum’s copy of the Book of Mormon
“You may recognize this book,” Brother Erekson told attendees, noting that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland held it up in the 2009 October general conference.
The book belonged to Hyrum Smith’s wife and has a page folded down in the book of Ether where Hyrum was reading before he left for Carthage, where he was murdered with his brother the Prophet Joseph Smith.
“This book is one of the precious things connected with Hyrum Smith’s life and the end of his and Joseph’s [lives] and one of the great treasures that we have in the library,” Brother Erekson said.
3. 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon
Only 5,000 copies of the first edition of the Book of Mormon were printed in New York City in 1830, Brother Erekson explained. Today, somewhere from 500 to 700 survive.
“This is the kind of book that the first generation of converts read. The second edition wasn’t published until 1837. … If your family encountered the Church from 1830 to 1837, this is the Book of Mormon they would have somehow seen or read or borrowed or heard read aloud or found a way to learn about and pray about. This is the edition that Brigham Young read, that Eliza R. Snow and Lorenzo Snow read, that Heber C. Kimball read,” Brother Erekson said.
2. Original manuscript of the Book of Mormon
Brother Erekson explained that when Joseph Smith completed translating the gold plates, he gave his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, an assignment—make a copy of the whole manuscript.
“We call that copy the printer’s manuscript,” Brother Erekson said. “That’s the copy they took to the printer to do the typesetting, and Joseph kept the original manuscript.”
When the Saints settled in Nauvoo, Joseph put the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. “It stayed there for 40 years until the house is kind of crumbling. When they open up the cornerstone, water had gotten in and they find a soggy mess,” Brother Erekson said.
Today, historians have been able to recover about 28 percent of the original manuscript. Through the Joseph Smith Papers project, the printer’s manuscript has been digitized and is available online.
1. Patriarchal blessing records
“We have all kinds of treasures, but of all of the treasures we keep, I think … the most important for every member of the Church is that we keep the official record of your patriarchal blessing.”
Brother Erekson then gave listeners a special invitation to come and “see these treasures.”
“All except your patriarchal blessing are on display at the Church History Library. I personally invite you to come up and take a look at the originals. See them there. Bring your family. Bring your friends.”
The excitement and value of Church History will be my theme during four presentations at Brigham Young University’s Campus Education Week on August 16-19, 2016.
Church History Can Help You!
1:50–2:45 p.m. in 222 Martin Building (MARB)
T The Top 10 Treasures in the Church History Library
W Use Church History to Understand Your Patriarchal Blessing
Th Find Your Family in Church History
F Answer Questions about Church History
The Top 10 Treasures in the Church History Library
The Church History Library houses the Church’s official archival, manuscript, and print records and among its collections are found many wonderful treasures. This presentation will share stories and high-quality images of each treasure, employing a top-10-style countdown to reveal them. Attendees will be invited to see the treasures in person.
Use Church History to Understand Your Patriarchal Blessing
The Church History Library holds the official copies of patriarchal blessings submitted by patriarchs. It also holds thousands of journals, talks, and letters that document the efforts of Church members and leaders to follow the counsel in their individual blessings. Drawing from published comments, the presentation shares experiences in understanding and interpreting one’s own patriarchal blessing.
Find Your Family in Church History
The Church History Library holds millions of original, authoritative historical records such as diaries, memoirs, personal papers, letters, photographs, and oral histories. Learn how to use these records to uncover historical experiences, personal and family history, and priesthood lineage.