Additional Resource

From the Past to the Present, Special Collections Preserve the Mormon Experience

With the encouragement of his son-in-law, Joseph J. Daynes Jr., Church President Wilford Woodruff, in March 1897, spoke into a phonograph and recorded his testimony. His words, preserved as a three-inch wax cylinder wrapped in cotton batting and stored in a cardboard tube, are only one of the unique artifacts contained in the historical special collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Special collections inventories both document and illustrate the history of the Church.
“Archived records are one of a kind, not like published records.  Archival records are unique and, therefore, irreplaceable,” explains Matthew Heiss, archivist in the Church History Department, though Heiss emphasizes that  nearly every record  is preserved on microfilm so the content will always be available.

Such valued items tell the stories of Church members and events. “Without the collections in the archives, we would have a very limited recorded history,” Heiss continues. “We would be like a people with amnesia, but because we have records, we have a memory.”

“And what we have here gives a sense of belonging to each member of the Church,” adds Bill Slaughter, supervisor of reference and consultation at the Church History Library. “We are a private special collection for the use of the Church and for others studying about the Church.”

Included in the vast collection of historical items are “ official documents of the Church, books, pamphlets, audiovisual productions, diaries, correspondence, photographs, art and artifacts,” says Sarah Sorenson, collections development specialist at the Church History Library.

The minute book of the Cape Coast Branch in Ghana, for example, contains an account of the 1978 baptisms for numerous people who had made a previous, but not yet official commitment to the Church.  An oral history recorded by Heiss with Yuri and Ludmila Terebenin describes their conversion to the Church while vacationing in Hungary in 1989.When they returned home to Leningrad, they were the only Latter-day Saints in that large Soviet city. Shortly thereafter, however, missionaries arrived in Leningrad. The Terebinins had prepared some of their friends to hear the gospel, and on 11 February 1990, the first branch in Russia was organized in their apartment. Other records provide anecdotal and statistical information about the Church organization in locations worldwide.

A broad collection of photographs illustrates various periods and events in the history of the Church. An unusual example, dated 1866, depicts a wagon company arriving in Coalville, Utah, that year.

Every edition, every translation, every revision or retranslation of the Book of Mormon lines the shelves in another section of the library. Several unique copies of the scriptures include a volume signed by Joseph Smith and another signed by one of the Book’s three witnesses, David Whitmer.

Bound volumes of patriarchal blessings, a collection near four million strong, recorded in stakes throughout the Church, fills another spot in the library. Such records go back to the first blessings offered in the 1830s and 1840s, but also include the 1857 book of hand-written blessings given by Isaac Morley, the first patriarch in the Salt Lake Valley.

Many other documents cover the early history of the Church and the State of Utah.  An entry in Brigham Young’s 1845 journal underscores the emphasis Church leaders placed on preserving the history of the Church.   “I called on Elder Willard Richards and found him engaged on the History,” Young wrote.

Working drawings of the 1840s Nauvoo Temple can be found in another section of the archives. “The nail holes in each of the corners evidence that this particular drawing may have been posted someplace near the construction site,” explains archivist Heiss. “There are measures and scale markers on the sides and drawings that would have been used by those building the temple.” A facsimile of the drawings is exhibited in the Church History Museum.

Selection criteria for inclusion the archives collections are based on historical significance of the item, the origin of the record, potential use of the item and its physical condition, according to collections specialist  Sorenson. 

With nearly 50 miles of archive storage space and the convenience of a self-standing library in the newly constructed facility, the special collections inventory will be even more accessible to Church and public use.

“It’s our task,” Slaughter concluded, “to collect vital information, properly preserve it and then provide public access and customer service to the library. We preserve and share the treasures of the Mormon experience, more than just the official word, but documentation of the gospel impact in the everyday lives of its members and associates.”

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.