President Spencer W. Kimball is well-known for encouraging members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to keep journals. He set an example of doing this, and produced a large journal that was recently made available through the Church History Library digital collections. Recently, Latter-day Saint archivists Jeffrey Anderson and Brandon Metcalf discuss the journals of President Spencer W. Kimball in an interview at the Church history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).
Wilford Woodruff is probably the other president of the Church who is best known for his prolific journal keeping, and his records provide the major backbone for Church history in the mid-to-late 1800s. It’s possible that Spencer W. Kimball’s could come to serve a similar function for Church history in the mid-1900s. As the interviewees explained, President Kimball’s journals are notable because:
First, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and as President of the Church, he witnessed and captured key information about the development of the Church as it was happening.
Second, he kept a journal. Not everyone does. During his time as a member of the Twelve, he wrote nearly every day.
Third, his entries are lengthy, rich, and insightful. His writing style is delightful, and at times, those of us familiar with his conference talks can hear that same unique personal style in his writing.
Finally, he is the Church leader who promoted journals and the journal reflects what you’d expect from the great advocate of journals.
All of those reasons point towards the Kimball journals being a significant source for Church history moving forward.
In addition to his own records and writing, Spencer W. Kimball kept clippings from newspapers as part of his journal, providing another window into his interests.
Many are from Utah papers—Church News, Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, etc. But perhaps the highest value of the newspaper articles are those that he collected outside of Utah, while on mission tours or at a temple dedication.
Many of these articles come from local newspapers inaccessible elsewhere. The journals also include letters, photographs, pamphlets, tickets, receipts, travel brochures—items that he felt would document his experiences.
Those materials tell a story about his commitment to keep a record of his life and ministry. He was a curious person, and the gathering of those records provide evidence of his interests and concerns. …
In 1947, during the centennial commemoration of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, he and Sister Kimball traveled along the trail with others as part of a reenactment.
Unlike the events of 1997 where replica wagons were used, they decorated automobiles to loosely appear to be prairie schooners for the journey to Salt Lake City. Along the way, he collected newspaper clippings from rural papers with limited circulation.
Those clippings may only exist in this collection.
Those clippings provide their own insights into our history and Spencer W. Kimball’s life.
While the Spencer W. Kimball journals are a significant resource, the Church History Library has an ongoing effort to make primary sources available. As was stated in the interview:
There are many thousands of collections in the library to touch nearly any heart. Church members can likely find themselves in the records. Throughout our history, we have gathered records from nearly every ward and stake in the Church. These local records are priceless by connecting one to their past or the life of an ancestor.
I hosted the youth in my ward a few years ago and showed them some of the treasures from our collection—records that included a Nauvoo Temple drawing and a World War II prisoner of war minute book.
In our ward, there is a tradition of publishing a remarkable newsletter which I have added to our collection over the years. When I invited the group to get a closer look at the records on the table, I noticed that most of them gravitated to the ward newsletters. They bypassed records of significant events in Church history to see themselves in the records.
We have a senior missionary serving in the department whose mother passed away when she was an infant. One day she read from the minutes of her childhood ward and discovered that a clerk had summarized a testimony given by her mother in a sacrament meeting. She was hearing the voice of her mother bearing testimony for the first time that she longed to hear all her life. To her, this was a most precious record.
Of course, we also have records of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other prominent Church leaders. And we have thousands of oral histories conducted with members around the world. To me, they are all sacred records that document the Church and its members.
So, there is plenty there for those interested in Church history.
For more on the journals of Spencer W. Kimball, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full interview.
But for the rest of us who don’t become notable of any sort, things like journals and newspaper clippings will get tossed out either as soon as we pass away, or once our kids pass away.
My Father-in-Law just received a bunch of family heirlooms, because all of his uncles descendants don’t want to take care of them. And honestly, I expect we’ll throw them out once he passes.
I’ve always wondered how the journals and documents of our time will be treated compared to the pioneer-era ones in the Church. The journals, etc., from then were often treated the way you describe, but those that were saved and archived are treasured by historians now. Could it be the same for us in the future?
I heard that general authorities are instructed not to keep journals these days. I also heard (a long time ago) that the Church and/or BYU would accept some journals from church members for historical purposes, but they did not want every member’s journal.
I don’t know on what general authorities are instructed to do, but my understanding is more that they sign away the rights to their journal to the Church so it doesn’t get out to the public than it is a prohibition on journal writing.
A good solution for journals might be uploading them as text documents to FamilySearch as “Memories.” That would give you long-term storage and access to the people who might be interested. At least a few are there already.
To my knowledge none of my ancestors on any side of my family kept a journal. I’m not sure how many were literate 100+ years ago anyway. But if I had a journal from an ancestor I couldn’t imagine throwing it away. even if it was from hundreds of years ago. And If my grandparents or great grandparents had a journal, I’d prize it. Other keepsakes, items, nick nacks or just plain old things, yeah I wouldn’t keep much or any of that.
I understand that since Leonard Arrington’s journals, any General or Area Authority signs the copyright on his personal papers and writings over to the Church. That may well apply to senior employees as well–but I don’t know. I also believe that Heber J. Grant’s journals are the bridge between the Woodruff Journals and the Kimball Diaries.