The Church History Library staff is dedicated to helping researchers of all types—academic specialists, family historians, and persons with general interest—access the numerous records housed in the library’s shelves. In this post, library staff share favored collections they have encountered in their work. These collections range from unique photographs and drawings that help us see history in a new way, to documents illustrating the importance of preserving history, to records that put your ancestors in the middle of history. We hope these highlighted collections inspire you in your research.
Elise Reynolds, Church history consultant
Photograph collections are some of my favorite collection types. One that I love is the Temple Square photographs circa 1870–1981 collection. This collection is a wonderful resource for documenting the history of Temple Square and showing how its buildings and layout have evolved over time. There are photographs of buildings long since removed, such as the observatory, the Temple Square greenhouse, the Bureau of Information gazebo, and the Deseret Museum. The collection also provides information about other details of the past. For example, in the 1930s and 1940s, pilots flying over Temple Square might notice greetings and directions to the airport painted on the roof of the Tabernacle. Typically, we think of history as something that is read and conveyed using words, but this collection is a fantastic example of how much historical information can be imparted through images.
Tyson Thorpe, Church history consultant
Part of First Presidency (John Taylor) correspondence, 1877-1887 (CR 1 180)
After a visit to the Historian’s Office (precursor to the Church History Library) in 1882, George Goddard became worried that the histories and records of the Saints and the Church could easily be lost. The situation in the office was not great for records, as there was little protection taken against theft, fire, and other threats to the materials. So Goddard proposed the construction of a vault where the records could be kept. It is interesting to me that even then, there were efforts to ensure that valuable historical records would be preserved.
Anne Berryhill, Church history consultant
These directories are very useful for tracing military installations with Church branches as well as the history of Church unit leadership, meetinghouses, and meeting locations during a 19-year span (from 1943 to 1962). In many cases, the units documented in these directories are the first Church units in their respective areas. These military branches took Church organization into places it had never previously been. The directories offer a simple way to find useful information that can be hard to dig out of local records.
Jeff Thompson, Church history consultant
One of my favorite collections is the Charles W. Carter photograph collection. It has been featured on the main page of our catalog for a long time, but its value is often overlooked. The collection consists mainly of views of Salt Lake City in its young days in the 1860s, when the streets were still dirt, taverns and bathhouses lined Main Street, and the population was only a few thousand. Other than the rising temple and Tabernacle, it is almost unrecognizable from the city that exists today. Very few of the buildings depicted still exist, and in many instances, these are the only images we have of the city at that time. The glass plate negatives are in pristine condition, and the detail you can see is amazing. This is one of the best resources to see the original look of the “city of the Saints.”
Anya Bybee, hosting and events coordinator and Church history consultant
I chose two collections because they go hand in hand. These two temples are very important in the history of Latter-day Saint temples. What I love about these drawings is the fact that I am able to see the temples develop through the drawings. We are not able to see what the Nauvoo Temple looked like at the time it was built, except through pictures that aren’t very clear. Through the drawings in this collection, the Nauvoo Temple comes to life. We can see what it looked like in 1847 before it was destroyed by fire. The drawings allow us to see all the beautiful architectural carvings and designs close up. Each of these collections contains elevation drawings, stonemason charts, views of molding, and so much more.
Bart Atkin, digital access coordinator
This is a collection of photographs of buildings that the Church has owned or rented throughout the years, including meetinghouses, seminaries, Relief Society halls, mission homes, and other local unit buildings. The photographs were collected by the Physical Facilities Department for their records and are arranged alphabetically by unit name. On a personal note, I was able to see how the meetinghouse I now attend has changed since it was constructed 57 years ago, see the chapel that my grandmother attended as a child, and discover the Garland sugar factory boardinghouse. After the fall harvest was done, my great-grandfather would saddle up his horse every Monday morning and ride 40 miles from Lewiston to Garland. He stayed in the boardinghouse while he worked the night shift during the week. He would then ride home on Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with his family. Researchers of all levels can use this collection to see the Church buildings of the past and present and make connections with some of the buildings where shared history takes place.
Jennifer Barkdull, CA, project coordinator
I really love the European Mission Emigration records, Scandinavian Mission 1852–1920 collection. One of the greatest values of this record is not only seeing people’s names, birthplaces, ages, and occupations and the ship they traveled on, but also determining who someone traveled with. This could be family members or neighbors. Another wonderful insight that comes from these records is that not all individuals who emigrated survived the ship’s journey or even decided to travel to where the Saints were located. If you have been doing research for Scandinavian pioneer ancestors but have not found them with the records of the Saints, you might want to check these records to see if they did indeed travel with their family. If they did, this might lead you to research deaths on the ship, records at one of the port areas, or records of towns along the route where they may have ended their journey.