Making History Accessible and Personal

by Maddie Christensen

March 1, 2023, marked the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation’s third anniversary. Jennifer Mackley, the Executive Director of the Wilford Woodruff Papers, shares, “The value of these records is much greater than the amazing life and example of Wilford Woodruff. His eyewitness day-to-day account of the Restoration of the gospel in the nineteenth century includes the lives and contributions of over 14,000 other individuals. He provides an unparalleled account that sheds light on the obscure and the spectacular; the conversations and revelations; the spiritual, political, and personal.”

Early Completion of the Project

Along with celebrating their three-year anniversary, the Foundation has some exciting news to share: The Project’s original goal was to digitally preserve, transcribe, verify, and publish every surviving document that Wilford Woodruff wrote between 1828 and 1898—all within ten years. However, the work has been moving along at an incredible pace, and the Foundation recently announced that what was previously outlined as a ten-year project has now accelerated to only seven years. This means the Project will be completed by 2027 and will include both images and searchable transcriptions of Wilford Woodruff’s 65 years of journals, 9 handwritten autobiographies, 15 daybooks, over 6,000 letters, and hundreds of additional documents.

Unique Approach to Making History Accessible

The Foundation has grown incredibly since its inception in March 2020 and its website launch in March 2021. As of March 2023, the Foundation has employed 87 college and high-school interns on its editorial and research teams and worked with 168 volunteers in the past year alone. The volunteers range in age from teenagers to 80-year-olds, and 70% of the staff is under the age of 30.

In 2023, the Foundation will reach five million people through social media, press, and published articles. The work of countless groups, including the Board of Directors led by Jordan Woodruff Clements, Advisors, and volunteers applying their talents on the technology, research, and transcription teams, has helped in the process from locating the documents to making them universally accessible online. As of March 2023, more than 28,000 pages have been located and almost 14,000 pages have been transcribed and published with people, places, and topics within those documents now searchable.

Partners in the Process

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an immense help in hastening the work of the Foundation. With the support and guidance from staff at the Church History Library, FamilySearch, the Church History Museum, BYU Special Collections, the Joseph Smith Papers, and the Wilford Woodruff Family Association, the team involved in the Wilford Woodruff Papers has identified and cataloged hundreds of new documents in the past few months.

The standard set with The Joseph Smith Papers is the template for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. Several former and current staff members of the Joseph Smith Papers serve as Advisors for the Project. Steven C. Harper, the Executive Editor of the Wilford Woodruff Papers, was a volume editor of The Joseph Smith Papers. Eric Smith, an Advisor for the Project, is the editorial manager and a general editor of The Joseph Smith Papers. Another Advisor, Matthew Godfrey, was the managing historian of The Joseph Smith Papers for nine years and is currently a general editor. Emeritus General Authority and recently released Church Historian, Legrand R. Curtis Jr., recently joined the Board of Directors, and with his experience overseeing the completion of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, he is an invaluable resource for the Wilford Woodruff Papers.

The Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation could not have shortened the Project’s timeline without the incredible support of individual donors. The acceleration of the Project will actually save 1.5 million dollars, and the work accomplished by volunteers and through advanced technology continues to lower projected costs.

Along with producing an increasing number of published documents, the Foundation has partnered with many other organizations to help share the inspiring messages within the documents and stories from the lives of thousands of people contained in Wilford Woodruff’s records. In addition to FamilySearch, the Church History Library, the Church History Museum, and the Joseph Smith Papers, these new partnerships include FAIR Latter-day Saints, Meridian Magazine, the Come Follow Me Foundation, and Scripture Central.

Ed Evans, Director of Strategy at the Foundation, shares, “Our purpose is to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and increase their faith in Jesus Christ. We established a Communications Team early on and have been able to combine the historical data with  advanced technologies to produce videos, testimonials, Come, Follow Me themed articles, and special faith-promoting quotes, podcasts, and devotionals that can be easily accessed online with any PC or mobile device.”

Celebration of Scholarship

The Foundation recently hosted their first conference, Building Latter-day Faith, to celebrate the Foundation’s third anniversary and the debut of the scholarship derived from the Papers. The conference was held on March 4, 2023, at the Hinckley Center on the campus of Brigham Young University and drew an enthusiastic and diverse crowd of 350 attendees. The mission of the conference was that seekers of the truth would be instructed, inspired, and motivated through speakers, presentations, and art. The conference featured a variety of speakers including Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, former BYU–Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright, three BYU professors, and two student historians, Hovan Lawton and Ellie Hancock. 

Wilford Woodruff’s Saddle

Artifacts were also on display from Wilford Woodruff’s life, including his fly fishing rod, saddle, and pepperbox revolver; a letter he wrote to his wife Phebe in 1837; and the prize-winning silk coverlet made for the 1893 World’s Fair that was presented to him on his 90th birthday. The art gallery included works by professional painters, commissioned art, and poetry, dance, and literature inspired by Wilford Woodruff’s writings. 

Julie Rogers and her paintings inspired by the Wilford Woodruff Papers

Steve Harper, Executive Editor of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project, expressed his perspective about the conference in his closing remarks: “I saw a sign on campus a year or two ago that said, ‘I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.’ That’s what it feels like sometimes to be a historian. You want to do this work and you hope people will care, because you care deeply about it. This room full of people shows that people care about this sacred past that Wilford Woodruff cared so much about.”

Steve Harper, Executive Editor

Looking Forward

With the exciting news of the accelerated Project pace, the Foundation is well positioned to achieve its mission to transcribe, contextualize, and publish Wilford Woodruff’s records of the Restoration. Making the estimated 30,000 pages of records universally accessible is already 47% complete—all in only three years. Technology projects currently underway with the Foundation’s partners at BYU and BYU–Idaho will optimize access and searchability of the documents and bring the stories to life through data science and visual experiences. Through technology and the acceleration of the Project, people in the future can learn more from the past. Steve Harper, Executive Editor, shares, “Wilford Woodruff largely made the glasses through which we see the Latter-day Saint past.”

The documents are available online at, and you can search for your own relatives and others who played a role in the Restoration during the nineteenth century at To volunteer and contribute your time and talents to this historic Project, please visit

Maddie Christensen is the Public Relations Manager for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in public relations. Maddie has always loved learning about Church history and enjoys learning from the writings of Wilford Woodruff. She is passionate about sharing his insights with everyone and is grateful to be part of such an incredible work.

The Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation’s mission is to digitally preserve and publish Wilford Woodruff’s eyewitness account of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and make his records universally accessible in order to inspire all people, especially the rising generation, to study and to increase their faith in Jesus Christ. For more information, please explore