Find Your Relatives
Find Your Relatives
Images of Wilford's Family

Discover Your Relatives in Wilford Woodruff's Papers

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Project Progress January 1, 2023

Insight from the Letters Team

When Wilford Woodruff’s son Asahel was serving in the British mission, Wilford received many letters from him that provide interesting insights into the continuity of missionary work throughout this last dispensation. In these letters, Asahel wrote to his father about the ups and downs of mission life: the joy he felt in seeing the hand of God in his life and in his opportunity to help bring people the restored gospel, but also the struggles he faced with his own abilities to preach the gospel. Reading these accounts reminded me of my own mission experience in Guatemala. I found it interesting how across over a century of time, my experience was in many ways similar. Like Asahel, most missionaries nowadays know what it is like to feel afraid and unprepared to serve God (see June 1, 1884 letter); to feel the frustration that comes with facing false rumors and information about our Church (see December 2, 1884 letter); or to confront the frustration that comes with walking miles and miles to teach someone only to find out that they are not home (see February 23, 1885 letter). This does not mean that differences do not exist between missionary work today and in Asahel’s time, because they certainly do. However, as I transcribed Asahel's letters and pondered on these insights, I thought of Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the kingdom of God and the stone cut out without hands that “filled the whole earth.” Although rumors and persecutions have raged and will continue to rage against the kingdom of God, His work will continue to roll forward until it fills the earth.

— Matthew Roberts, Editorial Assistant 

Insight from the Journals Team

On January 1, 1861, Wilford Woodruff had the opportunity to dedicate the new hall for the 13th Ward in Great Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. As I read his dedication, I was surprised and inspired by the great detail he went to in his prayer. He began by praying for general things, like asking that the Spirit be there. But then he dug deeper. “We dedicate the foundation of this Hall unto the Lord, the stone, the sand, clay, Lime and mortar and every thing appertaining thereto that it may be Holy. We dedicate the walls of this building, the Adobies and mortar and evry thing appertaining thereto unto the Lord that it may be Holy. We dedicate the windows, the curtains, and every thing connected therewith unto the Lord that they may be Holy. We dedicate the ceiling, the cornish, with its ornamenting and all belonging thereto that it may be Holy. We dedicate the roof with the shingles, nails, sheeting, rafters, and everything connected therewith unto the Lord that it may be Holy.” He continued, “We dedicate the doors with the Hinges latches and locks and all belonging thereto unto the Lord that they may be Holy. We dedicate the floor with the seats and all belonging thereto that it may be Holy. . . . We dedicate the chandeliers with the Lamps that they may be Holy unto the Lord. We dedicate this Building as a whole from the foundation stone to the top thereof with every thing appertaining thereto that it may be Holy unto the Lord.” And finally, he asked, “Will thou clothe all of thy servants who shall administer in this House with the spirit and power of God and the gift of the Holy Ghost that they may Be Holy.”

It may seem strange that I was touched by this prayer. But I find it powerful that Wilford wanted even the smallest parts of the building, down to the nails on the roof and the hinges on the doors, to be holy. He found the potential for holiness in the mundane. And after praying for each little part of the building, he indicated at the close of the dedicatory prayer that his ultimate hope was that the people themselves would be holy. In a similar way, I am sure that Wilford would pray that even in the mundane of our lives, we would strive to be holy. Can we dedicate our schoolwork or our careers to be holy unto the Lord? What about the even smaller details of our lives, like our conversations, our thoughts, and our intentions? I believe that making a concerted effort to increase the holiness of the smallest aspects of our lives can build us into holy people, dedicated to God.

— Ashlyn Pells, Associate Editor

Insight from the Discourses Team

When we hear of Wilford Woodruff, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is the impressive journal that he kept. It is no surprise, then, to learn that he preached about the importance of journaling and record keeping during his ministry. In a talk given February 15, 1853, he taught a congregation of “Seventies & Elders” about the importance of keeping a good journal. He admonished them “to keep a Journal & History of their lives, for the record & history of this church & kingdom will be wanted in some future day.” 

This is a common line of reasoning used to explain why keeping a journal is so important: that it will be a great benefit for future generations. However, Wilford expounds on this obligation of journal keeping in a way that perhaps we seldom consider. He explained how Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had kept histories and records of their lives—but would this be enough to constitute a history of the Church? Wilford went on to ask if these records of prominent leaders alone “record the life History & dealings of God with the many thousands of Apostles & Elders who are or will be in the world among evry Nation under Heaven?” His answer was an emphatic “No.”

Wilford Woodruff’s lesson was that for these Elders and Seventies, the everyday members of the Church, writing the daily revelations and events of their lives and their ministry would play a valuable role in writing the history of the Church. Such a profound insight can be extended to each of us as we journal our daily experiences as disciples of Jesus Christ. Hopefully after considering the importance of such a responsibility, we are determined to take Wilford’s advice to “write and not neglect it.”  

— Michael Proudfoot, Editorial Assistant

Insight from the Additional Documents Team

Wilford Woodruff always tried to live his life searching for, learning from, and applying truth. Not content with simply joining the Church, he constantly hungered for more, and his papers are replete with examples of this. Perhaps we also feel this desire for more truth in a world where other concerns and voices crowd our minds. So what can we learn from Wilford Woodruff’s example?

Gaining spiritual knowledge first and foremost is not a passive event, according to Wilford Woodruff. When he wanted to learn more, he would go to the source. On December 19, 1841, for instance, he recorded in his personal book of revelations that “I Willford met at the house of Joseph Smith the seer this evening to hear Preaching by Elder Kimball he opened by prayer read a chapter in the Book of Mormon & then spoke as he was led by the spirit of God.” 

Wilford’s desires led to action, to seek spiritual knowledge and insight from Prophets and Apostles. Such desires also led him to embrace what the best books can offer. The Wilford Woodruff Papers now include part of a book on Freemasonry, which he copied word for word, that explored the construction of Solomon’s temple. This pattern of learning by study and by faith molded him into the prophet he would eventually become. What could the Lord accomplish in our own lives if we did the same? As we begin a new year, I hope we will be inspired by  Wilford Woodruff’s example and act on our desires to seek after truth.

— Christian Decker, Archivist

Insight from the Research Team

Serving in various positions throughout his life, Wilford Woodruff came into contact with preachers from many different faiths. In his earlier years, some of these preachers included Noah Porter, Gideon J. Newton, and William Douglass, each of whom taught their congregations on or near the coast of Maine. Wilford Woodruff’s interactions with each preacher were different, but he always took the time to answer questions about his own faith and to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. 

Wilford Woodruff didn’t hesitate to share his witness of the truth, even knowing some, if not most, would reject it. But, while these three preachers did not accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, many people in the areas where he preached were touched by the Spirit and brought into the fold, as recorded in Wilford’s journal entry from September 10, 1837 when he was in Maine: “I truly felt to rejoice to behold the mighty captains of the sea enter the new & everlasting covenant. The spirit of God rested upon me. I addressed the people that stood upon the shore, many were cut to the heart.” 

Wilford’s boldness is an example of 1 Peter 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

— Hannah Taylor, Research Manager