Project Progress September 1, 2023
At the Joseph Smith Papers Conference held in September 2023, the editors and staff reflected on their 22 years of work to publish all the Papers online and publish selections in 27 print volumes. The Papers include over 19,000 pages of Joseph Smith’s records. Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of The Joseph Smith Papers, the leadership of Jennifer Mackley and Steve Harper, our hardworking editorial and research teams, our Board, and our generous donors, the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation has published almost 26,000 pages of Wilford Woodruff’s records online in less than three years. At the September conference, Church Historian and Recorder Elder Kyle S. McKay specifically cited the Wilford Woodruff Papers as the example of how future Church history projects may be successfully approached.
by McKenzie Wood, Research Specialist
As summer comes to a close, we continue to discover new documents and stories from the life of Wilford Woodruff. The more documents we find, the more this great prophet’s life and works become clear.
From June 1 to August 31, we found 924 pages of discourses, letters, and additional documents and prepared them for transcription. While we are still looking through the Church History Library’s collections, we have also begun branching out to other archives to search for documents, including University of Utah, Utah State University, University of Arizona, and Weber State University. Through the hard work of our researchers, we have found a plethora of previously unknown documents hidden in the archives. An example of the records found are letters to Wilford Woodruff from David K. Udall and Lot Smith in Arizona—a place near and dear to Wilford’s heart from his days as a missionary among the Native Americans. The letters show how widespread a prophet’s counsel was needed in his day as the Saints settled many areas and looked for guidance from God’s chosen servant on earth.
We thank the Board and our fellow servants in this work for the opportunity to carry out this great cause. We look forward to finding more of Wilford’s documents in the coming quarter.
by Jason Godfrey, General Editor
During the summer months of June, July, and August—though busy with traveling and spending time with family and friends—we have not ceased the important task of transcribing the work of Wilford Woodruff and his correspondents. During these two months, 2,491 pages have been transcribed through the efforts of volunteers, interns, and staff. As new documents continue to be discovered, the task of transcription remains a critical step in enabling a document to be shared with a global audience on our website.
One such document that was transcribed this summer was from Joseph Smith Jr. on December 20, 1843. In this letter, the Prophet Joseph wrote, among other things, about the significance of the Times and Seasons newspaper in its effort to continue publishing true and correct principles and events. As manager of this newspaper, Wilford Woodruff played a key role in ensuring that Joseph Smith’s vision was realized.
Particularly, Wilford was reminded from this letter that “many of the articles which appear in the Times and Seasons, are extracts of revelations, translations, or are the united voice of conferences, which like ‘apples of gold in baskets of silver,’ are treasures more than meet for the called, chosen, and faithful among the saints; and should be more than drink to those that
hunger and thirst after righteousness.” The Prophet continued, “As Nauvoo is rising in glory and greatness, so shall I expect to see the Times and Seasons increase in circulation by the vigilance of the elders and saints—so as to be a herald of truth, and a standard of pure and undefiled religion. Finally, men and brethren, when you support my friends, you support me.” In a similar fashion, the purpose of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project is to bring individuals and families closer to the truth contained in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. For this reason, we are indeed grateful for the dedication that is given in transcribing every letter of every word on every page of these precious documents.
by Steven C. Harper
Thanks to the hard work of Editorial Assistants and trained volunteers, our second-quarter verification work continues ahead of schedule. Between June 1 and August 31 we verified 5,167 pages. Senior Editorial Assistant Amber Becker has played an especially key role in pushing this work forward during the second quarter. She leads a talented and hardworking team with grace, efficiency, and diligence.
Verification ensures accuracy in documents that convey the facts of history and restored gospel truths. Last quarter we verified that Wilford did not write about himself as an “obscene” miller but as an “obscure” one. We haven’t caught any errors quite that consequential in the second quarter, but we continue to painstakingly work toward presenting President Woodruff’s papers to the world accurately. We express gratitude to the Board and to all our donors for valuing accuracy and the truth enough to invest so much to ensure the integrity of the Wilford Woodruff Papers.
by Ashlyn Pells, Associate Editor
From June 1 to August 31, the stylization team completed third-level verification for 4,102 pages from Wilford Woodruff’s autobiographies and letters. With new additions to the team, the work of stylizing has been accelerating at an unprecedented pace; we have already exceeded goals we thought to achieve in March of 2024.
While stylizing Wilford’s autobiography notes, we were reminded of his love for and dedication to his wife Phebe. When the Woodruffs prepared to leave from Maine to Missouri, Wilford anguished over the trials that Phebe would pass through on the journey. She would need to leave her family and friends without knowing if she would ever see them again, travel two thousand miles in late fall with a sick newborn, and then settle with a people she did not know.
However, despite the hardships that Phebe would encounter, Wilford had confidence in her ability to endure. Even when “at times it seemed as though all earth and hell were combined to crush her troubled soul,” Wilford asserted, “Phebe possesses too much firmness, and faith in God and confidence in God to put her hand to the plough and look back or to wholly give way to such trials and any other however great. She is determined, like Ruth, to forsake her kindred and country for Christ’s sake and my own and the cause in which she is engaged, and as I behold this principle beaming in her daily walk, heart and countenance it binds my whole soul to her in love stronger than death.”
Phebe Woodruff was an exemplary woman, and it is clear in Wilford’s writings that he wholeheartedly agreed. We are grateful for the inspiring documents we read every day, and even more, we are grateful that through this work these documents are being shared with the world.
by Michael Pulsipher, Research Specialist
We now have a total of 3,208 biographies published on our website. Completed biographies include 389 Woodruff family members, 105 of the 1835 Southern Converts, 327 of the 1840 British Converts, and all 197 of the 1877 Eminent Men and Women. In the coming years, we anticipate completing biographies for over 15,000 individuals who were a part of the history of the Restoration as recorded by Wilford Woodruff.
The Research Team is also constantly working to identify the many individuals mentioned throughout Wilford’s papers. This includes letters Wilford’s son Asahel Hart Woodruff wrote during his mission to England. In two of these letters, Asahel mentioned the care and support he received from a woman named Sister Chambers, and how much he appreciated her and her efforts to support the missionaries. In his second letter, Asahel also implied that Wilford himself wrote Sister Chambers a letter. Through our research, Sister Chambers was identified as Agnes Carstairs Beeby Chambers of Hampshire, England. Her connection to Wilford Woodruff begun with a letter written from Asahel to Wilford on February 2, 1885:
I have just returned from sister Chambers who lives in another part of the town. God has certainly blessed me with a few good friends to administer to my wants and this kind Sister is one of them; although I have only known her for a little over a month it seems that I must have known her for years. No mother could feel more solicitous for the welfare of her son than this kind soul is for me; she insists upon my coming down nearly every night to supper and to spend the evening and as it is about the only place where I can pass a nice quiet evening I very often avail myself of the opportunity thus afforded.
But who exactly was this Sister Chambers who was opening up her own home for Asahel and most likely for other missionaries too? Why was she choosing to make that sacrifice? As we discovered this woman’s vital dates and relationships, a story emerged about a woman who faced many trials but strongly held on to her faith in the gospel and its eternal truths.
Agnes joined the Church soon after the birth of her first child. A couple years later, she became a widow at the tender age of 27 and was left to raise her three-year-old son by herself. She soon married again, this time to a widower with several young children of his own. She and her second husband had three more children together before he died, leaving her alone again, this time at the age of 39 with at least five children still living at home. While living off a small pension from the Royal Navy because of her husband’s service, Agnes raised her children to believe in God and follow the prophet. Anxious to follow prophetic counsel to join the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, but unable to go herself, she instead sent her eldest daughter, who later was sealed in the temple and had five children in the valley. Agnes never saw her daughter again, but she continued to support the Church through her service to Asahel and other missionaries. In 1891, six years after Asahel had served in her town, Agnes died at the age of 65, having led a life filled with sacrifice and devotion.
by Shauna Horne, Content Team Lead
This summer, the Content team finished removing QZ codes from the discourses; added quote tags to over 3,000 letters and all available autobiographies, discourses, daybooks, and additional documents; and completed the Come, Follow Me project, in which we submitted applicable quotes relating to the topics that will be discussed in the Church for 2025. This quarter we tagged 1,157 quotes and completed 12,958 pages.
We are grateful that Wilford Woodruff took the time to record the words of so many Church leaders. One of the quotes that we enjoyed reading this quarter was from Heber C. Kimball: “I speak in parables. I compare the Saints to a good cow. When you milk her clean she will always have abundance of milk to give; but if you milk her a little she will soon dry up. So with the Saints. If they do but little in building up Zion they soon have but little to do with.”
We are so grateful for the opportunity to work on this Project and be inspired by insights, doctrine, and revelations from amazing prophets of God.