Friday, August 24, 2012

BYU Conference: Church History Library Online

Alan Morrell of the LDS Church History LibraryAlan Morrell presented a session titled “The Church History Library’s Online Presence and Databases.” While he is currently the curator of Mormon history at the Church History Museum of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he previously worked in the Church History Library.

The Church History Library is gradually increasing its presence online and can be accessed from

The Church History Library page shows several important collections:

The Catalog

The “card” catalog has recently become available publicly. Previously, one could access the catalog only at the Library. The catalog includes materials from several places: the Church History Library, FamilySearch family history books, BYU digital collections, and the Internet Archives.

Morrell encouraged users to login, as several catalog features are available only when logged-in. Login with your LDS or FamilySearch username. Items can be saved on the e-Shelf where they can be organized into baskets and baskets within baskets. Each has a green comment box. Queries can also be saved, with the option of alerts when new items are added. As with many online catalogs, search results can be filtered using the controls along the left side of the screen. To see just digital resources, click “View Only Digital” above the first result.

Search Help is available, but is hard to find.

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels

The Mormon Pioneers Overland Travels database is the most complete list available of pioneers crossing the plains to the Utah from 1847 to 1868. Rosters were not kept, so the listings are incomplete. However, it is searchable by name and contains a large number of pioneers. The database can be searched by name or browsed chronologically or by company name. The database contains information about companies. It contains lists of sources. In some cases, sources have been transcribed and trail excerpts can be read online.

Of all the digital collections Morrell showed, I recommend this one the most.

Digital Collections on Other Websites

Some of the Church History Library’s collections have been digitized and made available on other websites. The Church History Library is one of the contributors to the family history book collection. Other publications have been published on the Internet Archives website at The collections include:

  • Conference Reports – Official reports of General Conference published since 1899 and distributed to leaders and libraries. Early conferences included talks from local as well as general officers of the Church.
  • The Instructor (1901-1970) – A magazine for Church auxiliary organizations, primarily the Sunday School
  • The Improvement Era (1897-1970) – Began as a magazine for the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, it became the periodical for adults

As of the time of this writing the Church History Library’s Internet Archive collection contains over 13,000 books, magazines, and items, including German, Scandinavian, and Dutch magazines. I don’t believe the Internet Archive supports full-text searching across the entire collection, making it difficult to find ancestors mentioned therein.

Some Church History Library holdings are present among the digital collections of Brigham Young University (BYU). For example, nearly 1,000 photographs in the C. R. Savage collection are from the Church History Library. BYU digital collections include many other collections of possible interest to Church and family history researchers. These are full-text searchable.

Digital Collections on the Church History Library Website

Some journals of early Church members are available on the Church History Library website, such as Lorenzo Snow’s journal. Morrell showed an example page (p. 11). I thought the ubiquitous water mark was too thin, obscuring some hard to read writing. A well designed watermark uses large, bold, sans-serif fonts to minimize interaction with the normal text of the page.

While it is called a library, the Church History Library is mostly an archive. Consequently, some collections (such as CR 1234 1) are organized hierarchically. The catalog contains finding aids for some of these collections. Clicking on an item at each level of the hierarchy opens a list of items that can, in turn, be selected.


Click the image thumbnail to open an item. Morrell’s example was Brigham Young’s Letterbook, vol. 2, p. 227.

Morrell demonstrated how to browse the Charles W. Carter glass negative collection, but I was not able to make work his example of selecting Items 1-15 > John Taylor. The thumbnail disappeared as soon as I selected John Taylor.

If your ancestor had interactions with the prophet Joseph Smith, you may be able to find documents mentioning your ancestors in a couple of online digital collections. The first was the Joseph Smith Collection (MS 155). This collection must be browsed. There is also the Joseph Smith Papers website at The documents in this collection have been cataloged, allowing for searches of document title and description. The website also contains biographies for prominent people mentioned in the papers. Morrell showed the biography of Charles Allen as an example.

Morrell showed us the Historical Department Journal, 1844-1997. While chiefly a record of work in the historical department, some entries also include information about events taking place in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in the Church. One entry led him on a detour to the Mormon Missionary Diaries collection at Brigham Young University’s website.

For those with ancestors in Southern Utah, Morrell showed us the Annals of Southern Utah Mission, circa 1903-1906. As an example page, he showed us an entry describing the dedication of the St. George Temple.

In passing he mentioned several other collections which might be interesting:

  • J. Golden Kimball journals (MS 1354)
  • Amasa M. Lyman collection (MS 829)
  • Charles C. Rich collection (MS 889)
  • Lorenzo Snow Journal/Letterbook (MS 1330)
  • Erastus Snow journals (MS 1329)
  • Willard Richards journals (MS 1490)
  • Orson Pratt autobiography and journals (MS 587)

One day the website will make it possible to click a link to request digitization of materials.

For assistance with the collections of the Church History Library, click on “Ask a Librarian” in the footer of the Church History Library website.

1 comment:

  1. I thought you might like to be reminded of another great resource - just up the hill from the Church History Library. Some of the information in the Mormon Pioneers Overland Travels database has been gleaned from the histories at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum. The index to these histories is available at their website You can visit the museum and examine the histories which have been submitted over the years by ancestors of the pioneers; some histories are first-hand accounts by the pioneers themselves. There is also a large photograph collection. The histories are being digitized, and will someday be available online.


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