Church History: Online at Last

Contributed By By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 6 December 2012

“It’s one of the Church’s best-kept secrets,” Christine Cox said of the Church history catalog now available on the Internet that provides access to Church historical items contained in the Church History Library and other libraries. 

Manager of public services in the Church History Library, Sister Cox said, “Many items have been digitized and posted for people to enjoy right from the comfort of their own homes. You can even print images of historical records right from your home printer. It’s a treasure trove of Church history.”

The public can access the library at

Officially launched last June, the Church history catalog gives access to a wide variety of Church historical content. The collection continues to grow every day. Currently the Church History Library contains:

  • 270,000 books, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers
  • 240,000 collections of original, unpublished records (such as journals, diaries, and correspondence)
  • 3.5 million patriarchal blessings
  • 13,000 photograph collections
  • 23,000 audiovisual items

“When you envision searching the Church history catalog, you should envision searching four libraries at the same time,” Sister Cox said. “You can search the individual libraries or all of them at the same time.”

The four libraries include the Church History Library, family history books, BYU digital collections, and Internet archives.

Church History Library

1. Find items relating to the history of the Church: Go to the Church history catalog to search for Church history content from several different libraries combined in one search.

2. Journal History Index: A day-by-day history of the Church from 1830 to the present taken from newspapers, but also from some minutes and diary entries.

3. Historian’s Office history of the Church from circa 1839–1882: Chronological account of LDS history from Joseph Smith’s birth in 1805 through April 30, 1880, covering presidential administrations of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and part of the administration of John Taylor.

4. Charles W. Carter glass negative collection, circa 1860–1900: Contains images from Charles W. Carter and others and includes portraits of prominent individuals, documentation of much of Salt Lake City and the surrounding area, drawings, paintings, lithographs, and cartoons.

5. Mormon Pioneer overland travels: Find pioneer ancestors and relive their experience of crossing the plains. This is the most popular section in the entire catalog. Many people enjoy gathering first-hand pioneer accounts to learn more about their family history; it is a great resource for use on pioneer treks.

6. Research guides: Get help from online research guides of selected Church history topics created by the library’s knowledgeable staff.

Family history books

This is a collection of more than 40,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world. The collection includes family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees.

BYU digital collections

This collection entails a huge amount of text and images from the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. It covers everything from papyri to newspapers.

Internet archives

The Church History Library materials found on the Internet archive include nearly 12,000 published items that have been digitized from the collections of the Church History Library. Items of interest include viewable copies of several Church-published periodicals, pamphlets, and books, including conference reports, the Improvement Era, Skandinaviens Stjerne, Evening and Morning Star, the Book of Mormon in the Deseret Alphabet, and early Church hymnals.

Even though the online catalog has a listing for a particular item, not all items have been digitized. A person may request the item to be pulled from the physical archive and make a request to have it digitized and posted online, but it might take some time, and there is a fee for this service.

After a request is made, it must be reviewed to determine if it is appropriate to post online. The library follows all copyright and privacy laws as well as internal policies when reviewing requests for digitization.

The following are some interesting items to look for in the Church History Library. Just type in the exact listing below and look at what’s available:

  • Des Moines map dam
  • Martin Harris Monument
  • Lorenzo Snow Letterbook
  • Daniel Spencer diaries
  • First Presidency Picture Zion

Every day, new things are added to the libraries, so it is wise to check back often. When a digital image is added to the catalog from the Church History Library Collections, it is also stored in a preservation database. The goals of the Church History Library are to collect, preserve, and share.

“Members and nonmembers from all over the world have come to do research,” said Sister Cox. “During one six-month period we had people representing more than 20 states and seven foreign countries come to the library to do research. Forty percent of the users in the library are family historians. Other users are looking for information for talks, lessons, and books related to Church history.”

History is about uncovering the stories of the past, and the online catalog has the potential to help millions accomplish that. For visitors the Church History Library features a video called “The Story Lives Here.” The video concludes with these words: “The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the story of people, people who lived to know God and know that He knew them. And from each one there is a story, a story of promises, covenants.”