Church Acquires Historical Documents

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leaders recently met with the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traded microfilm copies of some original pages of the Book of Mormon in exchange for other pages and additional documents.

Because of the exchange of documents, the Church now has, among other things, microfilm copies of 466 additional pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, as well as other documents.

This exchange, which occurred late in 1974 after several years of study and consideration, was originally suggested by Richard Howard, historian of the Reorganized Church, who arranged the project with Earl E. Olson, assistant managing director of the Church Historian’s Office.

A list of significant early documents in which each church was interested was compiled by each church; and, after consideration, the presidents of both churches approved it.

Microfilm copies of materials being provided by the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include:

1. A Book of Mormon manuscript composed of 144 pages, some in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, some probably written by John Whitmer, and other parts written by unidentified scribes. Joseph Smith placed the entire manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841, and it was removed in 1882 by Emma Smith’s husband, Lewis Bidamon. Mr. Bidamon gave visitors portions of the manuscript on five known occasions; some of these manuscripts were later given to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2. The manuscripts of 35 of the 46 “Kirtland Revelations” Joseph Smith received in Kirtland, Ohio. All of these are found in the Doctrine and Covenants.

3. Manuscripts of revelations received through 1844, including some which were not published in the Doctrine and Covenants. Most of the unpublished revelations are addressed to specific individuals.

4. The Far West Record, minutes of Church council meetings conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, and in Far West, Missouri. The minutes were recorded at least in part by Oliver Cowdery.

5. The Book of Elders’ Licenses of Kirtland and Far West, a record of elders authorized to perform the duties of their calling. The record was kept in compliance with D&C 20:63–64. These licenses are similar to the present Elders’ Certificate of Ordination.

6. The Egyptian Grammar and Alphabet and related pages, 34 handwritten pages containing a limited discussion of the Egyptian alphabet and one page of Egyptian grammar. The bulk of the material is in the handwriting of William W. Phelps; researchers think that four pages are possibly in Joseph Smith’s handwriting.

7. The Documentary History of the Church through 1844, the original manuscript history of the Church written by Joseph Smith.

8. The Nauvoo List of Church Members, 1843–45.

9. The Nauvoo Relief Society minutes.

10. The holograph (personally written) diaries and letters of Joseph Smith.

11. The holograph diary of Hyrum Smith. Copies of materials being provided by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints include:

1. The Book of Mormon Manuscript, 466 handwritten pages prepared for the use of E. B. Grandin, the Palmyra, New York, printer who published the first edition of the Book of Mormon in 1830. Oliver Cowdery retained the printer’s manuscript until his death, when possession passed to David Whitmer, his brother-in-law. The Reorganized Church acquired the manuscript in April 1903.

2. The original manuscripts of the Inspired Translation (Inspired Version) of the Bible.

3. The 1867 RLDS Committee manuscript of the Inspired Translation.

4. The 1828 H. & E. Phinney Edition of the Bible, used by Joseph Smith to make marginal notations as he worked on the Inspired Translation.

5. The Book of John Whitmer, the original copy of the record Whitmer wrote and maintained as Church Recorder from 1831–35.

6. Four sheets of the Book of Commandments. These sheets were duplicate manuscripts of revelations which were being prepared for publication in 1833, and were taken from Kirtland to Independence to be printed. The sheets are apparently in the handwriting of John Whitmer. On July 20, 1833, the printing plant was destroyed and only a few copies of the forms for the unfinished book were salvaged.

7. Several letters written and/or signed by Joseph Smith.

8. Three Jacob Scott letters of the Nauvoo period written by a Church member living in Nauvoo. These letters give descriptions of the area and the historical period.

Many other important documents are still in the hands of individuals in both churches. Members are encouraged either to contribute original manuscripts, letters, and documents to the Church archives and receive a copy in exchange, or to make the originals available to the Church so that a copy can be made and filed; the original will then be returned. Such discoveries of original documents create a greater appreciation for heritage, enrich the possibilities for research, and promote a deeper understanding of earlier times in the Church.

[photos] Top left: One of the documents received from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is this record of early members and ordinations, beginning with those of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Right: This page is the record of ordination of Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery.