In 1835 Wilford Woodruff began his first journal, “believing it to be beneficial to review our past life and not only our privilege but duty to keep an accurate account of our proceedings.” He wrote, “It is to this intent that I shall endeavour henceforth to keep a journal of my travels, that when required I may give an account of my stewardship.”1 He kept a journal for the next 63 years, making his final entry on August 31, 1898, two days before he died. His journal entries leave a true and faithful record of his personal life, showing his love for his family, his interest in his surroundings, his diligence in performing daily tasks, his faith during trials, and his testimony and understanding of the gospel. The entries also provide glimpses into the lives of other members of the Church at the time.
In addition to writing about his personal life and his ministry, Wilford Woodruff kept a careful record of Church history. He explained: “I have been inspired and moved upon to keep a journal and write the affairs of this Church as far as I can. I did not understand why my feelings were exercised so much in the early age of this Church, but I understand it now. I seldom ever heard Brother Joseph or the Twelve preach or teach any principle but what I felt as uneasy as a fish out of water until I had written it. Then I felt right. I could write a sermon of Joseph’s a week after it was delivered almost word for word, and after it was written, it was taken from me or from my mind. This was a gift from God unto me.”2
As part of his effort to chronicle Church history, President Woodruff recorded important details from meetings he attended. In one meeting, he taught a principle that can be applied to journals as well as to official Church records: “While walking in a rapid stream we cannot tread twice in the same water. Neither can we spend twice the same time. When we pass out of that door, the work of this meeting will be closed to us forever. We shall never spend the time of this evening again. Then should we not keep a record of our work, teachings, and counsel which we give in this meeting? We should.”3
Through his journals, President Woodruff gave an enduring gift to his descendants and to all members of the Church. Biographer Matthias F. Cowley observed: “The life of Wilford Woodruff was full of marvels. It was a simple life in which he revealed his heart and his purposes freely. The frankness of his expressions, his care for details, and his conscientious regard for the truth made him, perhaps, the best chronicler of events in all the history of the Church.”4 Elder B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy and a noted Church historian, wrote: “President Woodruff rendered a most important service to the church. His Journals, regularly and methodically and neatly kept and strongly bound, … constitute an original documentary historical treasure which is priceless. The church is indebted to these Journals for a reliable record of discourses and sayings of the Prophet of the New Dispensation—Joseph Smith—which but for him would have been lost forever. The same is true as to the discourses and sayings of Brigham Young, and other leading elders of the church; [and] for minutes of important council meetings, decisions, judgments, policies, and many official actions of a private nature, without which the writer of history may not be able to get right viewpoints on many things—in all these respects these Journals of President Woodruff are invaluable.”5
Most of the statements in this chapter are taken from President Woodruff’s records of sermons he delivered in priesthood meetings. Although he often addresses elders in these statements, his teachings are valuable for all Church members.
The record and history of this Church and kingdom will be wanted in a future day. There has been no dispensation on earth the proceedings of which will be more interesting than the one in which we live. …
It is true that Joseph Smith kept a history of his own life and those things in some measure connected with him. He is now dead, but his life and testimony is now being published to the world. … Also President Young [had] scribes who [recorded] his daily acts and life, which is right and good. But does that record the life history and the dealings of God with the many thousands of the Apostles and elders who are or will be in all the world among every nation under heaven? No, verily no. Then all ye elders of Israel write your history and the dealings of God with you in all the world for your own benefit and that of your posterity, for the benefit of the house of Israel, for the benefit of Jew and Gentile, for the benefit of future generations.6
It may be considered by some not important to write or keep a record of our work or the work of God, but I believe it is. Otherwise the prophets would not have been moved upon to exhort us to faithfulness upon this subject. The Lord has told us that what we seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven and what we record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and what is not sealed or recorded on earth is not sealed or recorded in heaven [see D&C 128:7–8]. Therefore it appears to be very important that we do keep a true and faithful record in all things.7
Some may say [journal keeping] is a great deal of trouble. But we should not call anything trouble which brings to pass good. I consider that portion of my life which has been spent in keeping journals and writing history to have been very profitably spent.8
If there was no other motive in view [except] to have the privilege of reading over our journals and for our children to read, it would pay for the time spent in writing it.9
Every man should write a brief history of his life: his parentage, his birth, his religion, when he was baptized and by whom, when ordained, what to, and by whom—give a brief sketch of all his missions and of all his official acts and the dealings of God with him. Then if he were to die and the historians wished to publish his history, they would have something to go by. Many may think this a dry subject and unimportant, but it is not so to me.10
I would advise you to get all of your blessings written and preserve them. … I do feel to enjoin it upon you to make a record of every official act of your life. If you baptize, confirm, ordain, or bless any person or administer to the sick, write an account of it. If every man will do this, the Church can write a correct account of it. … If the power and blessings of God are made manifest in your preservation from danger, … you should make a record of it. Keep an account of the dealings of God with you daily. I have written all the blessings I have received, and I would not take gold for them.11
Should we not have respect enough to God to make a record of those blessings which He pours out upon us and our official acts which we do in His name upon the face of the earth? I think we should.12
The Presidency of the Church who are now leading us … keep a history of the dealings of both God and man with them … which will be interesting to millions of future generations. But does this excuse the many thousands of elders and high priests and Apostles who have traveled for many years and built up this Church and kingdom and had the gifts of the Holy Ghost with them so they have had power to heal the sick and cast out devils, open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, cause the lame to leap … , and commanded the demon and they obey them, and have had guardian angels to preserve them from danger and death? I say, shall the elders be blessed with these things and not count them worth recording? Not even make the mark of a pen to leave the account on record for their children and future generations to read? I say they should. I think the Lord requires this at our hands, and it is a rich and holy legacy which is justly due our posterity.13
We are the people ordained of God to establish His kingdom upon the earth, build up Zion, and prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. Now, should we not keep a journal, record, and history of the dealings of God with [us] as they transpire day by day before our eyes? We should. …
… Instead of neglecting this branch of our work let every man who can, keep a journal and record events as they pass before our eyes day by day. This will make a valuable legacy to our children and a great benefit to future generations by giving them a true history of the rise and progress of the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth in this last dispensation, instead of leaving it to our enemies to write a false history of the true Church of Christ.14
We are not apt to think of the importance of events as they transpire with us, but we feel the importance of them afterwards. We are living in one of the most important generations that man ever lived on earth, and we should write an account of those important transactions which are taking place before our eyes in fulfillment of the prophecies and the revelations of God. There is a great flood of revelations fulfilling in our day, and as they are transpiring before our eyes we want a record made of them.15
I wish to say to my young friends that it will be a great blessing to them, and their children after them, if they will keep a daily journal of what takes place with them and around them. Let all the boys and girls get them a little book, and write a little in it almost every day.
“What shall I write?” you ask. Write about anything that is worth preserving, or the best you have; and if you begin this while you are young, it will be quite easy for you when you become men and women. How pleasing it would be to you, and to your children, thirty, fifty, or eighty years hence, to sit down and read what took place around you in your childhood and youth! Would you not like to read what took place with our fathers, and mothers, and grand parents, while they were young and during their lives? But the object is not so much to get you to keep a journal while you are young, as it is to get you to continue it after you become men and women, even through your whole lives. This is especially needed in the generation in which you live, for you live in as important a generation as the children of men ever saw, and it is far more important that you should begin early to keep a journal and follow the practice while you live, than that other generations should do so.
You are the children of Zion, and your parents have been called of God to build up the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God upon the earth in the last days, and soon your parents will be dead, and you will have to take their places. You will be fathers and mothers, and [you] little boys … will become prophets, apostles and elders, and will live to travel and preach the gospel, and will live to receive the word of the Lord. Then it will be very necessary that you should keep a journal and write an account of the dealings of the Lord with you. …
… It is now a great pleasure to me and my family to sit down and read an account of our travels, where we have been, and what we have done, and the dealings of God with us, and the many good times we have had with our friends. I can read in my journals the good teachings I have heard many years ago from Presidents Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, the Twelve Apostles, and many other good elders, and the good times we have had together. If my young friends will begin to do this and continue it, it will be of far more worth than gold to them in a future day.16
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Why are President Woodruff’s journals important to the Church? (See pages 125, 127.) What might President Woodruff say to people who think their journals will never make a difference to anyone else?
What are some events that have occurred in the Church in your lifetime? How might your record of these events help your children and grandchildren?
Review the first paragraph on page 127. How does President Woodruff’s statement in this paragraph apply to journal keeping? Ponder the impact of important events being lost to present and future generations.
Scan the chapter, looking for different types of information we should include in our journals. How do such records benefit us personally? In what ways do they benefit our families?
What would you like to know about your ancestors’ lives? What does this suggest about what you could write in your journal?
Why is it important to write about events soon after they occur? (See page 130.) What can we do to make time for journal keeping?
Turn to pages 130–32 and review President Woodruff’s counsel to children and youth. How can parents and grandparents share these ideas with their children and grandchildren? How might you use these ideas in a family home evening or family council?