A Possible Fallout of the “New Mormon History”? (And the Bloggernacle?)

By December 5, 2007

In part 2 of a recent 3 part Mormonstories podcast, Dr. Ted Lyon Jr. reported an interesting remark by a prominent ex-university president about his keeping of a journal. He is reported to have said,

“He saw that I was writing in my diary while I was waiting for him.  And he said, “Oh, Ted, you keep a diary.” I said, “Yea.” He said, “I don’t, I wish I…I know I should, but I don’t. And I said, “Why don’t ya?” And he said, “Because I saw what happened to Ernest Wilkinson.” He said, “Wilkinson kept diaries in such detail of all of his doings with the Brethren, and they were, of course, filtered through his very candid but biased eye, and then they were published and these embarrased so many people.”  And he said, “I’m afraid whatever I say might be misconstrued years down the line.”  He said, “As it is, I write an email, send an email to my kids, and an hour later it’s on somebody’s blog, or somebody’s webpage.”

I found this tid bit very interesting and it led me to wonder how perceptions of the New Mormon History have affected personal record keeping. Have those of us who are somewhat accustomed to the idea of reading a personal diary changed the way we keep our own diaries?  Will there be a backlash down the road for historians as individuals become more guarded in their record keeping, or might this be only an anomaly?

Additionally, and ironically, does the posting of this tid bit on a blog only validate the concerns expressed?



  1. Jared: This is a great story. I think that this is a phenomenon that has roots going back a ways. We have a family story about Franklin S. Richards, church attorney during the polygamy raids. Richards apparently was an avid diarist, but in his last years he used his diaries to write his memoirs and then destroyed them. He reasoned that he didn’t want some future biographer (mis)reading and misconstruing his diaries. He saw what had happened with his father’s (Franklin D. Richards) biography which was based on the first Franklin’s voluminous journals. As a historian and as a descendent, I’d love to see those destroyed diaries.

    But I think that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are now more people interested in researching the church’s past in academic ways than before, and with the advent of the internet the means of disseminating sources is also magnified.

    Comment by David Grua — December 5, 2007 @ 11:50 am

  2. I have no way of confirming the information, but I have long heard that members of the Quorum of the Twelve actually sign an agreement that their diaries will become property of the LDS church upon their deaths.

    I believe John Henry Smith’s diary mentions at one point that members of the 12 were told to stop putting descriptions of their meetings in their personal journals.

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 5, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  3. It has been a while, but I believe the Clawson and Smoot diaries say the same thing, Nick. This brings up the point that this has long been a concern. I have seen record of nineteenth century preaching where leaders insisted that keeping a true record was a religious obligation. At the turn of the century and probably due to the concerns about polygamy, George and Abraham Cannon’s diaries were singled out as having sensitive info and the leaders were asked not to record records of presidency meetings. The GQC journals are still restricted (though wouldn’t it be great if Walker picked them back up when he is done with MMM?). Then you have those super mysteries like the John Taylor journals that have simply disappeared (perhaps in the FP vault?).

    I think that a reasonable amount of time should pass before diaries and records are available for research, but I am a resulte believer that ultimate availability is the right thing. Perhaps 75 years after the individual or last surviving quorum member has passed away.

    More psychoanalyticly, I think personal worries about what we write in our journals betray a perfection complex that isn’t healthy or consistent with Mormon revelations.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 5, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  4. More psychoanalyticly, I think personal worries about what we write in our journals betray a perfection complex that isn?t healthy or consistent with Mormon revelations.

    I have destroyed journals that I wrote during my mission and my new personal writings are in code. Hehehe. Of course, there was nothing really important written there. In the case of General Authorities, I hope they keep journals in good detail and hopefully scholars in the future have access to them.

    Comment by Manuel — December 5, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  5. I have been more reticent about what I write down online, knowing my name can easily be traced to particular places via Google, so in that sense the record is being filtered, as well.

    Comment by BHodges — December 5, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  6. I don’t keep a consistent journal, but have recorded a number of specific episodes for posterity, but even that implies some editing. I know there are things I won’t write about.

    Specifically, I have shredded any notes that I had in my planner from when I was bishop that discussed anything personal about others, and only kept general notes about talks I have heard, or activities and the like. I seem to recall that any notes that I had from any disciplinary councils I may or may not have been involved in were to be destroyed once action was final, and the required reports sent to SLC. Any councils that resulted in no action or when informal discipline had been completed, were also to be destroyed. There were some references in the Handbook regarding that, as I recall.

    I’m amazed sometimes at what people will post in their blogs online for all to see, and even our family blog is now restricted access as some folks put way too much personal information out there that should not be public.

    I wonder how historians will look at the Bloggernacle specifically some 50 years from now? I can only speculate about how much material there will be to sift through, and add to that the server logs recording IP addresses, email accounts, etc, that are not publicly displayed, and the volume of raw information is staggering.

    Comment by kevinf — December 5, 2007 @ 6:19 pm

  7. Frankly, I don’t care if others read what I write in my journal (my blog comments and those I post on other blogs), since I use it simply as a way to record my thoughts and beliefs. There is nothing in anything I record that is focused on anyone else – and I rarely take notes in meetings of any degree of “sensitivity”.

    I agree with kevinf about the need to NOT record and preserve many things I have done and do in my callings.

    Comment by Ray — December 5, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  8. Personally as a historian I cannot believe that anyone would avoid writing in their journal because it might be misconscrued later.

    I look at my journals, which I wrote about 400 pages on my mission and probably about 200 since (15 years later). At times re-reading my journal I find some of it embarrassing, and down right silly now but some day my family may gain from what I consider childish immaturity.

    So to me it is a sacred document which will help my descendants see me as something more than an obscure name on some census records as so many of my ancestors are.

    Comment by JonW — December 7, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  9. J. Stapley (12-05-2007)

    Although there is some mystery about what has become of John Taylor’s many journals, their whereabouts is not completely unknown. They reside in the custody of the Taylor family.

    In 1980, while serving as president of the Stevenson Family Association (descendants of Edward Stevenson), the family collected his 74 Journals. We donated them to the Church Historian’s Office with the provision that they would be available to family members and scholars for research.

    At that time the Woodruff Family Association also donated his many journals. The Church Historian commented that with the Edward Stevenson and Wilford Woodruff journals, the Church had all the journals of 19th century General Authorities except John Taylor’s journals.

    At the time, my father was well acquainted with Samuel W. Taylor (author historian), Raymond Taylor (author) and Henry D. Taylor (First Quorum of Seventy), all of Provo, Utah. He asked them if they would also donate the journals of their grandfather, John Taylor.

    They said that the family would consider it but at the time they were reluctant to do so. There were more than 100. Sam Taylor used them to write his biography of John Taylor, which he published with MacMillian Publishing Co. in 1976 as THE KINGDOM OR NOTHING: THE LIFE OF JOHN TAYLOR, MILITANT MORMON and was still working on the THE JOHN TAYLOR PAPERS, A 2 volume work published by the Taylor Trust in 1984.

    When we saw the journals, they were being used by Sam Taylor in his research. Henry died in 1987, and I presume that Sam either had them in his possession or had access to them until the time of his death in 1997, shortly before his biography was republished by Signature Books under the title of THE LAST PIONEER (1999).

    Comment by D E Stevenson — April 15, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  10. D E Stevenson, I’m not sure that is completely accurate. Sam Taylor has said that BH Roberts had them in the 1920’s and that he has always wanted access to them, but that their whereabouts were unknown to him (see his Sunstone presentation: SL82031, Never Friends: Brigham Young and John Taylor [Samual W. Taylor and Ron Esplin], available for free download). I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I seem to remember some speculation that they were in the FP vault (where all things are speculated to be).

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 15, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

  11. The FP vault is like the True Cross. If every piece of the tc that purports to be real actually were real, it would be about 100,0000 feet tall. If the FP vault holds everything that people whisper it holds, I’m pretty sure that the entire state of Utah is hollow inside.

    Comment by SC Taysom — April 15, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  12. That made me laugh out loud.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 15, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  13. The FP vault is like the True Cross. If every piece of the tc that purports to be real actually were real, it would be about 100,0000 feet tall. If the FP vault holds everything that people whisper it holds, I?m pretty sure that the entire state of Utah is hollow inside.

    It’s not?

    Comment by Yo Cockiness — April 15, 2008 @ 5:31 pm


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