Essential Documentary Sources in LDS History

By March 10, 2011

Continuing a series of posts over the last month or so, this thread aims to give a broad list of important documentary sources in Mormon history. By “thread,” I mean that I mostly want this to be more of a discussion with most suggestions coming from readers as opposed to me presenting my own canonical list.

And by “documentary sources,” I mean edited volumes printed in previous decades. Thus, it excludes things like entire books ( for instance, Parley Pratt’s Autobiography or John Taylor’s Mediation and Atonement), single sermons, letters, or editorials (like Joseph Smith’s “Try the Spirits” or the Oliver Cowdery and William Phelps correspondence), or even archive sources (say, for instance, the Council of 50 minutes…); these are extremely important, and deserve their own list (for a rudimentary list, see here), but I wanted to narrow this topic to something more manageable. However, any of these documents have been recently annotated and republished in a scholarly work or as part of an anthology, then the larger work is fair game. For instance, though Lucy Mack Smith’s Biographical Sketches is not eligible, Lavina Fielding Anderson’s awesome Lucy’s Book is.

(Coincidentally, we really need to do a “What would you include in your own Mormon document compilation?” post.)

This is definitely a field where Mormon history has flourished—we love our sources. These types of volumes have been the bread and butter of publishers like Signature Books (perhaps the “king” of Mormon documentary sources over the past three decades), BYU Studies, and even Deseret Book (at least in the past, anyway). And now the JSP and the Church Historian’s Press is taking it to another level, so we should be even more excited. But this also means that there are a plethora of editions to choose from, making such a list extraordinarily difficult. And some documentary series (like Signature’s Significant Mormon Diaries Series, USU’s Life Writings of Frontier Women Series, or Arthur Clark’s Kingdom of the West Series) should have their own hallowed position due to a string of spectacular volumes.

Transforming the task from difficult to impossible is the inability to choose between different document editions; while things like editorial skill, introductory and annotative remarks, and overall quality can be deduced, most decisions depend on your own field of study and interest. And, as always the case with Mormon history, only perhaps it is even more of a problem in this category, there is a dearth of 20th century and international Mormon documentary sources. Lots of work still to do!

But enough chat. Here is my preliminary list of important source compilations that come to mind, but that has no claim to being exhaustive or authoritative. As you can tell, my knowledge mostly remains in the early period, so I’ll rely on others to fill in most of everything else.


Devery S. Anderson and Gary J. Bergera, eds., Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005); Devery S. Anderson, Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011).

Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001).

Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, ed., The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow (Logan, UT: USU Press, 2000).

Peter L. Crawley, intro., The Essential Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990).

Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, eds., Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2009).

Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980).

Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet?s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989).

Donald G. Godfrey and Kenneth W. Godfrey, eds., The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years, 1871-1886 (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2006).

B. Carmen Hardy, ed., Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Oklahoma: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007).

Charles M. Hatch and Todd Compton, eds., A Widow’s Tale: 1884-1896 Diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney (Logan, UT: USU Press, 2003).

Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, 3 volumes to date (Salt Lake City: Church Historian?s Press, 2009-).

Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 volumes (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989?92).

Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff?s Journal, 1833-1898, 9 vols. (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85).

Edward Leo Lyman, ed., Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle: the Diaries of Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895 (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2010).

William P. Mackinnon, At Sword’s Point: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 (Oklahoma: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2008).

Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, The Journals of William E. McLellin (University of Illinois and BYU Studies, 1994).

Donna Toland Smart, ed., Mormon Midwife: The 1846-1888 Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1999).

George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in Association with Smith Research Associates, 1995).

Richard E. Turley and Ronald W. Walker, Mountain Meadows Massacre: the Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collection (Provo: Brigham Young University Press and Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009).

Richard E. Turley, ed., Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, 2 vols., DVD (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, [Dec. 2002]).

Richard S. Van Wagoner, ed., The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, 5 volumes (Salt Lake City: The Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009).

Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 5 volumes (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003).



Article filed under State of the Discipline


  1. Nice list Ben.

    I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, but here are some off the top of my head.

    Royal Skousen’s work on the Book of Mormon is critical and woefully underused by scholars.

    Faulring, Jackson, Matthews work on the Joseph Smith Bible revision is helpful.

    Dean Jessee’s Personal writings.

    While I’m disappointed in both books for different reasons, Collier’s publication of the Kirtland Council Minute Book and the Cannon/Cook publication of the Far West Record are very useful sources.

    The John Whitmer History is a favorite of mine published twice (though again, I don’t like either for different reasons).

    For all the flak they have received over the years, the Tanner’s have made a significant contribution in their providing original sources.

    And the number one documentary history work that has been more influential than any other work by far is Roberts’ 7 vol. History of the Church. It’s literally reached into the canon of scripture (if you count D&C head notes as canon).

    Comment by Robin Jensen — March 10, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  2. Hauglid’s new Book of Abraham volume is cool. Will be even more worthy of inclusion once his other KEP volume is out in a few years.

    BYU’s done some stuff on JS’s new translation manuscripts etc., which might deserve inclusion:

    Scott Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith?s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2004).

    A DVD-ROM edition of these manuscripts is forthcoming from the BYU Religious Studies Center and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

    Skousen’s BoM series certainly needs to be on there.

    The Church History Library put out a bunch of selected archive materials a little while ago, too, would that count, or are you only looking for paper published volumes?

    Comment by BHodges — March 10, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  3. Richard E. Turley, ed., Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, 2 vols., DVD (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, [Dec. 2002]).

    (That entry on Ben’s list is probably the one you’re thinking of, BHodges. It is, of course, a researcher’s dream come true.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  4. Great additions, Rob and BH. (BH: the Turley compilation is indeed what you are thinking about, and it is included above.)

    Rob: What’s awesome is that the JSP will supplant almost all of the sources you cite–the Skousen edition, of course, being a different kind of beast.

    Comment by Ben — March 10, 2011 @ 11:38 am

  5. Although Juanita Brooks is primarily remembered today for The Mountain Meadows Massacre, her editions of the Lee and Stout diaries are still used and cited by Utah historians.

    Comment by David G. — March 10, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  6. Though to be fair Ardis, an actual dream come true, would have included searchable transcripts (I’m not complaining though!).

    You got my favorites from the USU women’s series (Sessions and Kimball), though the others are well worth including (e.g., Pratt, Crosby, Richards, Archer, etc.). Things like Women’s Voices and In Their Own Words are also helpful, I think.

    I’ve really found the diaries of middle-leadership very useful. You have Card’s Utah diary, but his Canadian diaries are spectacular. I’ve also found the Martineau and Smart diaries very useful. I also the John D. Lee diaries (all three volumes, though I wish someone would publish the 1845-6 diary).

    Like those volumes Robin mentioned as somewhat problematic, but still very useful, Watson’s Orson Pratt diaries volume and Colliers BY office journal volume are handy. I similarly like Cook’s Kirtland EQ minutes.

    I’ve wanted to get my hands on a copy of the John Taylor papers volumes, I don’t know how good they are.

    The Church’s trail database is extraordinary and BYU emigration database is useful (not sure if those count).

    Things I can’t wait for:

    Jill’s RS documents volume
    The GQ Cannon Diaries

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 10, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

  7. David I also liked her Not by Bread Alone, the diaries of Martha Haywood.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 10, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  8. Also, weirdest documentary volume I’ve read:

    Cook’s William Law.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 10, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

  9. Carmon Hardy has a documentary collection of polygamy documents out.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 10, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  10. Kevin: it’s included above.

    J & David: great suggestions.

    Comment by Ben — March 10, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  11. Oops, you’re right, Ben. My eyes glazed right past it.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 10, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  12. I would add Stan Larsen’s edited volume of the Rudger Clawson diaries. There is some spectacular stuff in there.

    Comment by Brett D. — March 10, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

  13. Also, James R. Clark’s Messages of the First Presidency volumes are quite useful in spite of some problems.

    Comment by Brett D. — March 10, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

  14. Another great list, Ben. Thanks for putting it together.

    Comment by Jared T — March 11, 2011 @ 1:23 am

  15. I’ve enjoyed my copy of H. MICHAEL MARQUARDT’s, “Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”

    Some fascinating stuff in there.

    Comment by LDSOrigins — March 15, 2011 @ 11:58 am

  16. Not sure if that fits your list. It might be considered more of an archival source, but I thought I would add it.

    Comment by LDSOrigins — March 15, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  17. Origins: that is indeed a fantastic volume, and deserves to be on the list. Thanks for chiming in.

    Comment by Ben — March 15, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  18. I’m a little slow, but I think that Opening the Heavens edited by Jack Welch is a great documentary volume. It is a great selection of primary documents 1820-1844. They are mostly BYU Studies articles reworked and a couple new ones. Not really any new sources to the scholarly types, but it is totally accessible to anyone…ok anyone literate.

    Comment by Janiece — March 19, 2011 @ 1:47 am

  19. Indispensable: Benchmark’s limited edition diaries of William Clayton Nauvoo Diaries (containing 30% more than George Smith’s volume by virtue of the Quinn papers), J. Reuben Clark’s diaries and Hebert J Grant’s diaries, although the latter is far too preoccupied with the sugar industry in sections.

    Comment by Ryan — March 29, 2011 @ 1:21 pm


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