In 1894 Wilford Woodruff stood in general conference and announced a revelation that had a larger influence on Mormon cosmology than the Manifesto. Even though most Mormons today are unaware of it, this revelation was the bedrock of twentieth century sealing and genealogical practice. I’ve written about these developments in an article on adoptive sealing rituals and in my recent volume on Mormon liturgy.
As described in chapter 2 of Power of Godliness, before Woodruff made his public pronouncement, he gathered the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to inform them. Our best account of this April 5, 1894 meeting had been from apostle Abraham H. Cannon’s diary, which is publicly available. In his account, George Q. Cannon, who later spoke with Woodruff as part of the public announcement, recognized the importance of the revelation and outlined several other post-manifesto challenges to sealing practice. Abraham outlined a pretty sensitive conversation about the possibilities of extra-marital sex in certain cases. Hoping that Church History Library would be merciful, while writing, I asked if I could access the George Q. Cannon journal entry if it were extant. I did receive access to the entry, and it most certainly changes the interpretation of the meeting, tempering and expanding it in many ways. With the recent full availability of the GQC journal, we learn that it is key to our understanding far more than the events of that day.
The balance of this post is a sort of addendum to the two publications mentioned above, and presumes a familiarity with the key narratives. In short, GQC’s record indicates that he was far more involved in revelatory change than we would otherwise have known. He may have been the first individual to have articulated its content. The dates below are entries from the GQC journal.
[May 21, 1884] GQC explains to church president John Taylor that he believes that deceased non-member parents should not be excluded from the sealing liturgy. Using the same language that he used in the announcement of the revelation ten years later, GQC states that adoption ” is likely to lead to clannishness and to a division of the people into tribes, which I do not believe any principle of the gospel of Jesus ever will do if rightly understood and taught.” Despite these feelings, GQC still participated in the adoption liturgy as an adoptive father [September 3, 1884; May 16, 1887; March 17, 1888; August 2, 1889; October 15, 1890].
[December 18, 1890] GQC writes that he discussed his views on adoption with WW, who approved of them.
[December 5, 1892; April 23, 1893] GQC describes the situation of his deceased son David in ways that anticipated his conversation with the FP/Q12 above.
[June 1, 1893] FP and many of the Twelve discuss adoption and sealing policy.
[October 20, 1893] FP and 12 discuss the case of “Sister Mulhall” who was insistent on being sealed to her husband, who died outside of the church. This may be an impetus for the part of the revelation allowing for women to be sealed to deceased spouses who weren’t Mormon.
[December 1, 1893; October 18, 1894; November 21, 1895] Example of deceased women being sealed to living men as plural wives.
[February 3, 1894] Discussion of who children born in second marriages are sealed to.
[March 15, 1894] GQC pretty much articulates the content of WW’s later revelation: “The question of adoption came up, and it was decided to have a full examination of this subject during Conference time, when the Presidents of the Temples and the brethren of the Twelve would be present. There were some parties that wished to be adopted to me today, and I sent word to them that I wished the ordinance deferred until some questions which had arisen should be decided. I have felt for years a dread of the manner in which adoptions were practiced in Nauvoo and the results which followed after leaving Nauvoo… I have feared myself the growth of a disposition to form clans, each man having his own following and being looked up to by that following for counsel and direction. President Lorenzo Snow came in a week or two ago to ask about the course to be pursued in relation to his own family and his immediate ancestors. I took the liberty of making some remarks to President Woodruff and him on the subject. I said, why not have his father and his brothers sealed to his grandfather, whom President Snow said was a good man and lived up to the knowledge that he had, and then have his grandfather and his brothers and sisters sealed to their parents, and so on back as far as possible, and then have the last one that they could reach whose name they knew adopted to the Prophet Joseph, and thus make the connecting link with the head of the dispensation. The suggestion struck President Snow very favorably. Afterwards President Jos. F. Smith came in and it was repeated to him, and he said that was his mind and he had felt it for a long time. President Woodruff appeared to be pleased with it, but still did not endorse it in a manner to have it put into practice. I desire exceedingly that the Lord shall manifest His will upon this point. The fact is, there has not been much known about this doctrine of adoption, and we have gone along performing the ordinance as best we could. There has not been much adoption, and none whatever in relation to the dead, unless they were members of the Church. It is our privilege to know concerning these things, and I trust the Lord will be kind to us and give us knowledge that will be satisfactory.”
[April 12, 1894] WW and GQC read and corrected the publication version of their GenCon sermons relating to the revelation.
[July 26, 1894; July 30, 1894; May 11, 1896] Complicated sealing fallout post-revelation, and the challenge of micromanaging.