Remembering Assistant Church Historians

Current holder of office discusses his predecessors


As the first Assistant Church Historian and Recorder to serve in that office in 26 years, Richard E. Turley Jr. spoke in the opening keynote session of the Feb. 27 Church History Symposium about the 15 men who have preceded him.

Brother Turley was named to the position on March 12, 2008, having served as managing director of the Church Historical Department (in 2000 restructured as the Family and Church History Department and last year as the Church History Department) since 1986.

"The Assistant Church Historians who preceded me performed invaluable service in laying the foundations for Church history," he said. "We are indebted to these men for their diligence and their dedication to the work. Collectively, they helped fulfill the charge given to the Church Historian in Doctrine and Covenants 69 to 'continue in writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church.' "

At Church History Symposium, Richard E. Turley Jr. discusses each of those who preceded him as Assis
At Church History Symposium, Richard E. Turley Jr. discusses each of those who preceded him as Assistant Church Historian and their respective contributions to Church history. He was named to that position a year ago. | Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

Brother Turley spoke briefly in turn about each of his 15 predecessors, some of whom served simultaneously. Some went on to serve as Church Historian, and some were General Authorities or Church presidents. The predecessors are Wilford Woodruff, Franklin D. Richards, John Jaques, Charles W. Penrose, Andrew Jenson, Orson F. Whitney, Amos Milton Musser, Brigham H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, A. William Lund, Junius Free Wells, Preston Nibley, Earl E. Olson, James B. Allen and Davis Bitton.

Here are some highlights from Brother Turley's presentation (the year of appointment is in parentheses):

Wilford Woodruff (1856) was intimately acquainted with the early history of the Church. His journals covered 63 years. "No one will surpass in excellence and permanence or largeness the service which Wilford Woodruff has given to the Church," said B. H. Roberts of President Woodruff's journals.

Franklin D. Richards' (1884) Compendium of the Faith and Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first published in 1857, was a helpful tool used by missionaries for decades.

John Jaques (pronounced "Jakes") (1889) earlier published Catechism for Children, Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Charles W. Penrose (1896) was assigned to begin compiling a scrapbook of Church history that became the "Journal History of the Church."

Andrew Jenson (1897) earlier was sent by the First Presidency to tour Church historic sites in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. He continued to travel for many years, documenting local Church history. His works include the Encyclopedic History of the Church and LDS Biographical Encyclopedia.

Orson F. Whitney (1902) wrote a history of Utah, sponsored in the beginning by a private entrepreneur but later supported by the Church Historian's Office.

Amos Milton Musser (1902) received a special commission from the First Presidency to keep track of all the persecutions of the Church.

Brigham H. Roberts' (1902) contributions include editing and publishing Joseph Smith's history, which became known as the documentary History of the Church, and writing his own history of the Church, initially as installments in Americana Magazine and later revised and published as A Comprehensive History of the Church.

Joseph Fielding Smith (1906) was the personal secretary and confidant of his father, President Joseph F. Smith. As such, he traveled extensively and gained a rich background in Church history and doctrine. "His Essentials in Church History, first issued in 1922, and many other writings published while he was Church Historian have been widely influential within the Church," Brother Turley said.

A. William Lund (1911), was the son of Anthon Lund, second counselor in the First Presidency and Church Historian and Recorder. While he did some publishing, his work mainly involved answering questions and helping people do research in the Historian's Office collections. He believed first and foremost in furthering the interests of the Church.

Junius Free Wells (1921) founded the Contributor, a monthly magazine of the Church's YMMIA auxiliary. He oversaw the erection of the Joseph Smith monument in 1905 at the Prophet's birthplace. He also directed the erection of monuments to Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris.

Preston Nibley (1957) published many books, which may be his most lasting contribution to the Church, Brother Turley said. Among them was The Presidents of the Church, a compilation of biographies.

Earl E. Olson (1965) focused on the acquisition, organization and preservation of historical documents and was particularly interested in compilations of information. Perhaps the most visible result of his work, Brother Turley said, is the statistics in the annual Deseret News Church Almanac.

James B. Allen (1972) co-authored The Story of the Latter-day Saints with Glen M. Leonard, intended to replace Essentials in Church History as a basic survey of the history of the Church. He served under Leonard J. Arrington. A history professor at BYU, Brother Allen wrote a biography of William Clayton, a topic he addressed as one of the presenters at the symposium.

Davis Bitton (1972) also served under Brother Arrington, with whom he collaborated in writing The Mormon Experience, meant as a companion to The Story of the Latter-day Saints. His biography of George Q. Cannon was published in 1999.

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