A pandemic. Conflict in Europe. Financial insecurity. Racial injustice.
These aren’t just challenges of the last few years. Events of the 1918 flu pandemic, two world wars, the Great Depression and parts of the civil rights movement are covered in “Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly and Independent, 1893-1955” scheduled to be released on Friday, April 22.
In the first two volumes, “we see the Saints being persecuted for their beliefs and undergoing hardships because of what they believe and what they stand for,” said Scott Hales, lead writer of “Saints” and one of the general editors of “Saints, Vol. 3”
In “Saints, Vol. 3,” many of the hardships aren’t necessarily for their beliefs, but “because everybody else in the world is going through it as well. They are sharing global conflicts and global tragedies.”
“The more I study Church history, the more I learned that whatever we’re experiencing today, the Saints in the past have experienced something similar,” Hales said.
Angela Hallstrom, one of the volume’s writers and general editors, said she sees hope and faith in the stories, despite the challenges.
So many of them “are facing incredible challenges — really difficult circumstances — who are able to meet those challenges and learn how to move forward,” Hallstrom said. “We’re also able to see that faith in the lives of the people who are living through these circumstances; we can apply that to our own lives and our own specific challenges.”
The first of the four-volume series, titled “The Standard of Truth,” covers 1815 to 1846, including establishing the Church and ends with the Saints leaving Nauvoo, Illinois. The second volume, “No Unhallowed Hand,” covers 1846 to 1893, from the exodus west to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.
In “Saints, Vol. 2,” the main sociological dynamic is gathering, said Jed Woodworth, the managing historian of the “Saints” project and a general editor for the third volume. As people join the Church, they are also preparing to move to the Great Basin. “So you have lots of people streaming in from around the world,” he said.
“In volume three, this gets inverted,” he said, as people are staying in their congregations. In the U.S., they saw second- and third-generation members moving away from Utah for work or school.
“Saints, Vol. 3” picks up right after that with Evan Stephens contemplating whether the Tabernacle Choir should enter the choral competition at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 and ends with the dedication of the Swiss Temple in 1955.
“Saints, Vol. 3” includes stories of people from across the U.S., Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina, Guatemala and South Africa.
The four-volume “Saints” series is a narrative history, with events told through the perspectives of people who experienced them. The project uses creative writers to tell the stories based on documentation, including journals, letters, oral histories and other first-person accounts.
Ordinarily in historical writing, the historian writes the first draft, and if a creative writer is involved, they come in at the end, Woodworth said.
“And I think the genius of ‘Saints’ was we inverted that process, and we allowed the creative writer to write the first draft,” Woodworth said of the process started by Rick Turley, who was the assistant Church historian at the time the “Saints” series was approved.
The creative writer, with the documentation from historians and researchers, writes the first draft. Then, a historian will critique it, he said.
Every detail in the book, including the dialogue, had to be in the documentation. Hallstrom recalled that sometimes it took a half-dozen documents to write a few sentences as different details were drawn from various sources.
There are several rounds of the review process, including the First Presidency, said Lisa Olsen Tait, a historian and volume general editor.
“They’re meant to create a narrative of shared stories of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint and what the experiences have been,” Tait said.
Church News podcast, episode 80: ‘Saints, Vol. 3’ editors detail documenting a history that highlights globalization of the Church and overcoming trials
The “Saints” series includes the stories and perspectives of Church leaders and also “everyday people who experienced these events, and whose stories really illustrate the changes that occur during this time,” Hales said.
They relied on the histories and documents the Church has, such as with Susa Young Gates and her daughter Leah Dunford Widstoe, whose journals, letters and other papers are in the Church’s archive, Tait said.
“But that was the case for only a portion of our characters. Many of the other characters that we have in the book, we didn’t have that much and we didn’t have those kinds of sources in the Church’s possession,” Tait said. ”And so we had to get kind of creative.”
They wanted to show the experiences of Church members in Germany from the 1920s through the 1950s, but couldn’t find one in the archives.
“When you’ve exhausted all of your resources, all of your ingenuity, you turn to prayer, like President Hinckley has always said, you pray and then you get to work,” Woodworth said. And they kept praying and kept looking. They ended up going to BYU’s library, where there is a collection of Latter-day Saints biographies. They found one by Helga Meiszus Meyer, who had emigrated from Germany shortly before the Berlin Wall went up, settled in Salt Lake City and learned English.
“I had never seen this book; I pulled it off the shelves, and I started reading, and within 30 minutes, I knew this was the person,” Woodworth said.
A young woman Meyer was a Relief Society visiting teacher to, Lark Evans Galli, encouraged Meyer to write her story and helped Meyer record, transcribe, edit and publish her memoir. Woodworth found the book in 2016, and, as Meyer was born in 1920, he assumed that she had died a long time ago. He contacted Galli and said he had many questions about Meyer.
“And she said: ‘Well, why don’t you ask them of Helga? She lives around the corner. She’d be happy to talk to you.’ Helga was 96. And that began a two-year friendship with her where we spent many hours together. She gave us more information,” Woodworth said, describing Meyer as “bright and witty.”
In “Saints, Vol. 3,” readers meet her when she’s 9 years old attending Sunday School with her family in East Prussia, and follow her and her family as she’s faced with joining Hitler Youth or being in the Church’s youth program, and through World War II.
“She’s the second most common character, and yet she’s an everyday Saint [who] no one knows anything about,” Woodsworth said.
“But I tell the story, because our finding her came out of struggle,” he said. “And I think this is one of the lessons of this book, is that faith and power often come out of struggle.”
Read more: From settling Salt Lake City to polygamy, volume 2 of ‘Saints’ is more ‘epic’ than the first
They also wanted to tell the story of a Black family in the United States. At the time, a University of Utah history professor, Paul Reeve, had recently released the Century of Black Mormons digital database. A research assistant went through the profiles to identify anyone who would work for the project, including an available history in first person and being an active Church member in 1920s and 1930s.
They found Len and Mary Hope — and their conversion story and short biography. The Hopes had moved from Alabama to the Cincinnati, Ohio, area.
As they looked for other Church members in the Cincinnati area, they found Connie Taylor and Paul Bang — and found that the Hopes and the Bangs interacted, Woodworth said.
Hales, who grew up in the Cincinnati area, recalled that Bang had been a stake patriarch when he was boy. Hales went looking on FamilySearch for any memories and found where Bang’s daughter had uploaded family documents.
The page he clicked on was a journal page from 1936, when Bang was 16. “And the first thing I read was ‘Brother and Sister Hope came by today.’ And right there, I knew we’ve got a story here. We’ve got a relationship, and when you have a relationship, you’ve got a story,” Hales said.
Also, toward the end of the volume, some of the people they wrote about are still alive.
“We’re definitely in a place where people who lived through these events are still with us and their children definitely are with us,” Hallstrom said. Many times, it was the children who helped offer their perspective and documents.
“We’re excited for people to discover these families,” Woodworth said.
“Saints: Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent” will be available in print, online and in the Gospel Library app. It will be available digitally in 14 languages — Cebuano, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog and Tongan. Print copies will be available as soon as possible in the Church’s online store and retail outlets. In the Gospel Library app, the audio book will also be available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. See Saints.ChurchofJesusChrist.org for information.