Meet the new Church historian and recorder Elder Kyle S. McKay: ‘Church history has the capacity to strengthen faith’

Elder McKay previously served as assistant executive director of the Church History Department with Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.

Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy, has felt drawn to a certain scripture since he became the Church historian and recorder on Aug. 1. 

In Doctrine and Covenants 47, John Whitmer was called to serve as the Church’s historian and recorder in March 1831. Doctrine and Covenants 69 includes instructions for John Whitmer in his calling. 

“He was given a mandate to gather up histories and writings and things that would be of value to the Church and the rising generations that would grow up in Zion, and I have felt drawn to that,” Elder McKay said about Doctrine and Covenants 69:8. “Since learning of this assignment, I have felt drawn to the rising generations and to protect them and to build their faith.”

As the assistant executive director of the Church History Department over the past three years, he has served with Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., the Church historian and recorder since 2019.

Related Stories
Episode 92: Church historian and recorder, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., on the vital role of Church history
4 times President Eyring, Elder Holland and other leaders were quoted in a 'Pickles' comic strip

“In addition to the mechanics of the department, I have learned more about history, and that’s been fascinating,” said Elder McKay, who is an attorney and has been the vice president of Smith’s and Fry’s with the Kroger Co. His April 2019 general conference talk was referenced in a “Pickles” comic.

“I think all of us wonder to a degree or another and are interested in things of the past. I think that’s tied with what we call the Spirit of Elijah — and not just people, but places and things in histories. And that’s one of the things that Church history is charged to do is to keep track of the people and their faith and their works,” he said.

The Church History Department includes the Church’s historic sites; the Church Historian’s Press, which has produced the “Saints” series and the Joseph Smith Papers project; and the Church History Library and Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. He’s recently received the next volume in the “Saints” series for review. 

“I’m called the Church historian, but in truth, the real historians are the people I work with. I preside over a department that is full of absolutely brilliant people,” he said. 

The department also collects and maintains a variety of records and histories, from those relating to the administration of the Church, to those of the Church and its members from across the globe. There are also oral histories, artifacts and journals along with the collection of books and publications and efforts to digitize and preserve records. 

“We wouldn’t have the Church history that we have if not for people who have kept pretty clean and detailed journals” such as Wilford Woodruff, Elder McKay said.

For Elder McKay “the most important and coolest artifacts” the Church has are related to the scriptures — the Book of Mormon manuscript, the printer’s manuscript and the Book of Commandments. 

“I believe that Church history has the capacity to strengthen faith and ought to be used for that purpose. And I’m excited to do it,” Elder McKay said. 

Elder McKay also recognizes there are some things in Church history that people struggle with. 

“God works with imperfect people, and sometimes our members are surprised to learn that their leaders are not perfect and that they have made mistakes. … You will never come to know and understand the truths of God by studying the errors of man. Our focus, our passion should be to know and understand the truths of God,” he said. 

One of the purposes of the department is to help bring people unto Christ, to develop and grow faith in Christ, and “sometimes to rehabilitate or reclaim faith in Christ.”

“And so you do that by studying Christ and His doctrines and His truths,” Elder McKay said. In his experience, “most people that struggle with matters of Church history are not bumping up against a specific truth or principle or doctrine. They’re bumping up against a person, against a personality or an event. … 

“My invitation is: study the truths of God. If you study error, you will come to know only error. And our purpose in or out of the Church ought to be to seek out truth. And not just facts but truth, and specifically saving truth,” he said. 

Elder McKay is distantly related to President David O. McKay — Elder McKay’s grandfather and President McKay were first cousins, making Elder McKay’s relationship a first cousin twice removed. Elder McKay has a black-and-white photo with President McKay pausing for the photographer and young Kyle, apparently distracted by something outside of the photo’s frame, on the other side of the photo. 

Elder Kyle S. McKay, General Authority Seventy, shows a photo from a McKay family reunion of him as a young boy, left, and President David O. McKay, right, during an interview in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Elder McKay began serving as the Church historian and recorder on Aug. 1, 2022. Elder McKay and President McKay are first cousins twice removed. | Cristy Powell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder McKay has a connection to Elder Marlin K. Jensen, who served as Church historian from 2005 to 2012. Elder McKay’s family’s roots are in Huntsville, Utah, and his family spent their summers there — and he still has an affinity for riding horses.

At the end of the summer as he was going into ninth grade, young Kyle didn’t want to go back to Bountiful. The way his parents arranged for him to stay in the valley was to live with then-Bishop Jensen and his wife, Kathy, and their young family. The Jensens had a dairy farm, and he was starting his law practice. 

“There was no reason that they should take me in. In fact, there was every reason not to,” Elder McKay said. The Jensens made it a matter of fasting and prayer. “And so, I grew up under the tutelage of Marlin Jensen. And he has been, just a kind, kind mentor my entire life.” 

Correction: An earlier version noted that Elder Marlin K. Jensen served as Church historian from 2005 to 2019. He served until 2012. Elder Steven E. Snow served as Church historian and recorder from 2012 to 2019.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed