Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
About the Collection
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons or the LDS) has from its founding in 1830, emphasized missionary work as a central obligation of its members.1 The LDS church as an organization also emphasizes record-keeping at both the organizational and the personal level.
Prophets of Israel from Biblical times to the present have emphasized keeping a “book of remembrance.”2 In the twentieth century, President Spencer W. Kimball said “[present] a picture of your true self rather than a picture of you when you are ‘made up’ for a public performance.”3 Great emphasis, in personal histories, diaries and journals, is to be placed on spiritual, cultural, social relationships, and personal growth. As a mission is an incredibly intensive spiritual experience, accompanied frequently by the gaining of new cultural and social insights, it is no wonder that missionary journals are frequently kept and later donated to archives.
The L. Tom Perry Special Collections, housed in the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, contains a superb collection of missionary diaries, second only to that of the LDS Family and Church History Archives in Salt Lake City. So, armed with approval and funding, primarily from Angel Partners, Inc., a project was launched which would make a portion of the missionary diaries available to a much wider audience through the library’s collections page.
Selection of the Diaries
Relying heavily on students, the process began of sifting through the collection of missionary diaries, which numbered over 220 diarists, over 575 volumes, and finally over 101,000 diary pages.
We established criteria for handling diaries.
- Handle the original diaries as little as possible.
- Whenever there were photocopies of the originals or typescripts, these were reviewed, not the original diary.
- Only when it came time to gain a greater understanding of the physical structure of these diaries did we resort to physically handling them.
- Criteria were established for the review phase, through conversations with curators, the team leader, and with excellent student input over time the criteria were refined to the following:
- Only original diaries, written while on the mission, were to be included in the final digital publication.
- Entire volumes in a language other than English were not to be included in this initial digital collection.
- Basic elements of readability—the diarists’ ability to write good descriptive narratives was considered critical.
- Especially important to this digital publication was the picture of mission life and activities, i.e., cultural, spiritual, social, and organizational.
- We also wanted diarists who were somewhat introspective, who might reveal feelings about experiences, people, and places.
- We were hopeful to find names of people taught and baptized, places traveled within the mission, names of mission companions, and presidents of the missions.
- A caution to the reviewers centered on concern for the sacred and private, although the concern was less pronounced for nineteenth century diarists than for the twentieth century diarists.
- The students, with review and oversight early on in the process, began to actually look at the diaries and utilize the criteria above.
- Students assigned a rating of 1-5, with one being the lowest and 5 the highest rating, to each diarist.
- Excel spreadsheets were developed for each geographic region. These spreadsheets included the following information: Name, Rating, Gender of Diarist, Location of Mission (later changed to Official Mission Name), Dates of Mission, Call Number, Manuscripts Collection Physical Location, Language, Readability, Content, Format or Type, Dated Entries, Written on the Mission, Additional Information, Pages, Condition, Size, Previously Digitized, Previously Published, and Copyright.
- At intervals, the team leader would sample the work of the students to see if the criteria were being met and if there was agreement on the rating.
What we discovered was an incredibly rich collection intellectually, but one that was not as diverse geographically or chronologically as we had hoped. The earliest missionary diary in the collection is a one–volume diary penned in 1832 by Hyrum Smith, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother. Although it is not the best representative of a missionary diary, because of its early date and because of Hyrum’s intimate connection to the restoration movement, it is included in the digital collection. The latest missionary diary is written in the 1960s by a sister missionary who served in Great Britain.
- Students then were assigned to write brief biographical sketches for each of the 114 diarists.
- These sketches were to be quite personal, and as far as possible, include quotes that were directly related to the mission experience.
- To the degree possible, the style of recording certain information was standardized while still leaving latitude for personal writing style.
- Each biographical sketch was edited by the team leader and returned to the student for finalization.
What is Included
The sifting process took us on an almost eighteen–month odyssey and ultimately over one hundred diarists were chosen, resulting in 376 volumes and over 63,000 pages. The selection process proved to be a daunting and a rewarding task, begun in spring 2003 and finally completed in the fall of 2004. Writing the biographical sketches overlapped with part of this time.
- What you will see in this digital publication of Mormon Missionary diaries is a collection, arranged geographically by continents or island groups.
- The Pacific region includes thirty diarists writing in 136 volumes, serving from the 1850s to the 1920s, representing missions to Hawaii/Sandwich Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti/Society Islands, New Zealand, and Australia.
- Asia brings us a small but important group of five missionary diarists writing in twenty-nine volumes, serving in the 1850s, 1890s, 1900–1920s, in Burma, India and Japan.
- North America, represented primarily by the United States, with two diarists from missions in Mexico, brings us thirty–two diarists writing in sixty-five volumes, serving from 1832 through 1907. The greatest concentration of these accounts occurs in the 1880s in the Southern States mission—a volatile and difficult mission area for the Mormons.
- Europe is represented by three groupings with a total of forty–seven diarists, writing in ninety–eight volumes as follows:
- The diaries from Great Britain are an exceptionally strong collection. In fact, the British Isles was the first organized mission of the LDS Church—organized in 1837—and is represented by thirty–one diarists writing in seventy–one volumes, from 1839 through the 1960s.
- Scandinavia is a small collection, primarily because we made the decision to include English language diaries only, representing five diarists writing in ten volumes, with one diarist from the 1850s–1860s, and the remainder from 1900–1908. One missionary served in Denmark, two missionaries in Sweden, one in Norway, and one served the early years as Scandinavian mission president.
- Western Europe is also a small collection of diarists, once again because we made the decision to include English language diaries only, representing nine diarists (two who also served and are included in the British group), writing in ten volumes, and serving from the 1850s through the 1920s.
- The Middle East is represented by only one diarist in thirteen volumes.
In addition, as the emphasis in the LDS Church is on male members serving missions, women diarists represent a small number of the total diarists. Currently only five female diarists are included. Today  only 14 percent of the missionary force is made up of women (ca. 7000). In 1898, the first official full–time unmarried woman missionaries were called to serve. Inez Knight Allen served in the British Isles and has the distinction, along with her companion Jennie Brimhall, of being the first single woman called. We are fortunate to have Inez Knight Allen’s one–volume diary in this digital collection.
The collection of missionary diaries that constitutes the physical, and subsequently the digital collection, does include some individuals fairly prominent in the LDS Church, i.e., James E. Talmage, a member in the church hierarchy of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Moses Thatcher, later called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Benjamin Cluff, who became the president of Brigham Young University. The missionaries came from all walks of life. Some like Ephraim Green, a member of the Mormon Battalion and a missionary to the Sandwich Islands, struggled with limited education, nevertheless he was slowly able to learn the Hawaiian language. Others such as Newton Jackson, who served a mission to Great Britain in 1911, subsequently became a medical doctor.
In reality, the majority of the missionaries who served were from relatively humble circumstances, and certainly never rose to great prominence from a worldly standpoint. Ultimately the selection of diaries to be included in the digital collection revealed that fifty percent of the missionaries were married, four percent were widowers, and forty-six percent were single. The average age of the missionaries when they embarked on their mission was 27.8 years of age.
What Is Not Included
There are glaring geographical and chronological gaps in the diary selections. The continents of Africa, South America, and most of Asia are not represented. Nor are there any diaries beyond the 1960s. These geographical and chronological realities are actually related to each other. Because the physical collection of diaries does not go beyond the 1960s, the continents of Africa and South America are completely left out of the collection. It was only after 1978 that persistent Mormon missionary efforts entered the continent of Africa (outside of South Africa), and South America, a fruitful missionary field in the late twentieth and early twenty–first centuries, has only been consistently proselyted by Mormon missionaries since the 1950s and 1960s.
Political restrictions have also played a part in the spread of the missionary effort of the LDS Church. Large areas in Europe and Asia either have only recently been opened to missionary efforts, i.e., Russia and Eastern Europe, with some countries, such as China, still not permitting any missionary activities, while in other countries, such as India, missionaries were only active in the mid nineteenth century.
Nevertheless this digital publication represents a significant body of research material. We anticipate that family historians, as well as cultural, social, and religious historians, will be able to use this collection for intense and deep research. At the same time it will provide students, at many educational levels, an opportunity to read and understand the missionary experiences, the joys, the sorrows, the struggles that can change lives—both the missionaries and the individuals whom they grow to know and love.
- See in LDS scriptures, Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 88:81.
- See Malachi 3:16-18.
- Spencer W. Kimball, “New Era Classic: The Angels May Quote From it,” New Era (February 2003): 33.