A History of Patriarchs and Patriarchal Blessings

Church History Library Staff
26 March 2019

In the first of two posts, we share a brief history of the office of the patriarch and the efforts of the Church History Library to preserve patriarchal blessings. Part two will cover how to request blessings and how blessings are preserved.

One of the largest and oldest collections in the Church History Library is the patriarchal blessing collection, which spans nearly the entire history of the Church. Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still receive blessings today that provide meaning and insight unique to each individual.

Due to the sacred and private nature of the blessings, the collection is closed to research. However, individuals may request copies of their personal blessings and those of deceased, direct-line family members through an online system managed by staff at the Church History Library.

Patriarch to the Church

The office of Patriarch began in 1833 when Joseph Smith Sr. was ordained as the first Patriarch. His responsibilities were to provide patriarchal blessings and bestow blessings to the fatherless.

Through the years the office has been known by many names: Patriarch over the whole Church, Patriarch of the Church, Presiding Patriarch, and Patriarch to the Church. Patriarch to the Church became the official title in 1845. Patriarchs to the Church continued to be called well into the twentieth century.

Hyrum Smith (second patriarch to the Church), John Smith (third patriarch to the Church), John Smith the younger (fourth patriarch to the Church)

During the October 1979 general conference, the office was discontinued due to the increased number of local stake patriarchs. Eldred G. Smith, who was serving as Patriarch to the Church at the time, was honorably released from the calling and given emeritus status.

Local Patriarchs

The calling of local patriarchs began in 1837 when Isaac Morley was called as the first local patriarch. The responsibilities associated with the calling have remained the same over the years, which is to provide an inspired declaration of lineage and blessings to the recipient. In 1840 Peter Melling was called as the first international patriarch, serving in the British mission. Just one year later, a second patriarch, John Albisten, was called to serve as patriarch in the mission as well. Currently there are approximately 3,300 local patriarchs serving worldwide. These men report to the stake president but work under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A member of the Quorum of the Twelve approves the call of each patriarch.

Blessing History

Today, blessings are given in private meetings that include the patriarch, the blessing recipient, and in some cases close family members. In the early days, blessings were provided in “blessing meetings,” wherein many families gathered and multiple blessings were given. Blessings were recorded by a scribe and the copy was given to the recipient, who then determined whether they wanted the patriarch to keep an official record of the blessing. If the recipient decided to share their blessing, the scribe would borrow the blessing to record it in a book, which became a part of official Church records. In some cases, Church members would opt out of contributing a copy of their blessing.

Initially, patriarchs did not submit blessings to the Church. Each patriarch kept his own records of the blessings he gave. In 1856 the Church Historian’s Office was established, and it is believed that some patriarchal blessings were stored within the archives at that time. It is not known when it became a requirement for patriarchs to submit blessings to the Church archives, but it is estimated to be sometime in the 1920s.

Today, patriarchs regularly submit blessings they have given to the Church History Library. Those who submit blessings online submit each blessing individually. When patriarchal blessings are received, the Church History Library preserves them in multiple locations and formats to ensure their security and preservation. The preservation process assures that your blessing, and the blessings of those in your direct line, are available to you upon request.

For additional information about requesting copies of blessings, please see the patriarchal blessing FAQ page.