Thanks to the cataloging and indexing efforts of intrepid Church History Library employees spanning several decades, you can now search the online catalog for the name of an ancestor or relative or for a location or topic in the Brigham Young Office Files collection.
To begin a search in the incoming letters, access the Church History Catalog. A search box appears near the top of the page. (Below the search box are two short tutorials to help you search the catalog more efficiently and effectively.) The search bar defaults to searching the library’s entire catalog of published and unpublished sources, so to narrow your search to just the letters in the Brigham Young Office Files, click the Brigham Young Letters tab above the search bar. Enter the name of the individual you are interested in, such as “William Geddes” or “Chief Washakie”; enter a location, such as “Dymock, England” or “Carson Valley, Nevada”; or enter a topic, such as “mules,” “steam mill,” or “handcart.”
If the search results contain a letter that interests you, click the title of the letter. A window will then appear to the right. Click the View Finding Aid button near the top. That will take you to a screen that identifies where, in the extensive office files, the specific letter is located. Above the far right column of the screen is the phrase “View Digital Object.” Click those words to display a new screen containing the images in their respective folders. The letters in each folder are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the letter writer. Scroll through the letters until you find the one you are looking for. You may then download the image to your device by clicking the Download icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
Once you have found an incoming letter, you can search for a draft reply or letterpress copy by returning to the Finding Aid screen and choosing Letterbooks, 1844–1877 and General Correspondence, Outgoing, 1843–1876 in the far left column above General Correspondence, Incoming, 1840–1877. The draft responses and letterpress copies are generally arranged in chronological order; however, there are frequent exceptions. The turnaround time for a reply varied, so the incoming letter may not have been responded to for several days, weeks, or months.
As you search the Brigham Young Office Files, keep in mind that the effort will be more intensive than a simple Google search. Neither the incoming nor outgoing letters have been transcribed, so you will need to read the original handwriting. The handwritten text of both the incoming letters and outgoing replies is not word-searchable, and the outgoing letters have not yet been indexed by the correspondents’ names. The online catalog’s search capability scans the incoming letters only for the name of the correspondent and the words comprising the brief summary statement for each letter. Letters containing confidential or sacred information were segregated to separate files, which are not available for public access. Those letters may contain details about temple ceremonies, confessions of sins, ecclesiastical disciplinary measures, or fractious family relationships.