If you are researching the life of a Latter-day Saint who served a mission in the United States, Canada, Mexico, or Hawaii1 between 1903 and 1945, there is a possibility that they were mentioned—and maybe even had their photograph published—in issues of Liahona, the Elders’ Journal, a Church-published magazine that circulated throughout North America and Hawaii in various forms.
Liahona, the Elders’ Journal can be an excellent resource for researchers seeking information on ancestors, local Church units, missionary work, and many other topics. For example, the journal often listed the names of new members of the Church in the Southern States and other US missions, sometimes even sharing their conversion stories. Many journal issues also feature photographs of Church-owned buildings and meetinghouses, which can be helpful to those researching a branch, ward, stake, district, or mission.
Many issues of the journal have been digitized and are available through the Family History Library’s catalog.2
History—Liahona, the Elders’ Journal
In August 1903, Ben E. Rich, president of the Southern States Mission, started publication of a periodical called Elders’ Journal3; it was the successor to the mission's short-lived Latter Day Saints Southern Star. In the first issue of Elders’ Journal, President Rich stated that the mission boundaries were so large and the missionaries so scattered that it was difficult to communicate important information to them uniformly and quickly. Thus, he proposed to publish “this little paper we have christened the ‘Elders’ Journal;’ trusting that the Elders will derive both pleasure and profit from the perusal of the same, and that it will be a welcome visitor to them as it appears each month hereafter.”4
Among the publication’s planned features were lists of the names of all elders arriving from Latter-day Saint settlements in the western United States and “their assignments to their fields of labor; notice of releases and appointments; instructions to the Elders from the Authorities in [Utah] and from the Presidency of the mission; and all items of interest connected with the work that will be beneficial to the missionaries, and that will have a tendency to draw us all closer together.”5 President Rich stated that the publication costs would be financed by missionaries serving in the mission’s districts (called conferences at the time6) and that the publication's size would be such that “by trimming the edges of this little paper it can be made to fit into the Elders’ daily journal and . . . always be kept handy for reference.”7
True to President Rich’s vision, the first issues gave details of missionaries’ arrivals, assignments, transfers, and releases. They also occasionally included lists of conference presidents with their addresses, as well as statistical charts showing comparisons of missionaries’ activities between conferences. For example, you could see how many miles missionaries walked, how many miles they rode on horseback, how many families were visited (and revisited), how many tracts were distributed, how many meetings were held, and how many baptisms were performed.
Soon after the first issue, the journal began printing death and obituary notices for Church members and missionaries then living or serving in the Southern States Mission. Interestingly, one of the first obituaries was for Addison Prather of Berzelia, Georgia, who died on February 20, 1904. Addison was not a member of the Church, but his family members were, and the brief obituary noted that the Prather family graciously nursed one Elder Thomas H. Bell in their home during his illness (and subsequent death) in the summer of 1899.8
Before long, copies of Elders’ Journal began circulating outside of the Southern States Mission, and the journal began publishing letters from other mission presidents reporting progress in their respective missions, as well. Eventually, in May 1907, the journal announced a merger with a journal from the Central States Mission, the Liahona (1907), to better serve its ever-widening audience:
It has long been though[t] advisable to publish in some central place a missionary paper to circulate generally in all the missions in the United States . . . .[P]lans for the publication of such a paper are now effected by making the two missionary papers—the Elders’ Journal and the Liahona—one publication, the same to be issued from Independence, Mo., as a thirty-two-page weekly. It will be conducted under the auspices of all the missions in the United States.
Its policy will be similar to that followed by the Journal. Besides missionary news from the various field and able articles on the principles of the Gospel, will appear also a rare collection of precious gems from early Church publications.9
The new, merged periodical—dubbed Liahona, the Elders’ Journal to combine both journals’ names—summarized news from all US missions. This entry, published in 1910, is typical of the journal’s content:
Mississippi [Conference]: [reported by] Geo. J. Gray, president, Darbun, Miss. While traveling along the country road in Wilkinson county Elders Jos. F. Gibb and Francis D. Hancock passed a cemetery where two men were digging a grave. They approached them and conversed on the gospel with them. Resuming their journey the elders had not gone far when two little girls overtook them and said that their parents wanted the elders to come back and preach the funeral sermon. The elders responded to the request, preached to a large congregation, and after the services were taken home with some of the people and held a large cottage meeting that night. At Red Hill Pres. Geo. J. Gray, and three other elders held a most excellent branch conference.10
The publication of Liahona, the Elders’ Journal continued until the February 27, 1945 issue.11 In the final issue, it was announced that the name “Liahona” would be given to the Mexican Mission's official publication. Commenting on the change, the First Presidency stated, “It is our earnest prayer that in its new field, it [the Liahona] will go forward with a like service to the many millions of Lamanites to whom it will now come, bearing its gospel message of salvation.”12
Subscribers to Liahona, the Elders’ Journal at the time of its transfer to the Mexican Mission received either a refund or a subscription to the Church News or The Improvement Era, two Church publications featuring similar types of news and information.
For researchers browsing issues of Liahona, the Elders’ Journal, it is helpful to keep the following key dates in mind:
- August 1903
- The journal begins publication as Elders’ Journal.
- September 1904
- The second volume of the journal commences. The physical size of the journal is larger, and frequency of publication increases from once to twice monthly.
- A section called “Notes from the Field” appears, featuring commentary on missionary activities; baptisms; growth and development of branches; and spiritual occurrences, such as miraculous healings performed by the elders. Many articles detail mobbings and other abuses missionaries endure in the South.
- Another new section includes excerpts from letters written by Church members to the journal’s editor and missionaries; poetry frequently appears, too.
- September 1905
- Photographs of missionaries first appear in the journal, albeit sporadically.
- September 1906
- The journal begins expanding its coverage beyond the Southern States Mission, eventually to encompass all missions in the United States (see May 15, 1907, below).
- The editor announces that dramatic changes would soon be implemented to the journal and asks that members and missionaries throughout the Church (not just within the Southern States Mission) subscribe.13 Shortly thereafter, a brief notice states that all the elders in the Colorado, Hawaiian, and Tahitian Missions paid for subscriptions.14
- April 1907
- Liahona—the journal with which Elders’ Journal would eventually merge—begins publication.
- May 15, 1907
- An announcement in this issue states that Elders' Journal (1903-1907) would combine with Liahona (1907) and be printed in Independence, Missouri, instead of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The new journal would be a weekly 32-page publication “conducted under the auspices of all the missions in the United States.” Accordingly, more missions’ information began to be included in the journal from this point forward.
- June 1907
- Elders’ Journal officially combines with Liahona to become Liahona, the Elders’ Journal.
- circa August 1912
- The journal’s editors begin regularly publishing photographs of missionary groups (usually studio portraits of conferences or districts) serving in US. missions. Usually, the missionaries in the photos are identified. For example, a photograph in the December 8, 1914 issue shows twenty-five "Lady Missionaries" of the Central States Mission; the June 1, 1915 issue shows Church members and friends standing in front of their meetinghouse in Winnipeg, Canada.
- March 1927
- The term district replaces the term conference when referring to a territorial division within a mission.15
- February 1945
- The final issue is published.
Top Image: The nameplate and headline of the February 7, 1911 issue of Liahona, the Elders' Journal.