Writing a Local Unit History Research Guide
Determining the Scope of Your History
It is important to decide the scope of your history. Are you compiling a two-page summary to accompany a commemorative program, or are you writing a two-volume set to celebrate a unit’s centennial? This will be important in determining how much research you need to do. Define your research goals and the end product early in the planning process. As you delve into the project, you are likely to find three constraints on your work: first, the research may take longer than you envisioned; second, there may be a lot of topics and information for potential inclusion in the history; and, third, there may be a lack of relevant records. Defining a clear scope from the start will help keep the project manageable.
Browsing Sample Local Unit Histories
From small pamphlets to lengthy books, many different varieties of unit histories have been written over the years. Our library contains many of these histories. To browse these items in our catalog, search for the terms branch history, ward history, mission history, or stake history, and use the “Narrow Your Search” sidebar on the left of the screen to filter your results. For example, if you check the box next to “Digital,” then you will only be shown the files that are available electronically. Searching these terms will provide a sampling of the types of histories that have been written. As many of these histories will have copyright restrictions, you may need to sign in to view the contents. Others may require further approval to be viewed.
The following four histories provide interesting examples:
Looking back 100 years: a commemorative history of the Pleasant View/Pleasant View First Ward of the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake by Marilyn Openshaw Chapman, et al.
This is an example of an anniversary celebration history. The volume has been digitized, but you will need to log in to view the content.
Davis California Stake history, 2013 by Murray E. Fowler
This is an example of a moderately detailed stake history covering leadership history as well as other organizations and events in the history and development of the stake. The volume has been digitized, but you will need to log in to view the content.
The following examples are available by request at the Church History Library:
Strengthen Thy stakes: a history of the Salt Lake Central Stake of Zion by Blair L. Bybee
This is an example of a lengthy and exhaustive stake history. The authors meticulously documented the leadership history of the stake and its wards. This history is available upon request at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.
One hundred years of history of the L.D.S. Logan Second Ward, 1861 to 1961 by Ada England Morrell
You must log in to obtain access.
This brief ward history focuses on the ward’s bishops and their service while dedicating a few pages to each of the organizations in the ward. A unique feature of this book is its appendix of ward funerals compiled by combing through ward minute books to retrieve names and dates. This history is available upon request at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.
Finding Information about Your Local Unit
When you start researching records of your ward or stake, you will need to look in several places. The most important are the local records for the unit. We have published two posts on the Church History Library blog, The Historical Record, that give more information on local records, such as how to access them and the types of information they might contain: “Local and Corporate Records of the Church” and “More on Local Records.”
The following list of sources will also assist you in your research:
- The Church History Catalog: If a local unit has been diligent about submitting records, you will find a wealth of information here.
- The current and past names of the ward.
- The stake and/or mission to which the local unit belonged.
- Names of prominent members.
- Geographic location.
- The Historical Department Local Unit History File: This resource lists the names, organization dates, parent organizations, name changes, transfers, and dissolution dates of local units through 1983.
- Encyclopedic History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: This book contains concise histories, including unit boundaries and leadership, for local units in existence prior to 1930.
- The Directory of General Authorities and Officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: The years 1892–1970 are available online; post-1970 is available upon request. When using the online version, be certain to verify all information obtained there.
- The Journal History is a daily history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830 to 2008. It is like a scrapbook created from newspapers, minutes, diary entries, and other sources. It contains valuable historical and biographical information, such as when a pioneer arrived in Utah, when a new bishop was called, or when a ward or stake was organized. Entries are arranged by date, and page numbers start over with each new day. See the research guide for the Journal History of the Church.
- MormonPlaces is an interactive database and gazetteer listing important locations (including local units) in the early Church. It is a good place to start when looking for the location where an individual may have lived. This website is hosted by Brigham Young University. This is not a Church-sponsored website, and the Church does not endorse the content.
- Church periodicals: These have stories and news items on many local units that have been included in various periodicals through the years, especially in the local pages of the international magazines. There is an ongoing effort to scan periodicals, so check back for additional titles.
- The “Church News” section of the Deseret News. Access to the Church News section of the Deseret News is available in the following places:
- Index to the Church News (1961–2004): Found in the series “Index to Periodicals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” this is available in hard copy at the beginning of the periodical section in the reference room.
- Index to the Church News (1931–1960).
- Church News website (circa 1988–present).
- 1931–present (digitized) is available on request.
- 1931–2005 (photocopies) and 2006–present (newsprint) are available in the Library’s open collection.
- The Physical Facilities Department photograph collection: This large digitized collection contains photographs of buildings built, purchased, or rented by the Church, including temples, tabernacles, stake offices, meetinghouses, Relief Society halls and granaries, recreation halls, seminaries, institute buildings, and mission homes and offices. It is organized alphabetically by the name of the unit or building.
You can also use the Meetinghouse Locator and Geographic Information Services digital local unit maps for current and recent local unit boundary maps.
You should also check for information with the following people or locations:
- Ask ward or stake clerks for copies of annual histories.
- Ask your bishop or stake president to request a list of missionaries who have served from your ward through the Library’s “Ask Us” service.
- Search meetinghouse libraries to see if any materials have accumulated there.
- Ask current and past leaders, along with longtime members of the unit, if they have any materials.
If possible, you may also want to locate:
- Previously written histories for the ward. These are often written for important milestones, such as a building dedication or a significant anniversary.
- Old unit directories.
- Newsletters, programs, flyers, announcements, etc.
- Ward cookbooks.
- The local historical society or other repository.
- City and county records (especially for information on buildings).
Other Places to Look
- Local newspapers can be a valuable source. Many events connected with local Church history have appeared in local newspapers, such as the construction of a chapel or members helping out with relief efforts. To find them, consider searching these locations:
- Visit your local library.