Elder Steven E. Snow served as the Church Historian and Recorder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from August 1, 2012, to July 31, 2019. During this time, he oversaw significant developments in the work of Church history, from record keeping to publishing to developing historic sites and exhibits. Two years into his tenure, I joined the Church History Department as director of the Church History Library. One of my assignments in this role eventually involved participating in ongoing discussions about the office of Church Recorder. Over the years, there had been much discussion about the role of Church Historian, with far less about the role of Church Recorder.
The conversation that follows is a distillation of dozens of conversations that took place over many years. Its content draws on the research of many who worked before I joined the Church History Department and others who joined later. I present the conversation as an interview with Elder Snow both to emphasize his leadership into uncharted areas and to reflect our real-time process of asking, discussing, and pushing issues forward over time. In the footnotes, I supplement the conversation with citations to relevant sources and resources. Though we explored the variety of topics addressed herein in order to understand and guide our work, I hope the information will also be of value to the wider historical community.1
The conversation opens with reflections on Elder Snow’s service before moving to his process of learning about the office of Church Recorder. A brief history of Church record keeping is presented, beginning in the nineteenth century, when the offices of Church Historian and Church Recorder were separate and each was held by a different person. We then trace the modernization of record keeping during the twentieth century, the years spent without a Church Recorder, and the work in the twenty-first century. We close with a discussion of recent efforts that define the work of the Church Recorder today.
Reflections on Snow’s Service
Keith A. Erekson: You are wrapping up several years of leading the Church History Department as the Church Historian and Recorder. It has been an exciting period for Church history, marked by many significant accomplishments.2 One of the most visible developments involves the publication of materials from our collection. What are some of the highlights, in your view?
Elder Steven E. Snow: It has, indeed, been a great privilege to serve as the Church Historian and Recorder for the past seven years.3 During this time, we’ve seen many projects come to fruition that were years or even decades in the making. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has continued to publish volumes at a steady pace.4 We’ve also published other significant documents from our past, including items from the Relief Society’s first fifty years of history,5 sermons by Latter-day Saint women from the 1830s to the twenty-first century,6 and the journal of George Q. Cannon.7 We’ve also made many more of our materials available through the online Church history catalog. Since 2012, we’ve digitized more than fifteen million images and continue to add about three hundred images per hour. Earlier this year, we released a new version of our catalog to make it easier to find and view digital images.8
Erekson: How has increased accessibility to these materials benefited Church members?
Snow: All of these records, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project in particular, have provided us clearer views into our history. As a result, we prepared adjustments to the introductory headings to the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants in 2013.9 We also prepared a series of essays that put the revelations into historical context and linked the essays to the online Gospel Doctrine curriculum materials during 2017.10 A different series of “Gospel Topics Essays” was published between 2013 and 2015 to provide answers about some of the more difficult aspects of our past.11 A third initiative has been to write histories, called “Global Histories,” of the Church in individual countries.12
But the most significant publication for Church members is a new history of the Church, titled Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. Volume 1 was published in September 2018 in fourteen languages, and work is under way on the remaining volumes. In addition to the narrative, we also published more than one hundred essays on historical topics to supplement the reading.13
Erekson: We’ve talked about publishing, but many people don’t know that the Church Historian and Recorder is also responsible for the Church’s art collection and historical museums. How have they developed in recent years?
Snow: We closed the Church History Museum for more than a year in order to install a new exhibit called The Heavens Are Opened, which corresponds with volume 1 of Saints. The exhibit features historical documents and artifacts as well as interactive experiences, such as a new video about the First Vision shown on a wraparound screen.14 We also opened a new history center in Hamilton, New Zealand, with exhibits about the history of the Church in the Pacific.15 And we placed rare and priceless historical documents on display in the Church History Library.16
Erekson: You also serve as chair of the Church’s Historic Sites Committee, a group that brings together representatives from multiple departments at headquarters—including the Church History, Missionary, Temple, and Meetinghouse Facilities Departments—as well as the director of temporal affairs for historic sites. What are some of the highlights regarding historic sites during your time?
Snow: The most visible development was the creation of a new historic site in Pennsylvania that commemorates the priesthood restoration.17 We’ve done a lot of master planning at many of our sites throughout the United States. Close to my own heart and heritage, the historic tabernacle in St. George, Utah, was renovated.18 And most recently, the responsibility for operations of the Church’s historic sites has shifted from the Missionary Department to the Church History Department—a move that we welcome.
Erekson: It is always the case that public actions like these are the result of largely invisible work behind the scenes. Are there any less visible developments that you’d like to mention?
Snow: Yes. We have done a lot to globalize the work of our department. Since 2010, we have been calling area Church history advisers throughout the world, who have collected records, conducted oral histories with living Saints in their home countries, and helped increase the submission of annual histories by 20 percent. Since 2012, we’ve established secure record preservation centers in more than two dozen places around the world to store records according to local laws and customs. We also began hiring Church History Department employees who live and work in their home countries. The first three were hired in Peru, South Africa, and Mexico, and we’ll add more in the coming months. These volunteers and employees have helped create exhibits, host commemorative events, and prepare online publications in their countries. They have also helped us collect far more international records than ever before. In any given year, we collect records about the Church in sixty to seventy different countries.
A second, less visible area in which we’ve made great strides involves our digital-record storage. In 2015, ten years of planning culminated in retrofitting two chambers of the Granite Mountain Record Vault with servers to house the Church’s digital-record preservation system that we administer. The facility reopened in December of that year with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and addresses by Elder Quentin L. Cook and Bishop Dean Davies. We also strengthened our digital preservation efforts by storing copies of our records on servers located outside the Intermountain West.
Learning about the Office of Church Recorder
Erekson: Underlying all of these public accomplishments and behind-the-scenes developments, you wrestled with a question about the office of Church Recorder. How did you encounter this question?
Snow: It’s actually a question that I inherited from my predecessor, Elder Marlin K. Jensen. He frequently told the story of his call as Church Historian and Recorder and said, “As President Hinckley extended the call, I had the presence of mind to ask him what his expectations of me as Church Historian were. He said crisply, ‘That you read the scriptures and do your duty!’ I then asked, ‘And what about the office of recorder?’ He replied, ‘I haven’t given that a bit of thought, but you’d better!’” Elder Jensen did study the scriptures and gave the subject a lot of thought. As a result, he oversaw the revitalization of the Church’s records management program and the institution of electronic systems for preserving digital records.19 But he felt there was still more to the question, and when I was called, he urged me to continue to think about the office of Recorder.
Erekson: How did you then take up the quest?
Snow: In the beginning, I mostly just worried about it. I knew that the records of the Church were being created all around the world. When I served as the Area President of the Africa Southeast Area, headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, I inherited a closet full of records, which we shipped back to Church headquarters for safekeeping. I also knew that the majority of the records being created in the twenty-first century are digital. I wondered how we would collect and preserve all of the emails, electronic documents, information in databases, and web materials that are created or updated every day. For me, the turning point from worry to understanding came during a meeting in December 2015.
Erekson: I remember that meeting very well. You gave me advanced notice to gather all of the information we could find about the office of the Church Recorder, the people who had held it, what they had done, and the current status of all significant Church records.20 Then, for three hours, you, the assistant executive director of the department, and the Assistant Church Historian—three trained lawyers—cross-examined me about the past, present, and future of Church records!
Snow: Yes, it was an intense three hours. But I came out of that conversation feeling much more hopeful.
Erekson: I see in the meeting’s minutes that Richard Turley said, “This will be a meeting we look back on as being important.” You summarized the information as being “more than I’ve learned about the Recorder’s office in four years.”21 What are some of the insights that struck you as being most important?
Snow: I came to see the office of Church Recorder as being complementary and connected to the office of Church Historian. The recorder operates in the present by looking forward to the future; he records modern transactions (such as ordinances), decisions (in meetings), and activities (such as missionary or temple service). The recorder ensures that records are kept now and certifies that what has been kept is accurate and complete. The historian also operates in the present and fulfills his role by looking back on the gathered records to discern trends over time and offer retrospective analysis. What is gathered under the recorder function can later be put to service under the historian function.
Erekson: So the recorder does his work in the present moment, making official records of current transactions, whereas the historian looks back over the long-term, making retrospective interpretations and finding future uses.
Snow: That’s right. Gathered records can be used in leadership and decision-making, to inspire or motivate, to defend the Church against legal challenges, or to publish the truth through historical research and writing. We see this pattern illustrated in the Book of Mormon as Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and others made records, often without knowing all of the reasons why. Then, hundreds of years later, Mormon drew from those records to compile an abridged history, sometimes quoting directly from previous writings, sermons, and letters and other times offering his own commentary and analysis.
Erekson: As your comment about the Book of Mormon suggests, our sacred records inform our modern record-keeping practices. In Church history, we take a rather broad definition of the term record, going back to the day the Church was organized.
Snow: Yes. On that day Joseph Smith was told, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1). That was the initial message that forms the foundation for all our work.
Erekson: Over time, we have come to see in that scripture the guidance for keeping artwork, artifacts, physical places, historical manuscripts, photographs, printed materials, audiovisual materials, and day-to-day records generated in the course of Church business. What other scriptures have informed your understanding of the work of the Recorder?
Snow: The year after the Church was organized, John Whitmer was commanded to “keep the church record and history continually,” to “travel many times from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge,” and to do it “for the good of the church, and for the rising generations that shall grow up on the land of Zion, to possess it from generation to generation” (D&C 47:3; 69:7–8). The Saints were commanded to record the names of Church members, “that which the prophets and apostles have written,” questions asked and decisions made, accounts of personal ministry and stewardship, and genealogical records (D&C 20:82; 52:9; 69:5–6; 70:3-6; 72:5-6; 102:23; 128:24). Local clerks were instructed to record “a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion,” including donations, receipts of assistance, and notes on the “manner of life, their faith, and works,” and those who left the Church (D&C 85:1–2). After the Saints were expelled from Missouri, they were commanded to collect magazines, encyclopedias, and histories published about our experiences and history (see D&C 123:1–6). And, of course, temple ordinances: “When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye-witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord; That in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven” (D&C 127:6–7). The last part of that verse emphasizes that for the work of salvation to be complete, its records must be kept.
Erekson: So there is a theology behind our record keeping. We believe that records are part of the expression of our faith.
Snow: When Joseph Smith spoke of the final judgment, he taught that the dead would be judged from records kept in heaven and on earth. “Whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven,” he said. And significantly, “Whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven” (D&C 128:6–8). It is imperative that we keep records.
Erekson: After that important first meeting, we continued to meet each month. How did your thinking unfold?
Snow: We began by identifying every significant type of record that we would want to preserve in our archives. We also continued to explore the history of the office, looking at the work done by previous Church Recorders and the precedents they established for today. One of the most important precedents arose while Joseph Smith lived in Nauvoo and Church members lived throughout the eastern United States and Canada, the British Isles, and the isles of the Pacific. In that context, Joseph observed that “it would be very difficult for one recorder to be present at all times, and to do all the business.” Thus, he instructed that “there can be a recorder appointed in each ward of the city. . . . Then, let there be a general recorder, to whom these other records can be handed, being attended with certificates over their own signatures, certifying that the record they have made is true” (D&C 128:3–4). This translates into a twenty-first century need for the Church Recorder to teach good principles of record keeping to all who create and use records worldwide.
Erekson: Why don’t we take each of these significant topics in turn? We’ll begin with a brief history of record keeping, then look at the efforts to define the work of the Church Recorder in the twenty-first century.
A Brief History of Record Keeping
Erekson: We’ve done a lot of research and have the results, so let’s go back to the beginning.22 The terms clerk, scribe, secretary, and recorder were used by the early Saints as well as by their contemporaries.23 How did record keeping occur in the earliest days of the Church’s history?
Snow: Joseph responded to the commandment to keep a record by appointing temporary record keepers who were often called clerks. For example, at the Church’s first conference in June 1830, Oliver Cowdery was appointed to “keep the Church record and Conference minutes until the next conference.” When Oliver was called on a mission in October, the assignment passed to others including John Corrill, Newel K. Whitney, Orson Hyde, and William W. Phelps.24 This practice of calling temporary clerks continued even after John Whitmer was appointed in 1831 “to write and keep a regular history.”25
Erekson: Because of his assignment, John Whitmer has been viewed as the first Church Historian.26 But the task of record keeping did not fall entirely to him. What other record-keeping activities happened at this time?
Snow: For one thing, the practice of appointing temporary record keepers at conferences continued.27 Sometimes John Whitmer served as the temporary clerk of a conference. Oliver Cowdery’s name appears often in the records. And, in time, as the Church grew and moved to Ohio, record keepers began keeping the minutes of council meetings, records of ordinations and licenses, membership records, and the text of patriarchal blessings.28
Development of the Office of Church Recorder
Erekson: When and how did the shift occur from temporary appointments to a standing appointment?
Snow: In September 1835, Oliver Cowdery was appointed as the “recorder for the church.”29 He had been the first person appointed to a temporary record-keeping role in 1830, and he held this new Churchwide position for two years.
Erekson: The existence of a formal record keeper added a dimension of authority to the Church’s records. Every institution needs to be able to trust its records in order to carry out its day-to-day work. What kinds of records did Oliver Cowdery create and use?
Snow: During his time, Oliver kept minutes of general conferences and the Kirtland high council; he wrote entries in Joseph Smith’s journal, and he recorded patriarchal blessings.30 He also published historical records while serving as editor of the Evening and Morning Star.31
Erekson: Looking back from your position in the twenty-first century, what precedents were established during Cowdery’s tenure as the first Church Recorder?
Snow: The most important precedent was the establishment of a Churchwide office that continued to be filled after Oliver was released. He created records, and he also cared for general Church records, such as general conference minutes, official communications, and the revelations. I also think it is significant that he began to use the records to help publish correct information. We don’t keep the records just to keep them. We keep them to advance the work of the Church.
Erekson: Cowdery was followed in the office of Church Recorder by George W. Robinson (1837–40),32 who helped gather affidavits about the expulsion from Missouri, and by Robert B. Thompson (1840–41),33 who helped prepare the redress petition to Congress.34 But through all this, the parallel office of Church Historian was held successively by John Whitmer (1831–38),35 John Corrill (1838–39),36 and Elias Higbee (1838–42).37 How did the two offices come together?
Snow: They came together during the tenure of Willard Richards (1842–54). He had been called as an Apostle in 1840, and then in quick succession he was appointed the Nauvoo city recorder, the clerk of the Nauvoo municipal court, and the recorder for the Nauvoo Temple.38 Then in late 1842 he was appointed as Joseph Smith’s private secretary and historian and the following July as the Church Recorder.39 Richards retained both roles until his death in 1854, even while becoming a member of the First Presidency and serving as secretary of Utah Territory.40
Erekson: So now that the two roles were united, what did Elder Richards do?
Snow: Between the time of Richards’s call as temple recorder and his call as Church Recorder, Joseph sent a letter, dated September 6, 1842, and now found in Doctrine and Covenants 128, that instructed local clerks “in each ward of the city” to create precise records of things for which they were “eye-witness.” These records were to be handed over with signatures to the “general church recorder,” who would “enter the record on the general church book.”41 Elder Richards played a role in implementing this practice. In Nauvoo, he recorded the donations of individual Saints in the Book of the Law of the Lord, and he recorded the names of Church members who arrived or were baptized in the city.42 When the Saints crossed the plains, it was Elder Richards who oversaw the transportation by wagon, taking inventory of records loaded in Illinois and unloaded in the Salt Lake Valley.
Erekson: I’ll return again to the precedent question. How does Elder Richards’s service influence the work of the office of Church Recorder today?
Snow: Since the time of Willard Richards, the offices of Historian and Recorder have been connected. As records are created throughout the world, the Recorder bears a centralized responsibility to gather and certify the records created by others. Elder Richards pioneered some of the important central functions of record keeping, such as receiving, certifying, inventorying, and protecting the records.
The Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
Erekson: After the varieties of roles and assignments in the early years, and after the general disruption of moving the Saints and their records to Utah, the work of record keeping over the next century proceeded with several general continuities. What did record keeping look like during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?
Snow: Two general conditions stand out as being significant to me. First, Apostles continued to fill the combined office of Church Historian and Recorder, including George A. Smith (1854–70),43 Albert Carrington (1870–74),44 Orson Pratt (1874–81),45 Wilford Woodruff (1883–89),46 Franklin D. Richards (1889–99),47 and Anthon H. Lund (1900–1921).48 Assistants were also called from among the Twelve initially—Wilford Woodruff (1856–83) and Franklin D. Richards (1884–89).49 The Quorum of the Twelve oversaw record keeping and conducted formal reviews of records and record-keeping practices in 1881 and 1908.50
Erekson: What was the second condition?
Snow: Second, the responsibility for record keeping continued to be delegated beyond the Church Recorder, even though a few centralized activities began to occur. For example, early in the twentieth century the Presiding Bishop’s office centralized the administration of financial and membership records.51 And as temples were built in St. George (1877), Logan (1884), Manti (1888), Salt Lake City (1893), Hawaii (1919), and Canada (1923), paper-based temple records were stored in the temples. Then, clerks from the Historian’s Office would make copies for long-term storage.52
Erekson: The construction of multiple temples prompted the need to keep a new category of records that had not previously been collected in an organized way—genealogical records. How was the Church Historian and Recorder involved?
Snow: The Genealogical Society of Utah was organized in 1894 to gather genealogical records. Its first meeting was held in the Church Historian’s Office, and the society’s first president was the Church Historian and Recorder, Elder Franklin D. Richards. The genealogical records were kept physically separate from other historical records from the outset. In the Church Historian’s Office, they were stored in a separate room (1894–1917). When the historical and genealogical records were moved to the new Church Administration Building in 1917, they were kept on separate floors. After 1934, genealogical records were moved to a separate facility.53
Erekson: Meanwhile, the traditional historical activities of publishing, gathering records and information, and organizing the records for better research access continued during this time.
Snow: Yes. The work that began under Joseph Smith’s direction to compile a manuscript history was continued after his death by those who held the office of Church Historian and Recorder.54 They then moved on to compile a manuscript history of Brigham Young and later supported the work of Assistant Church Historian and Recorder B. H. Roberts in preparing the Comprehensive History of the Church, which was published for the Church’s centennial in 1930.55
Erekson: And the Church continued to create records as it carried out its business. How did the Historian’s Office continue to gather contemporary records?
Snow: Various initiatives were undertaken to collect information about events, people, foreign missions, local units, and local leaders. Historic sites were visited, pieces of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon were acquired, statistical data from temples were assembled, and missionaries’ biographical information was recorded in a central “missionary register.”56 Under the direction of the Twelve Apostles and through the Committee on Church Records, an annual “Record Day” was celebrated beginning in 1900 to encourage stake presidents to review local records of membership, ordinations, infant blessings, and temple recommends. The purpose of the review was to ensure that Church units were keeping records using the most up-to-date forms.57
Erekson: Employing a practice common in libraries of the era, manuscript collections were separated into name and subject files. How were the records used internally?
Snow: The collections were limited to primarily internal use after 1882, which was and is the norm for private archives built to serve institutional needs. And work began on the massive “Journal History of the Church” in 1906. This day-by-day chronology of Church history is an index to many kinds of records, organized by date, that now fills more than 1,200 volumes.58
Erekson: What do you think are the lessons learned from this period of Church record keeping?
Snow: During this time, we see the expansion of gathering records, from day-to-day business and ecclesiastical records to traditional historical documents to genealogical records. We also see the beginnings of efforts to help locate materials within the collection. And we developed a concern for compiling and reviewing records, whether they were local unit records, biographies, or manuscript histories.
The Modernization of Record Keeping
Erekson: In the middle of the twentieth century, things started to change.59
Snow: Elder Joseph Fielding Smith had become the Church Historian and Recorder in 1921 and filled the office for nearly fifty years, including while serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. 60 Even while serving as President of the Twelve, he would sign his letters as “General Church Recorder” when he was providing instruction or making inquiries about records.
For half of those years he also presided over the Genealogical Society of Utah (1934–61). The Church began to microfilm genealogical records in 1938, and a decade later Church leaders recognized that local-unit records contain vital records information, so they began to microfilm the records, forms, minute books, and histories of wards and branches in order to extract vital records information.
Erekson: How did his many roles affect the work of Church history?
Snow: Because of Joseph Fielding Smith’s duties in the Twelve, direction of the day-to-day operations of the Historian’s Office fell to assistants A. William Lund,61 Preston Nibley,62 and Earl Olson.63
Erekson: And in the 1950s and 1960s, those associates began to participate in professional archival and library circles.64 But the most significant change toward professionalization originated under the direction of the First Presidency.
Snow: That’s right. In 1965, the First Presidency established a centralized records management program to govern all Church records. The program included a standardized filing system and the use of common forms that were managed centrally. The Church developed a plan for record retention and appointed record officers in each department at headquarters.65
Erekson: And the First Presidency assigned the Church Historian and Recorder to administer the program.
Snow: Yes. The following year, the Granite Mountain Records Vault was dedicated.66 A report made at the end of 1970 indicated that during the first five years of the program, the Church had begun preserving business records onto microfilm, created record schedules to govern how long to keep records, and moved 5,200 boxes into a temporary records center. The gains in office floor space were estimated to have saved $108,212 over the five-year period.67
Erekson: So current records began to be viewed as an asset, something to be managed effectively in order to improve the ongoing work of the Church. Two more centralizing influences also converged at this time.
Snow: First, Church leaders began to draw on information in the records more regularly. During the late 1960s, a central reference library was established to provide reference support to Church leaders and departments at headquarters and to coordinate and advise the activities of local meetinghouse libraries. This reference library was overseen by the Historian’s Office.68
Second, the Historian’s Office moved its records and its functions into the new Church Office Building in 1972. The reference library operated on the first floor of the east wing and the archive on the second. The new space offered larger storage space and improved work areas both for hosting visiting researchers and for staff projects.69
Erekson: The combination of new facilities and a more professional staff prompted significant internal changes. The archivists embraced the concept of maintaining record groups and collections that are based on provenance and original order. As a result, they began a decades-long initiative to dismantle the name-and-subject system in order to reconstitute the papers of Brigham Young and everyone else. They also started to create registers of collections to help researchers locate specific items within the larger collection.
Snow: And all of this culminated in an important decision about the archive. There had been some debate about which of the Church’s libraries and archives should serve as the Church’s official archive. Beyond the libraries in meetinghouses, there were also collections of records at Church universities and schools. The Church established a Church Archives Coordinating Committee, which considered the question and then named the Historian’s Office as the Church’s official archive and central repository in 1973.70
Erekson: As you look back on the middle decades of the twentieth century, what are the most meaningful developments?
Snow: The establishment of the corporate records management program helped ensure that the Church would keep not just the historical documents but also the records created each day in the course of doing the work of salvation. The program also introduced the idea that not all records should be kept forever; some could be disposed of after their business use was completed. During this period, we see record keeping as a means of improving the effectiveness of the Church’s day-to-day work.
We also see important strides in preservation through the construction of the Granite Mountain Records Vault and the expanded initiatives to create and preserve microfilm copies of records. And defining the Historian’s Office as the official archive meant that all important institutional records should be preserved here.
Finally, we cannot underestimate the impact of the professional staff, who improved the ways that we describe and store our records. At the beginning of the period, turning to Church records to find genealogical information really was a new concept.
Years without a Church Recorder
Erekson: We come now to a period in the history of Church record keeping about which much has been written, though in some ways the attention has been unevenly focused. A lot of commentary has been given to Leonard Arrington’s time as Church Historian in the 1970s and the Mark Hofmann forgeries and bombings of the early 1980s.71 But let’s talk about the work of record keeping during this time.
Snow: Elder Howard W. Hunter replaced President Smith as Church Historian and Recorder in 1970 and served for two years.72 He had already been serving in the Quorum of the Twelve (since 1959) and as president of the Genealogical Society of Utah (since 1964). He devoted much of his time as Church Historian and Recorder to the filming of genealogical records and left the day-to-day operations of the Historical Department to Earl Olsen.
Erekson: The end of Elder Hunter’s tenure marked a significant transition in the history of the office of Church Recorder.
Snow: Yes. Of most significance, the title of Church Recorder ceased to be used, and the title of Church Historian was assigned to a professionally trained employee. This change occurred at a time when various offices and auxiliaries were restructured along a common pattern, with a General Authority serving as the managing director of each department. The Church Historian’s Office was renamed the Church Historical Department, and Apostle Alvin R. Dyer73 was appointed as the managing director. Elder Dyer carried all of the responsibilities previously assigned to Elder Hunter. However, the title of Church Historian (without Church Recorder) was assigned to the head of the newly organized History Division, Leonard Arrington.74 At the same time, Arrington’s fellow division heads, Earl E. Olson and Donald T. Schmidt, were assigned the respective titles of Church Archivist and Church Librarian. In 1975, Florence S. Jacobsen became Church Curator, but no one was named as Church Recorder.
Erekson: During this time without a Church Recorder, what happened to the record-keeping functions?
Snow: Earl Olson had been appointed as a records manager when the records management program was organized in 1965. So he and Schmidt dealt with records management issues during the mid-1970s. Then the responsibility for managing records began to move around the Church, first to the Management Data Department (in 1977) and then to Finance and Records (in 1987). The Historical Department stopped collecting the minutes of local Church units in 1978 and began collecting instead an annual historical report.
Erekson: Was that the end of the title of Church Recorder?
Snow: Elder G. Homer Durham75 of the Seventy became the department’s managing director in 1977, and in 1982 he received the title of Church Historian and Recorder.76 His successor, Elder Dean L. Larsen, likewise carried the dual title while leading the department from 1985 to 1989.77 But from that point until 2005, neither a Church Historian nor a Church Recorder was called. The offices remained vacant until Elder Marlin K. Jensen’s appointment in 2005. Despite these changes in title and role, the top-level responsibility for leading the Church History Department was continuously assigned to a member of the Seventy who at first held the title of managing director and then the title of executive director after 1985.78
Erekson: So the role of Church Recorder was officially vacant for less than a decade, but in practice, it was vacant off and on for approximately thirty years.
Snow: Yes, and in that time, we lost a central officer to certify the important records of the Church, as had been outlined in section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Into the Twenty-First Century
Erekson: Even though no one held the office of Church Recorder, records continued to be created in the Church. What happened as the Church moved into the twenty-first century?
Snow: As Church wards and stakes were organized around the world, records began to be created in many languages and many formats—paper, audio, digital. The Temple Department experimented with electronic records throughout the 1980s and went entirely digital in 1990.79 Membership records also went digital in the 1980s. In the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century, new electronic systems were created to record information about financial contributions, unit boundaries, and local and general leaders. And the Church also mounted its first website, lds.org, in 1996, which introduced an ever-growing practice of digital publishing.
Erekson: Concerns about managing electronic records soon arose. How were the concerns addressed?
Snow: Sometime in the early 1990s, the responsibility for managing records came back to the Church History Department. Around the turn of the century, the First Presidency established an Electronic Records Management Committee, which concluded that more attention to records was needed. As a result, they appointed Elder Jensen80 as the Church Historian and Recorder in 2005.
Erekson: How did Elder Jensen tackle the work of the Church Recorder?
Snow: First, he established and chaired a new Churchwide Records Management Committee. Through this committee, he guided the creation of “policies, processes, and systems that will help manage and preserve essential Church records.”81 The committee also refreshed the Church’s records management program, helping each department appoint a records coordinator from among its own employees.
Erekson: And those department employees were, in turn, supported by professionals in the Church History Department.
Snow: That’s right. And the professional staff in the Church History Department help in a number of ways. They create a comprehensive schedule of record retention and disposition to guide how long the Church should keep current business records. Our employees can also help make plans to preserve digital records long-term. During Elder Jensen’s tenure, the Church began to use electronic systems to manage current records and to preserve electronic records of enduring historical value.82
I should also add that during his tenure, the Church History Library building was completed. It was dedicated in 2009 by President Thomas S. Monson as the place appointed for the Church’s “countless records” to be “carefully preserved for future generations.”83
Erekson: Looking back on this long history of record keeping, what are the lessons or precedents that you see for the office of Church Recorder?
Snow: It appears clear to me that the office of Church Recorder is important to the work of the whole Church, and there are benefits in linking the office with that of Church Historian. It is also clear that the Church Recorder cannot create every record but instead must serve as a central collector who can certify that the records were properly created and appropriately preserved. It also seems that what types of records are preserved is not as important as the practices of record keeping. Records can be created with paper, microfilm, or electronic formats; regardless of the format, the right practices need to be followed. Finally, and this is why I think the recorder function is linked to the historian function, the records need to be organized in such a way that they can be accessed to serve the work of the Church. Sometimes that service is provided by publishing the records; at other times it is provided by study and consultation, and sometimes it is provided by awarding access to the record creators so that they can manage their work more effectively. In all of these uses, we fulfill a solemn duty to keep records and remember the work of the Lord.
Defining the Work of the Church Recorder Today
Erekson: That brief history brings us back, full circle, to your time in the office.
Snow: After I was sustained in general conference, my ten-year-old granddaughter called with a question. She asked me, “What does the Church Historian and Recorder do? Do you keep a scrapbook for the Church or what?” The idea of a scrapbook is helpful because we really do bring together all kinds of records. But the work is much larger and much more complicated.
Erekson: That fuller understanding of the history of the office of Church Recorder became the first step in defining the work of the Recorder today. How did that process unfold?
Snow: We started with a summary of the historical findings and began to discuss them with the members of the Records Management Committee, which I now chaired. We also talked with the Presiding Bishopric, who oversees the Church departments responsible for financial, membership, and statistical records. In the process of creating the Digital Records Preservation System, a second Churchwide committee had been created to evaluate options for that system and to help effectively store electronic records. We took up the questions with the members of those committees and also discussed our findings with two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who serve as advisers to the Church History Department. As a result of counseling together, we created a proposal to take to the First Presidency in September 2016.
Erekson: The proposal was approved, and you came away from that meeting authorized to make some important changes. Let’s start with the organizational side.
Snow: We began by merging two committees. The Records Management Committee had cared for paper records, and the Digital Records Preservation Committee had studied digital records. The new committee, chaired by the Church Historian and Recorder, is called the Church Record-Keeping Executive Committee, and it contains staff members representing the leading quorums, as well as leaders of departments that create important records, such as the Temple and Family History Departments, and the leaders of departments that support the creation of records, such as the Publishing Services and Information and Communication Services Departments. This executive committee is supported by a standing operations committee with directors from the same key departments as well as working groups that form to address various long- and short-term needs.
Erekson: You also initiated new procedures for tracking and reporting progress.
Snow: We began an annual process of reporting to Church departments on the status of their record preservation. Our Records Management team conducted a manual inventory of records in 2015 to establish a baseline. Since that time, we’ve begun to develop electronic tools to monitor and report. Each year we produce a records report for each department or entity of the Church. This is the modern fulfillment of the instruction given to the Church Recorder in Doctrine and Covenants 128:4: He receives the records, enters them into the general Church collection, and certifies that the records are true and preserved.
Erekson: And you also became more active in teaching the principles of record keeping.
Snow: This recognizes that records are created all over the world and only come to the Church Recorder for certification. So we defined principles and guidelines for training the record keepers. Internally, the most visible way we do this is through an annual Record Keeping Summit, held in the first months of each year since 2017. At the meeting, we review accomplishments, make assignments, distribute the annual reports, and provide instruction on record-keeping principles and practices.
Erekson: And there are several other ways that this instruction is delivered. We’ve created orientation and personal development training for departmental records coordinators as well as training materials that coordinators deliver to their respective departments. Beginning in 2018, new employees learn about the importance of record keeping during their human resources orientation. And an internal website provides Church employees with guidelines, definitions, and helpful video instruction.
Snow: I also shared the history and lessons of record keeping at a recent gathering of temple recorders. And I’ve shared the principles with my brethren in the Seventy on various occasions.
Erekson: How about for Church members?
Snow: I shared a summary of the principles together with scriptural thoughts about record keeping in the electronic edition of the April 2019 Ensign.84
Erekson: Let’s talk a little bit about the principles of record keeping. Where did the “Pattern for Record Keeping” (fig. 1) originate?
Snow: In addition to studying the history of the office, we also searched the scriptures for principles we could use in teaching. And, our records management and preservation professionals brought their expertise in both fields to align scriptural principles with the best practices in industry.
Erekson: The result is a statement of nine principles (fig. 1).
Snow: We can organize ourselves by appointing people to be responsible for the records,85 selecting which records to keep86 and making plans to care for the records.87 Then we manage our records by protecting them from loss or destruction,88 retaining them as long as necessary,89 and making a proper decision on whether or not to preserve them long-term.90 We preserve the records by storing them properly,91 making appropriate provisions to access them,92 and certifying that they are properly kept.93
Erekson: That is the message of record keeping. It gives us much to expound on throughout the coming years as we work with Church departments, affiliated Church entities, and area offices around the world.
Snow: And it is comforting to know that behind the principles, we have the support of dedicated professionals employed by the Church History Department who stay on top of the latest issues and technological developments in the fields of digital preservation, records management, and information governance.
Erekson: Do you have any final insights or observations to share?
Snow: This effort to define the role of Church Recorder has been one of the most important developments of my tenure. Researching and counseling together brought clarity to questions that had existed for more than forty years. This understanding should benefit the work of the office of Church Historian and Recorder for decades to come. I am grateful for the scholars in our department who have worked so hard to clarify these issues.