Annie Griffith was born on August 27, 1837, in Georgetown, Essex Co., Massachusetts, on the Merrimack River near the New Hampshire state line. She lived in that county all her life. Her father, William Griffith, was a shoemaker; her mother, Sarah M. Hills, raised Annie and her younger brother Frank.
Annie was married in 1858 to John Burbank, a shoemaker like her father. Her only child, whom she named William Henry, was born a few months later.
In about 1862, some now-unknown missionary passed through the neighborhood preaching the gospel. Annie believed his message and was baptized.
There was no branch in the area, no ward clerk to make a membership record in Annie’s name, no priests to administer the Sacrament, no visiting teachers to take care of Annie when she became sick with tuberculosis that wasted her young body until she knew she would soon die. There was no elder to give her a blessing, no missionary to accept her tithing, no way for Annie to reach Zion.
Yet we know that, all alone, Annie remained faithful to her baptismal covenant. We know that she believed in the restoration and in a prophet she would never meet, and we know that she wanted to contribute something to the Kingdom of God.
We know all this because Annie wrote this letter to Brigham Young:
Groveland Jan 9th 1866
I am dying of consumption here amongst the Gentiles but my faith is strong. I have been in the church nearly four years. I am now 28 years old. I have a very few dollars by me which I send to you to devote to some good purpose. It is but a trifle, but had I more I would willingly give it.
Pardon me for troubling you with a letter. I knew no other way. I pray that I may be received although unworthy
(Mrs) Annie G Burbank
Groveland Essex County Mass
There is no record that Brigham Young ever answered her letter – we can at least hope that he instructed a departing missionary to call on Annie when he reached the States.
Annie’s date of death is not known, but she died before the summer of 1870 when her husband and son are listed alone on the census of Groveland. Her son was orphaned a few years later and was taken in by an uncle’s family.
Without Annie’s brief letter to Brigham Young, there would be no earthly record of Annie’s conversion and her faithful life. How many others of our early sisters are like Annie, forgotten and unknown to the records of the Church in mortality?
But although Annie may be unknown in this world, she was of course not forgotten by her Father in Heaven. Church members working in the extraction program in the 1970s and ’80s found the records of her family and patiently copied the data, first onto cards and later into a computer.
Other Church members – in Ogden and Provo and Salt Lake City – went to the temples and performed proxy ordinances, all without knowing that they were acting on behalf of a Latter-day Saint who had contributed the little that she had to “some good purpose” more than a century earlier. Thanks to the service of these modern Church members, all of the temple work has been completed for Annie, her husband and son, her brother, her parents and grandparents, and more extended family members.
“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
“Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”
– Doctrine and Covenants 137:7-9
This post originally appeared on Times and Seasons on 5 November 2006.