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“A Few Minutes”: Inaugurating a New Series

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 08, 2013

Reading the minutes of past Church meetings takes me back in time and drops me in the midst of a familiar yet alien world:

I note the hymns that were sung – some familiar favorites then are still sung now; others have dropped out of remembrance. S8ometimes I hunt up them up in old hymnals: knowing exactly where and when an unfamiliar hymn was sung gives it a context and an emotional reality for me.

When minutes include a synopsis or – hallelujah! – a few lines of actual quotation from a talk or testimony, I can hear the voices of ordinary Latter-day Saints of the past. Even more than in the edited and published sermons of Church leaders who were experienced speakers, the less polished words of sometimes awkward speakers, or at least the homely words a clerk used to summarize a talk, let me see the Mormon vernacular of a moment in the past. Sometimes the familiarity of Mormon cliches (“what? we’ve been saying that for so many years??”) delights me; sometimes the awkward groping for words to express now-familiar ideas is equally enlightening.

Minutes reveal ways in which Church practice has changed over the years: Who is sitting on the stand? How much did women participate? Why are they not holding a testimony meeting on the first Sunday of the month? What do the recorded announcements tell me about Church life between Sunday meetings? Are different topics emphasized in different eras?

And so a new series at Keepa: “A Few Minutes” presents the verbatim minutes for, generally, one month’s Sunday meetings in a given ward (long enough to give you a sense of the week-to-week rhythm of the Church, but short enough – I hope – not to be tedious … like this introduction). Will these minutes take you to a past time and place the way they do me? What can you pick out from the minutes that is different from your current experience? What is still familiar to you despite the passage of time? (These minutes are posted with little-to-no commentary; rather than spelling out for you what I, you can have the fun of discovering for yourself what interests you.)

We’ll start today with Mt. Glen (near LeGrande), Oregon in 1913. Other minutes already prepared for posting include wards in downtown Salt Lake City; Curtis, Arizona; Ozumba, Mexico; Strand, South Africa; Kofu, Japan; and Ricks (now Rexburg), Idaho. I’ve identified other places, near and far, for further posts, if the series proves successful.

The Church History Library preserves an enormous collection of minutes for all kinds of Church units and types of meetings. They are a wonderful, largely untapped source of family history if you have LDS ancestors. Many (most?) of the minutes are open to research; some, because they record private ecclesiastical matters — generally, the minutes of church disciplinary courts — on the same pages with the record of a testimony meeting, are less easily accessible. In my experience, it’s worth seeking permission to view restricted records if you can pin down an event to within a few weeks; often the Library staff will be able to search a narrow range of dates and, if your hoped-for reference is found, they may be able to give you access to that specific page.

I can’t promise to find or transcribe everything someone might want, but if you have an interest in a particular ward and a particular month (and let’s limit that to dates in the 1870-1940 range – nothing more recent, please), those minutes might as well be the ones sampled.

And a defensive note: These are not scholarly transcriptions: I have lightly (and inconsistently) edited for readability while maintaining the misspellings and other personal quirks of the clerks. The kinds of minutes I read are all handwritten, and for the post part they concern individuals who are not familiar to me. There is a good chance that I may occasionally misread a name that would be instantly recognizable to someone more familiar with the Saints in a given area. I apologize for that, ask for your understanding, and welcome corrections if any are obvious to you.



15 Comments »

  1. This is great! And I look forward to it. I need to get into those records for some family history issues. Of course, the things I would like to see most of all are the disciplinary records which I probably can’t. It’s a miracle we survived through a few of those generations. Maybe even this one.

    Comment by Grant — March 8, 2013 @ 7:07 am

  2. When did ward clerks stop keeping minutes of ward meetings? Some months ago I took a noisy child from a testimony meeting to another room with the sound piped in. As I sat there figuring which of my ward members I was listening to, I remembered Bro. Eliason the ward clerk 33 years ago reaching over to me from his desk on the stand and asking if I knew the name of the person at the pulpit bearing testimony. Somehow I’d never noticed the absence of clerks from the stand until then.

    Comment by John Mansfield — March 8, 2013 @ 7:15 am

  3. Cool idea!

    Comment by David Y. — March 8, 2013 @ 8:35 am

  4. This will be fascinating. As a current Ward Clerk, I am grateful we don’t record that much detail anymore. But as a historian, it is truly sad.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 8, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  5. John, I really don’t know when the minutes stopped. Maybe that will become apparently as I select minutes to post. I already know that the minutes tended to be fuller, more free-flowing, when they used blank ledger books. Once the Church printed forms for taking minutes, then everything other than the specific information required for filling in the blanks disappeared. And even when the blank ledgers were used, once a clerk dropped to the bare bones what song/who prayed/who spoke listing, later ward clerks adopted the sparse format and never went back to the really, really interesting stuff.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 8, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  6. My dad found a cool picture recently in a historical photography collection he’s processing. It’s a picture of the High Council of the St. Joseph Stake (Arizona) with a matching picture of the mens’ wives. Both pictures were taken in front of President Andrew Kimball’s home in Thatcher, Arizona, by either Charles Defriez Jarvis or his daughter Margaret Jarvis Overson.

    One of the curiosities of the first picture is the man in the top right, shown performing his ecclesiastical duties. I’m wondering why they showed him in character as the Stake Clerk; was it meant to be humorous? If so, you’d never know it from looking at the expressions on the mens’ faces!

    Comment by Amy T — March 8, 2013 @ 10:09 am

  7. That is a WONDERFUL picture, Amy, and what makes it so great is exactly because the clerk is at work! Otherwise, it would merely be another group picture.

    Maybe he’s writing in his book as a means of showing that he’s not a member of the high council? but that his work is so important they wanted him there anyway? I dunno, but it’s a great picture.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 8, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  8. I’m looking forward to this series.

    Amy T’s photo is great. Until I saw this picture, I didn’t realize Herman Munster was a mormon (front row far left).

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 8, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

  9. If you’re serious about taking nominations for wards, I’ll selfishly recommend a few that pertain to my family history:

    Marriott Ward, Weber County, Utah (1877-1887)
    Rexburg 3rd Ward, Fremont Stake, Idaho, (1907 to 1910)
    Firestone Park Ward, Los Angeles, Calif. (1939-1941)

    Comment by The Other Clark — March 8, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

  10. Fun idea, and I loved Amy’s High Council picture.

    And as long as you are taking requests, the Riverdale, Weber County ward, for 1873, most especially March and August. Also, Raymond, Alberta Canada, for July, 1911. Hoping to find out more about Edward Arthur Smith on that one.

    Comment by kevinf — March 8, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  11. I nominate South Bountiful Ward, Davis Co., Utah 1905-1940

    Comment by Grant — March 8, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

  12. Thanks for the requests, all — I’ll see what I can do.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 8, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

  13. My 80 yr old dad vividly recalls having to type up up reports about sacrament mtg back in the 60′s, just in who spoke, on what, who was on the stand, who passed and blesssed the sacrament and how many people were in attendance. He submitted it all to the Church and he told me to day that he was grateful that they got rid of doing that!

    Comment by Cameron — March 8, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  14. I’m looking forward to this series. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Maurine — March 8, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

  15. I wonder how many old buildings still have the clerk’s desk, and if they have found any new uses for it. Perhaps a wheelchair pulpit?

    Comment by Left Field — March 10, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

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