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EDITORS SURVIVE ANOTHER FORAY INTO INSANITY

Putting out the "Deseret News 1995-96 Church Almanac" is a bit like organizing 100,000 facts into an army and marching them off a cliff like lemmings.

Some of us who put it together go over the edge with them.But the biennial foray into insanity of the almanac editors is not the subject of this article. Someone else can write about that. This article is about facts. One fact, given at the outset, is that the "Church Almanac" is the brainchild and pet project of Dell Van Orden, Church News editor. The credit goes to him for originating the idea and putting it into a book, which began in 1973. For the past 10 years or so, I have been involved in the production of this book. The Church News staff assists.

The almanac is essentially a book of facts. Taken individually, these facts - such as the date Salmon Gee was ordained a seventy, or the first president of the Korea Tae Jon Mission, or how many people attended a conference in Bangor, Maine, in 1930 - are of small consequence. But collectively they take on a life of their own and become overwhelming in significance.

Overwhelming is also a good word to describe the project of publishing them.

Publishing an almanac has two phases. The first is collecting the facts. The facts may become available in a list by fax, a history book by index or a journal by shovel. Then somehow we have to decide if the facts are true, because if they are not true, they're not facts and they belong somewhere else. Determining if information is accurate is a subject all its own. That subject we'll leave for a committee in a wood-paneled office with nothing but time on its hands. For us, a fact is a fact if it is verifiable. Once it is verified, we stick with it.

Unless, of course, we receive copies of family histories with lots of red lines or highlighter, or a letter on embossed letterhead from a peeved researcher, signed in black ink.

Sometimes proofreaders want to change something that looks wrong but is right to something that looks right but is wrong. For example, over the period of three editions, Onodago County (N.Y.) changed to Onondago County to Onondaga County.

Some of our most valuable help in this area comes from a set of volunteer proof proofreaders, such as Steve Cuff, who contribute significantly to the accuracy of the book. Another, Chris Miasnik, is now an official proofreader and has helped us reach a higher level of accuracy. Their help, and the kind assistance of the LDS Church Historical Department, make it possible for us to publish the book at a low price.

Phase 2 is a bigger project. That is organizing this garage sale of information into something that makes sense. Once organized, the facts then have to be entered into a computer so they will come out in the right place. Close isn't good enough. We have several thousand horror stories to prove this. We'll skip these, because while the horror is real enough, the details are boring.

One goal we have is to use the almanac to fit facts together, a project still developing. For example, adding the country and state histories, which we did in 1991, opened new windows into the past.

For me, it was almost an out-of-body experience to read historical manuscripts piecing together the account of young Thomas Biesinger trying to proselyte and being jailed in Czechoslovakia in 1884, and the old Thomas Biesinger who returned to Czechoslovakia in 1928 to try again. I forgot who I was, where I was and what year it was. Unfortunately, when I came back to Earth, I was still me, and the almanac wasn't done.

Another time, I was reading extensively about the tough time missionaries in the 1890s had in the Northern, Eastern and Southern states. I worked late and was very tired. When I finally got to bed in a half-dazed state, the thought kept going through my head: "It's too hard. The church couldn't have grown." Then my thoughts would flip to the stakes list, and I'd think: "Look at all the stakes; it must have grown." Then the thought would return: "Can't be. It's too hard."

As each edition is completed, we strive for perfection. Each time, we pledge that this year will be perfect. It never is. Some uncatechized bit of information sneaks in and stains the landscape of our satisfaction. We brace ourselves for it. Mature people, we say, don't pin high hopes on unrealistic expectations.

But this year it will be different. We have hunted and beaten and burned; trimmed and checked. All errors have been shot.

Certainly the "Deseret News 1995-96 Church Almanac" will be perfect. Certainly.