Driven from Missouri by governmental edict 160 years ago, the Church not only has returned with dignity and strength, but today is helping the state government conserve vital records of the past from its two most populous communities.
One is Jackson County, recognized in Church doctrine as the historic and millennial "center of Zion." The other is St. Louis, the 19th Century "Gateway to the West."With the blessing and encouragement of Secretary of State Rebecca McDowell Cook, 10 family history missionaries and an employee of the Church spend their days processing and microfilming probate and other records at the State Archives in this Missouri capital.
It is a mutually beneficial arrangement, according to state archivist Kenneth Winn: One silver master copy of the microfilm goes into the refrigerated vault at the archives; another goes to the Church to add to its vast collection.
"Basically, we provide the access,
the LDS missionariesT provide the labor, and everyone benefits in that the public has access to information that, in all likelihood, would have been inaccessible previously to most researchers," Dr. Winn commented.
The effort originated in 1994. Dr. Winn was already well acquainted with the Church. His book on the New York through Illinois period of Church history, Exiles in the Land of Liberty, was published about 10 years ago by University of North Carolina Press.
Consulting with Noel Barton, regional manager for field services in the Church Family History Department, Dr. Winn asked if the Church could provide someone to help preserve selected courthouse records. Brother Barton initially agreed to send two missionaries and a microfilmer.
Their coming just then was a godsend.
Jackson County was preparing to tear down its building that housed some 6,000 cubic feet of probate records, including the earliest extant records from the county, dating from the antebellum (pre-Civil War) period.
"The county people approached me with a take-it-or-lose-it proposition," Dr. Winn recalled. "They wanted to get rid of those records and asked if we wanted them. To make sure the history was saved, I had to say yes and take them."
About that time, St. Louis was preparing to remodel its circuit court building and needed to remove its records, dating from 1804.
"So we had a situation in which the two biggest cities in the state
Kansas City in Jackson County and St. LouisT wanted to dump their records on us at the same time," Dr. Winn said. "We would not have had the kind of staff or resources all at once to take on all those records, dating from the beginning of those cities to the present."
But the two missionaries worked out so satisfactorily, that the number was soon expanded to four, then eight. "Now the project has grown to where we have 10 missionaries working for us," he said. "And it was really fortunate that their coming coincided with the arrival of all these records; it's been a wonderful thing for us."
Working just 25 feet from Dr. Winn's office, the missionaries take the bundled records, unfold them, then remove staples, paper clips and often more than a century of accumulated dust. They prepare them for microfilming and place them in special folders.
"They are the first people to open the records in up to 175 years," he noted. "They have done probate estate files of
frontier explorersT Lewis and Clark, Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith. One case file was an estate appraisal done by Ulysses S. Grant, the future leader of the Union army.
Other unique historical treasures uncovered by the missionaries are papers of Allan Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency founded in the 1800s, and of George Caleb Bingham, the Kansas City painter whose works hang in the White House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.
"A wonderful thing is that the missionaries are very well integrated with our staff, and relationships are very harmonious," Dr. Winn noted. "For example, on April 6 of this year, we held a birthday party here in the office for the Church."
Brother Barton in the Family History Department said the project in Jefferson City is consistent with the Church's endeavor to microfilm records in various states of the Union.
"That's the way we work in most states," he explained. "We have a statewide contract. The state government does the negotiation in the counties for us and inventories the records; we just follow behind and film."
The Church had been going from county to county in Missouri to do filming, but the accumulation of records in the capital city made it feasible to place several document preparation missionaries there, Brother Barton said. He hopes that in the future, documents from additional counties can be centralized in Jefferson City for microfilming.
He noted that records from Jackson County are important to the Church, because the Church was headquartered there for a brief period in 1831-33. St. Louis is also important, he said, because of all the LDS immigrants who passed through the city en route to the Salt Lake Valley, some of whom stayed for a time.
Conscious that this fall marks the 160th anniversary of the "Mormon War" in Missouri and the issuance by Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs of the extermination order, Dr. Winn intends to sponsor a commemoration of the event at the State Archives.
"We have the original extermination order, which we will have on display, along with some other documents relating to the Mormon War," he said. "The point is to celebrate the good relationship the Church now has with Missouri."
Indicative of that relationship was Secretary of State Cook's visit to a reception in Jefferson City April 23 involving stake presidents from throughout Missouri. The occasion was the opening of an exhibit about the Church the next day in the State Capitol. (See May 2 Church News, p. 7.)
Conversing at the reception with Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, Secretary of State Cook said she had come specifically to thank the Church for its assistance with the records processing and microfilming.
"By the calculations of our staff, it would have taken us 15 years to go through those records, to process them, to microfilm them and know what we had," she remarked.
She is coming to Salt Lake City in July for a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State. While in town she plans to spend some time at the Church Family History Library.
"I've heard about this
the Church's genealogical expertiseT ever since I was a little girl," the Missouri official said. "So I'm really excited about it."