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Labor of love: The 50-year journey of a retired BYU professor to publish the Scripture Citation Index

Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait in his workspace at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait in his workspace at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

PROVO — After a 50-year labor of love to self-publish his Scripture Citation Index/Journal of Discourses project, Richard “Dick” C. Galbraith sensed from his in-the-pages gospel teachers that his work wasn’t quite done.

“I felt very good about it, but I also thought, ‘Well, it’s about time,’” he said with a laugh. “Now you got to get out there and distribute them. ... It’s about the people who are inside those books who have great things to say to people. I kind of feel like they were saying, ‘Well, it’s about time, Dick.’”

The emeritus professor of the Brigham Young University School of Family Life likely won’t relax too much, but he’s earned a moment of self reflection.

After a half-century of reading and making tiny notes in the margins of numerous books, Galbraith recently paid a significant amount of his own money to publish an updated set of the Journal of Discourses, leather-bound volumes with thousands of scripture references to talks by early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He said his “motive was for the prophet, not profit,” and sets will soon be available at select Deseret Book stores and at Deseretbook.com. It is not an official church publication.

Many Latter-day Saints are already familiar with the Scripture Citation Index website at scriptures.byu.edu, where users can enhance gospel study by clicking on any scripture verse in the church’s standard works and find out when a church leader has used it in a general conference talk. The index includes verses citing speakers in general conference going back to 1942, speakers in the Journal of Discourses (1839-1886) and verses cited in “Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait with a set of the Journal of Discourses at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait with a set of the Journal of Discourses at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

These free resources are also available in Spanish at escrituras.byu.edu and in app form (Android and iOS). The app has registered more than 150,000 downloads worldwide, Galbraith said.

What’s not mentioned is the human story behind Galbraith’s five-decade journey to complete the enormous project. Since beginning in the late 1960s, Galbraith has steadily worked on the project during and after raising his family, during and after his career as a BYU professor, and during and after a family tragedy involving his mother’s suicide and a murder charge against his father.

“To me, it was so much fun. I enjoyed it. It was a delight,” he said. “There was never ever a burden in doing this. It was something that I just made a part of my life.”

The vow

The extensive project started when Galbraith was a young man. After converting to the Latter-day Saint faith, he served a mission in England and recalls being invited to speak to a Protestant youth group in 1968. The minister kindly introduced the missionaries, then began raging against the church, defamed Joseph Smith and kicked the missionaries out without letting them say a word.

“I vowed at that time that I would study the scriptures so well that I would be able to not only properly defend the church, but also the Prophet Joseph Smith, whom I dearly loved,” he said. “So I have made the study of the scriptures, the Restoration and Joseph Smith an important part of my life.”

Richard Galbraith shows notes and annotations of his research in his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Richard Galbraith shows notes and annotations of his research in his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

The purchase

Following his mission in 1971, Galbraith was traveling through Utah on his way to graduate school at Northwestern University in Illinois. While in the Beehive State, his mother phoned him with the good news — he’d received a full ride scholarship. With his education suddenly paid for, Galbraith went to a Deseret Book store in the Salt Lake area and paid $250 for a set of the Journal of Discourses.

At Northwestern, while Galbraith studied human memory and children’s memory, he balanced out his academic studies with a rigorous study of the scriptures, the Journal of Discourses and “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” He also taught early morning seminary.

“As I would read I started annotating and cross referencing,” Galbraith said. “I had a continuing love for it and kept doing it.”

The family

The project continued as Galbraith married his wife Sandra in 1976 and they began raising a family of “only five children, as they say in Utah County,” he quipped.

In 1993, Galbraith published a new version of “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” titled, “Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” with 11,000 scriptural annotations. At that point, he made a goal to do the same with all 26 volumes of the Journal of Discourses because those church leaders were also students of Joseph Smith.

“They love Joseph. I love Joseph,” Galbraith said. “I wanted to make their words and their descriptions in their own words available to people in a scriptural context. ... I wanted to, in a sense, present my friends in the best scriptural light that I could.”

What do his children think about their father’s studious pastime?

One said their father’s projects allowed him to put his attention to detail to a good cause.

Another member of the family commented that no other father would have the persistence to work on such a huge project for no money. “If he got paid a million dollars, it would have only worked out to about 50 cents an hour.”

A third child said their father’s focus on the scriptures is all they have ever known.

Galbraith’s wife saw the time spent as a commitment to a goal that benefitted not only the ultimate readers, but it also provided a “head space” for her husband to go when the winds of life’s challenges would blow. One such storm lasted more than a decade.

The tragedy

In the fall of 1995, Galbraith’s mother, in a state of deep depression, took her own life while his father was asleep in another room in Palo Alto, California. The 76-year-old woman strangled herself with a double-knotted sash around her neck. While devastating, to family members, it was a clear case of suicide.

Days later, the medical examiner mishandled the autopsy and declared Josephine Galbraith’s death a homicide. His elderly father, Nelson Galbraith, a tranquil and gentle man, was charged with murder.

For the next 13 years the family fought to clear their father’s name and expose illegal activities that led to the unlawful action. They eventually won, receiving a settlement and an official apology for sloppy work by those involved.

During this intense period of family struggles, Galbraith recalls sitting in front of his computer screen late into the night, sometimes 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., in an effort to learn all he could about criminal law and forensic pathology. He found stability in making time for his gospel studies.

“There was tremendous pressure on our family,” he said. “But I needed to also study the Restoration in order to keep things balanced. I just kept doing it.”

Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait in his workspace at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait in his workspace at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

The partnership

The Scripture Citation Index project spans 50 years, but most of the work has come to pass in the last three decades, overlapping with Galbraith’s career at BYU where he taught children’s intellectual development, research and statistics from 1975 to 2013.

In 2004, Galbraith approached Stephen W. Liddle, a BYU professor in the Marriott School of Business, about making the Scripture Citation Index available in a digital format. Liddle created a database and launched a website later that year. The first version of the app was released in 2010. Many students contributed time and skills to the project.

Liddle remembers his first impression of Galbraith’s work.

“I looked at that amount of work and I thought, ‘Man, how many hours did he put into this?’” Liddle said. “This is a ton of labor.”

The connections

According to Galbraith, the Journal of Discourses originally contained less than 200 scripture citations when he started. The retired professor added more than 46,000 citations, along with 54,000 topical entries.

Along with Galbraith’s passion for doctrine of the Restoration, Liddle has often watched his colleague impressively recall scripture references, phrases and page numbers from memory, as well as draw connections to emerging patterns in a practical way. The Scripture Citation Index will allow others to find colorful insights and enrich their gospel study.

“Dick has a very sharp mind. He remembers things quite well. I can’t imagine somebody with a lesser intellect than Dick going through the Journal of Discourses (and other material),” Liddle said. “He remembers phrases, where they are found, and he is able to make these connections in his mind. It opens up a new way of studying where you can say, ‘What are church leaders saying about this particular scripture verse?’”

The verse

There’s a short scripture in the Bible that captures how Galbraith feels about his lifelong scriptural pursuit. The verse is Psalms 119:105, with a few personal modifications.

“Thy word (and the word of thy servants) is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my (covenant) path.”

For Galbraith, the words of church leaders and the scriptures have been a “lamp to his feet” and a guiding “light for the covenant path.”

“They help me to see things in beautiful, spiritual ways, for which I am grateful,” he said. “I’m just trying to do a little payback, a tiny pay-it-forward.”

Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait with a set of the Journal of Discourses at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Richard Galbraith poses for a portrait with a set of the Journal of Discourses at his house in Provo on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News