If you wanted to know the background on the Word of Wisdom, read an entry in Heber C. Kimball's diary or obtain a copy of your patriarchal blessing, you need only visit one place: the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The library, currently located in the east wing of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, strives to achieve two purposes.
"The primary purposes are to preserve the documents of the history of the church and share the message of that history," said Marie Erickson, manager of education and training.
The building holds 270,000 books, magazines and newspapers; 240,000 collections of original unpublished records; and 3.5 million patriarchal blessings.
"We collect as much as we can from around the church and about the church within established guidelines," Erickson said.
Most of this can be viewed and copies can be made for researchers, family historians or Sunday school teachers.
"People who need to request copies of patriarchal blessings can do so through the Church History Library," Erickson said.
Patriarchs from around the world send in hard copies of the blessings they give to the Church History Library. The church is in the process of digitizing the blessings, as well as having them submitted digitally. Obtaining copies of the blessings can take anywhere from weeks to months.
Those interested in learning more about their ancestry commonly find themselves in the Family History Library, where they find names and dates. The Church History Library will add to that information with letters, journals and newspaper clippings.
"These (documents) fill in the holes of family history," Erickson said. "They give life and color to the person's story. They go beyond the numbers, dates and locations and find out who the people are."
There is one major difference between the Family History Library and the Church History Library. The family library gives access to records around the world while the church library is limited to assisting those with Mormon ancestry.
Some documents have restricted sections that talk about temple ceremonies or excommunication records, or have been asked by the submitters to remain restricted. Regardless of position or purpose, the same records are available to all.
"We are open to everyone, both members of the church and people of other faiths," Erickson said.
Many records can also be found online at lds.org/churchhistory/library. The library serves around 20,000 to 25,000 people each year, including online, phone and in-person assistance, according to Chris Cox, church history customer service director.
"More and more are accessing services without even coming into the building," Erickson said.
The Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel project requires the attention of 25 of the 50 full-time missionaries working at the library. The overland project contains information about all of the pioneer companies who entered the Salt Lake Valley from 1847 to 1868. It includes diary entries, letters and newspaper articles about the trek west. The missionaries and others have painstakingly transcribed the words to make them readable and accessible online.
Though Cox's ancestors did not keep diaries, she has learned much about them by reading trail excerpts from the company in which they traveled. She also learned from newspaper clippings that some of her ancestors were boat builders in Wales. When they arrived here they constructed boats to be sailed on the Great Salt Lake, including one for Brigham Young.
Cox also said that the Church History Library offers more than numbers, dates and locations.
"A whole new world has opened up to me," Cox said. "Here (in the Church History Library) we can put some skin on the bones."
Erickson and others provide information on visitors' ancestors if they call ahead of time to tell them who their ancestors are and when they'll be visiting. Call 801-240-2272 to schedule a tour.