As a new year begins, wards and branches should be preparing their annual histories and submitting them to the stake, district, or mission.
This article provides some background and ideas on preparing this important record of the sacred work of the Church. It can also help us as members reflect on our individual efforts to be a record-keeping person and find ways to improve our efforts to keep records of ourselves, our families, and even our wards.
What is an annual history?
Each year, every ward, branch, stake, mission, and district in the world is to prepare and submit a written history to fulfill the Lord’s mandate to “continue in writing and making a history of all the important things…concerning my church,” (D&C 69:3).
An annual history is a summary of the events and work of the unit during the year. It includes sustainings, releasings, baby blessings, ward socials, and other events. It may also include copies of sacrament meeting programs. The typical history is text, but some wards get very creative with pictures, videos, or even narrated PowerPoint presentations.
Why keep histories of Church units?
Annual histories have 3 purposes:
- Bring members closer to Christ by helping them remember what God has done for His children and that He always fulfills His promises.
- Continually document the contemporary history of the Church.
- Present leaders with an opportunity to reflect on their efforts to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation.
How does the process work?
Wards and branches submit an annual history to the stake. These are then used in preparing the stake, mission, or district annual history, which is submitted to the Church History Department.
To help clerks and church history specialists prepare a meaningful annual history, the Church provides the booklet Church History Guides: Stake, District, and Mission Annual Histories and an annual history folder. The booklet is available in 15 languages and the folder with simplified instructions is in 40 languages. These items can be ordered by leaders at store.lds.org or downloaded at lds.org/annualhistories. The website includes additional training that may be helpful to those preparing the annual history.
The Church History Department catalogs and archives the histories. They are kept restricted for 10 years, after which they can be requested and read by anyone doing research. If the histories contain sacred, private, or confidential material, they are restricted for 30 years and then re-evaluated.
How are the histories used?
The ward and stake histories are a great resource for anyone who wants to write a history about the progress of the Church in a country or wants to see how major events effected individual units and people. These histories can provide a consistent global perspective of how the gospel is lived.
Annual histories are also great for family history research, since a lot of people don’t keep personal records. When researching an ancestor, you could review the annual histories of the wards your ancestor attended throughout his or her life in order to write a personal history. You may be able to find when the individual spoke in sacrament meeting, gave a prayer, had a farewell, or blessed a baby. It is a detailed history made possible only through the annual histories that were kept. The oldest ward history that we know of is from the Salt Lake Stake beginning in 1847.
This picture is of Primary children in the Pretoria Stake in South Africa in 2014. Picture courtesy of Mormon Newsroom https://africase.lds.org/primary-children-at-the-mandela-celebration
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26)
The Lord cares about every single one of His children. For some of them, annual histories may be the only record that exists of their lives.
Source of information for this article: Megan Michaels, Marketing & Communications Assistant at the Church History Library.