Mission musings from 1830s to 1960s posted online

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- When Hyrum Smith scribbled down his feelings about proselyting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 175 years ago, the Web was something a spider spun, not somewhere millions of people looked for information.

He certainly never dreamed anyone would use such an invention to search for his diary.

But the early church leader's writings, along with the musings of 114 other LDS missionaries who served from the 1830s to the 1960s, are now posted online.

The journals -- 376 in all -- are part of a larger collection housed in Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library. BYU's set is second only in size to that of the Family Church History Archives in Salt Lake City.

"The vast majority of church members and the world will never be here at BYU to see the diaries," said Susan L. Fales, curator for BYU's digital historical collections. "It's exciting to be able to pull in people worldwide through the Internet."

Transcribing the diaries and making digital copies of each hand-penned page was a five-year project powered by both students and faculty.

Posting the diaries online is a step toward closing what Fales calls a "gap in understanding" of the evolution of missionary work. She hopes the journals will facilitate a more widespread study of how missionary work has matured over the years and how it changes those who proselyte.

Reading the journals can also be a fun game of "who knows who," said Roger Layton, the library's communication manager. Web site patrons can search for ancestors and mission presidents in the diaries' text.

"You can even pick out your little town and search for it," he said. "Springville is in there numerous times."

Fales found her mother's name in the diary of prominent LDS photographer George Edward Anderson. In the journal, Anderson described Fales' great-grandfather and the place where he worked and lived.

"Now that's a thrill to find something like that," Fales said. "That's really exciting."

Only the most interesting, most well-written diaries were chosen for inclusion in the online collection, Fales said.

"We needed some sort of introspection from the writer, some ability to analyze," she said "We needed more than 'We went such and such place today."'

The diaries of LDS apostles James E. Talmage and Moses Thatcher are included in the online library, but most of the diaries were written by "everyday, ordinary people," Fales said.

On the Web site, the typed versions of the journals are laid out next to a scanned image of the original page. To make the Web site as accurate as possible, the pages were transcribed exactly as they appeared, including cross-outs and insertions.

"We want readers to really get a sense and feel of the original diary," Fales said. "If they want to print off the transcription, we want them to have a feeling for how it was written."

By displaying the transcription and the original page side by side, Fales said she hopes researchers can correct any mistakes that may have been made deciphering the sometimes hard-to-read handwriting. Even though transcribers gave the diaries a twice-over, some things get missed over 64,000 pages.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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