Monday, July 16, 2012

The Importance of Keeping a Personal History

This is my last post for Emma Smith's Birthday Celebration and I just wanted to thank everyone who has participated by sharing their testimonies of Emma and The Book of Mormon. I have loved reading them and I hope that the posts last week have given you a new appreciation and understanding of Emma Smith and her role in the restoration of the gospel. I am planning on doing this celebration again next year so if you have any thing you'd like to know about Emma or see on my blog please let me know.

As I've studied the life of Emma Smith the last few years the one thing that keeps coming back to me is how important it is to keep a journal and write a personal history. As far as we know Emma Smith didn't keep a journal, which as Katherine Nelson pointed out in her post, was a bit usual for a 19th century woman. Keeping a journal was sort of the equivalent of posting on Facebook , and many women kept a chronicle of their lives in some form. It is exciting to me to think that perhaps Emma did in fact keep a journal and that it could be siting in someone's attic right now. It is possible that in the the future her writings will be discovered, and what a treasure that would be.

In the meantime what we have of Emma's writings, and things said in her own words, are very sparse. As a result Emma's story has been pieced together and told and re-told by those who loved her, those who knew her, those who hated her, and those who misunderstood her. Satan has been great at attacking Emma's reputation and treading her name through the mud. And as Mark Staker pointed out she wasn't able to respond to most of the accusations brought against her, because they have come after her death.

It is interesting to me that Emma has been criticized for her choice not to go West with the Saints when Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, did not go West either. Lucy chose to stay behind in Nauvoo and actually lived with Emma until she died. I think that one of the reasons that history and critics may have been so kind to Lucy, and not Emma, is because Lucy left behind her story. In 1853 she published "The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother" which gives her beautiful perspective on Joseph and his work. We have her testimony and her experiences-- in her own words-- and so we don't doubt about Lucy.

We don't have anything like that for Emma and so... we doubt.

It is sad that we have to rely on what others tell us about her. Yet, the same is true of most of the women in the scriptures. We have very little of their words (but probably more than you think) and so what we get about them has been told and retold through the centuries. I've found that sometime it is nearly impossible to understand a woman's story without the guidance of the Holy Ghost. How wonderful it would be to have their stories, told in their own words. Sometimes I fantasize that one day a treasure trove of women's history will be found. That women-- like Sarah, Deborah, Bathsheba, Nephi's wife, and Mary Magdalene-- wrote down their thoughts and experiences and that they are just hiding out in a cave somewhere waiting to be discovered. Or that the sealed portions of the Gold plates contain all the domestic details and spiritual experiences of the Nephite women :) What a treasure that would be (even though I am pretty certain whatever is in the sealed portion is pretty fantastic)! The best I can do now is encourage women today to keep their own personal histories.

I can't begin to stress how important it is for women to keep a written history of their lives. I know that your life might not seem very exciting but to your great- great granddaughters who read your story it will be a treasure... every little detail. They will drink in the daily details of your life, thrill at the people you knew and the places you live, rejoice in your happiness, sorrow at your disappointments, and marvel at your spiritual experiences. You will become a treasure to them and will be able to teach them, hundreds of years after you are gone, and bear testimony of the things you learned and experienced. I know the though can be overwhelming but I remember that when I read "A Midwives Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich I was amazed that even though the woman just wrote a few lines every day about her life, how when you read them all together it painted a beautiful picture of who she was and what her life was like.

So please ladies, keep a journal, make a scrapbook, write an autobiography, write a blog, print off your Facebook statuses ... do anything but leave a record of you life behind. You never know whose life you will be blessing or who will treasure the little details of your life.

Besides, if you don't tell your story someone else will... and they might just get it wrong.


  1. As an avid journaler, who comes from a long line of avid journalers (ha, my grandpa was a secretary for a while, so a lot of his journal entries are in short hand...) I LOVE this post.

  2. Love this! You are so right. I am currently reading _Our Sisters in the Latter Day Scriptures_ and just finished the section on Emma Smith. My heart went out to her and I have such an increased understanding of her life, from what little I have read so far. I had no idea that she never kept journals! What a shame. It is a good reminder for us to keep our own journals, even if they won't interest the world, they will be precious to our own families.

  3. I used to be SO great at journalling. Then I got married. I talked to my DH instead of writing it down. That is one reason I like blogging, is it makes me pause and record things. :) But the handwritten stuff is somehow more magical. I like the reminder to do it, no matter how!