The Story Behind the Story: Writing Our Histories

The Story Behind the Story: Writing Our Histories
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“You have a heritage. Honor it.” - President Monson, 28 March 2005, General YW Meeting

Everett Pallin performed a labour of love, researching and writing the book titled The Toronto Branch: 1836 – 1960. He had a great desire to document names and places and bring together pictures and known history while members of his generation were still able to contribute. In addition to the histories of local pioneers, the contribution of great missionaries, such as Parley P. Pratt and others are recognized. A highlight of the book is a chapter detailing the visit of Joseph Smith and his counselors to the Toronto area. “From this area, we have had three presidents of the church who came out of one baptismal area,” explains Brother Pallin. “Canada provided many of the stalwarts who donated funds for church growth helped build the Kirtland Temple, supported the early church as families of the Saints moved west and gave resources to build Zion.”

The Toronto Branch: 1836 – 1960

Precious faith-promoting stories come to light when histories are gathered. Brother Pallin explained that he has “history in his blood” and the pioneering stories have always been dear to him. The book is full of stories of faith and generosity.

Other blessings have come with the preparation of the Toronto history. Thousands of Upper Canada saints were a part of the “gathering” and the years to follow, so there are Toronto saints everywhere, especially in the United States and Canada. Letters and calls have sent their thanks and appreciation for this book of memories. Brother Pallin said, “They talk of the faith of their parents, their own missions and express deep appreciation for their roots in Toronto.” He became closer to his children as they gave countless hours to help him prepare the branch history. “We were close before, but more so when the book was completed. Two of our children spent one to two days per week scanning, adjusting, typing and proofing. They know every word, line, comma, period and picture and have shifted and aligned every portion of the book to give maximum effectiveness.”
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The emphasis that Church leaders give to honour pioneers and heritage has also encouraged Brother Pallin in his project. He was anxious to bring to light who people were. “It’s the people that make the history of the Church,” he says.

Another such history is Vancouver Saints, by Sarah Broom DeLong and Dennis A. Wright, documenting 1845 to 2007 of Church history for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. This work encompasses early beginnings, development of wards, branches and stakes, and shares stories of shared celebrations and events. Also included are accounts of the selection of the Vancouver Temple site. The authors explain that they “hope that through this project, Saints in the twenty-first century will more fully appreciate the contribution of those who laboured for Zion in the twentieth century. We ...hope that the current generation of Vancouver Saints will accept a serious commitment to record the history of the Church in the twenty-first century so that future generations will benefit from a knowledge of their legacy.”

Vancouver Saints

Bishop Mark Layton, White Rock Ward, BC, kept a book written by his aunt on his desk next to his scriptures and used it frequently as he advised others. He knew the value of recorded stories and history and that prompted him to ask former Bishop, Brent McMullin, “We should have a ward history. Will you do something about that?”

Although Brother McMullin accepted the challenge and While White Rock has much history to tell, for the first ten months, the input was limited. In time, Velma Bartel, Sandy Popoff, Glennis Kuhn and Terry Rogers submitted stories and then more and more stories flowed in. As members reported their histories, those stories triggered more stories and the project gained momentum. Adventures about scouting, stories of great sacrifice to build the chapel, and some about Seminary and fundraising efforts all came to light. “In these accounts, people relate stories and events that made an impact in their lives and memories.' Brother McMullin explains.
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“One of the stories came about because I cornered Sister Ivy Ockey, now residing in Victoria, and told her I had to document some of the stories about her and her deceased husband Del. He was a unique character. I was given a half hour. Her son phoned two and a half hours later inquiring when he was to come and pick up his mother.” While Ivy talked Brother McMullin typed on his computer. The stories are now documented history. He explains that the stories recorded in A History of the White Rock Ward honours the services that people have given. “This work is a work of love. It is about the people, not the chronology of events.”

A History of the White Rock Ward

“What an enormous force is created if people get out of the minutia of ward living and grasp the bigger picture.” Brother McMullin explains. “ As bishop, if I had had an opportunity to read about our history, it would have given me a better base for the decisions I made. Now I have much more gratitude for the sacrifices of those before me. We are but one humble ward, and of the 29,000 congregations in the church, there are many faith-building stories to tell in every unit.”


Ward history gathering can inspire the writing of personal histories. Brother McMullin has created his own history, “Grandpa’s Traveling Journal.” He started writing so that his grandchildren at university or on missions could read family stories which act as an anchor and support when they are faced with challenges, persevering and the power of the spirit to lift and bless them on the days they need encouragement. “History is very important,” he emphasizes, “especially for the kids.”

Brother McMullin says that each ward should have a historian. “Make it simple by taking pictures of events, a brief descriptive write up and put them in order in a three ring binder, then you will have the base for a great history.”

Church and family histories build on what our predecessors have accomplished. In Vancouver Saints, President David O. McKay’s quote could refer to the books we write as well as the buildings we erect, “(When) we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work that our descendants will thank us for it and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them. Men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, “See this our fathers did for us.’”

Vancouver Saints