A Logan woman’s ability to decipher LDS church records is bringing to life what were thought to be lost sermons by early church leaders.
LaJean Purcell Carruth, an LDS Church History librarian, said it took her 30 years to understand the unique shorthand of George D. Watt who was the church recorder when he was living in Salt Lake City. Watt was the first baptized member of the LDS faith in Great Britain.
LaJean said when she was a graduate student at BYU the school’s manuscript librarian promised her a job if she learned Pitman shorthand.
So she did and it certainly came in handy later.
“George Watt used Pitman shorthand when recording sermons and other events starting in the 1850s,” said Carruth. “But he had his own particular way of writing, as does everyone. And when he was trying to keep up with the speaker he had to write very, very quickly. We all know when you write quickly, neatness goes out the door. And so does accuracy.
“Straight lines become curved, curved lines become straight, and so on. It has been very difficult to learn his idiosyncratic cues. It did take me about 30 years.”
In May of 2002 she was assigned to work on the shorthand accounts of the John D. Lee trial, related to the Mountain Meadow Massacre. She was asked to compare the transcripts of the trial to the shorthand. She found the transcripts to be very inaccurate.
“They changed names, they changed dates. I spent thousands of hours correcting those transcripts. In the process my skill increased and when that project was over I found I could read George Watt’s shorthand.”
Carruth said Watt would travel with Brigham Young and he attended events. He recorded sermons, court records and even the rough drafts of letters in short hand.
“We are finding out what they said back then. It’s new to us. A lot of it is material that is sort of irrelevant. During one conference, it seemed like every talk was ‘Keep the horses out of the wheat and corn and put up fences’. But a lot of it is what we hear today: keep the commandments, teach your children, pay your tithing, keep the word of wisdom, work hard and be honest. The basic doctrine of the gospel.”
Now working full time for the church history library, Carruth said she is involved in the work just about every day.
“I am 61. I will not be able to get to all of the documents remaining. I am trying very hard to get to the most important ones. I have four students at the church history library and also a daughter that has a lot of my mind that hopes someday to learn this.”
Carruth said most of the shorthand notes by Watt date back to late 1851 until the time he got into an argument with Brigham Young over a raise in pay and he quit.
“On May 15, 1868 he quit recording shorthand and others filled in. But their shorthand is not extant, for the most part.
“We have George Watt shorthand for 230 sermons by Brigham Young that are not in the Journal of Discourses. How many of those I have done I don’t know.”
Carruth said for those who want to see original transcripts of never before transcribed material, go to history.lds.org.