Author: Brown, Thomas E.
When the Church was organized in 1830, Joseph Smith was instructed "that a regular list of all the names of the whole church be kept" (D&C 20:82). This revelation was in harmony with other scriptures (cf. Ex. 28:9-12; Num. 1:2; Phil. 4:3; Mosiah 6:1;26:36; Alma 5:58). Accordingly, each congregation (ward and branch) kept records thereafter containing the names of all members in the congregation and all blessings, baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, marriages, excommunications, and deaths. Through the years, the Church used several successive ways to keep track of membership information prior to the present electronic automated system. Many improvements have been made in the automated records system, and with rapid growth, reaching more than 7 million members by 1990, the Church is studying ways to reduce and simplify the amount of information being kept. Information concerning Church ordinances (baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination, etc.) is so important that if the record is lost, the ordinances must be performed again.
In the 1800s, the presiding officer of a congregation would give members who were moving a letter to take to the presiding officer in the new congregation who would then enter that information in his own record book of members. In 1906 the Church formalized the procedure for transferring membership records as members moved from one congregation to another by having the presiding officer send a certificate of membership to the new congregation via the office of the Presiding Bishopric, even though at that time no duplicate or "master" record was kept at central Church offices. There were, however, member censuses taken approximately every five years to update records between 1914 and 1950.
In 1941, membership books were replaced by individual membership record cards, and duplicate records were created for each member. One copy was retained by the congregation, and the other was sent to the Church's master file in Salt Lake City. (Church membership at the time was approximately 890,000.) Each time a baptism, ordination, Endowment, or marriage took place, it was recorded on the membership record in the local congregation. All changes were sent to Salt Lake City once a year. When members moved, their membership records were routed through the office of the Presiding Bishopric, and the new address was added to the master record.
The Church conducted a worldwide audit of membership records during 1969 as a forerunner to converting to an automated membership system, which was completed in the United States and Canada in 1975. The Church began decentralization of records that year. The records of all members living outside of the United States and Canada were sent to one of six area offices in which automation began in 1985. All international areas, except Samoa, were using automated systems in 1990. Master records are housed in thirty-five regional offices around the world.