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Latest from Mormon Land: Will the church buy its first temple and other historic sites? FamilySearch boosts its digital records by billions.

Also: A preview of stories coming in the week before General Conference.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Kirtland Temple, shown in 2016, was the first temple built by the early Latter-day Saints. It was dedicated by the church's founder, Joseph Smith, in 1836. It is owned and operated by the Community of Christ.

These are excerpts from our free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

Real estate wish list

In 2017, the church bought the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ for $35 million.

That sparked a question — at least in the mind of Times and Seasons blogger Stephen Cranney — of what else the Missouri-based church might be willing to sell to the much-larger, much-richer Utah-based faith.

After all, the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, flatly stated in its December 2020 financial update that its “Presiding Bishopric continues to evaluate potential historic-asset sales.”

Given that comment and the monetary pressures on the denomination, Cranney came up with a list of properties that the LDS Church might be interested in obtaining:

Kirtland Temple • Mormonism’s first temple holds a special place in the faith’s history and members’ hearts (3D virtual tours of the three-floor Ohio landmark are available).

Red Brick Store • This rebuilt two-story structure in Nauvoo, Ill., served as the church’s headquarters, where founder Joseph Smith formed the Relief Society and administered temple endowments.

Mansion House • It’s where Joseph and Emma Smith lived for a time in Nauvoo and where Latter-day Saints viewed the bodies of Joseph and his brother Hyrum after the 1844 martyrdom.

Smith family cemetery • Not far from the Mansion House, this spot is where Joseph, Emma, Hyrum, Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith all are buried.

While making no claim that any of these properties will be unloaded, Cranney’s blog does state that “it looks likely ... that there will be additional sales from the Community of Christ to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the future.”

The Community of Christ, with its annual reports of income and expenses (detailing numbers in the millions), is much more transparent about its finances than the LDS Church, whose principal investment arm alone amasses assets in the tens of billions.

FamilySearch hits the mother lode

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The final rolls of microfilm are scanned as the church completes a major digitization effort that began more than 20 years ago. The first microfilm scanners were purchased in 1999.

Gone are the days of threading, winding and scrolling through reels of microfilm in search of your ancestors.

Those names now will be just a mouse click away.

That’s because the church has completed a monumental task: digitizing millions of rolls of microfilm containing family records of billions of people.

“This is a really incredible milestone,” Joseph Monsen, director of preservation services for the Church History Department, said in a news release. “For 83 years, the church has been collecting and using microfilm records to support genealogical research. … 2.4 million rolls of microfilm are all digitally saved now and available.”

Digitization began more than 20 years ago and was expected to take at least five decades. But, thanks to hard work and advances in technology, explained Kris Whitehead, a manager for FamilySearch International, the church’s genealogical arm, employees completed the project in about a third of that time.

“It’s something that I never thought that I would see in my lifetime,” Whitehead added. “...I thought my kids, or my grandkids, would see this. So, for me to see the conclusion of this scanning effort, it’s a dream come true.”

It’s also a “game changer” for the world, Becky Adamson, a research specialist at the Family History Library, said in the release. “Instead of having to come to the library, people can start accessing these records from home.”

How many records? Well, those of more than 11.5 billion people from over 200 countries and principalities in more than 100 languages.

And the FamilySearch databank continues to swell as newly obtained records — be they birth or death certificates, marriage licenses, immigration ledgers or another kind of document — go straight to digital.

Coming next week

As members prepare for General Conference, The Salt Lake Tribune again will bring readers a special section in this weekend’s print edition on topics surrounding the faith, including:

• An exploration of whether Mormonism is in danger of losing its identity as the church continues to evolve, adapt and adopt sweeping changes, even barring most uses of the word “Mormon.”

• A deep dive into how the church’s investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, racks up billions in stock earnings.

• An in-depth look at the debate over whether viewing pornography is an addiction and how church leaders’ messaging on the topic has shifted through the years.

• A tantalizing treatment about a photo exhibit that focuses on Mormon culinary culture (think green Jell-O and funeral potatoes).

Those stories and more, along with columns by Gordon Monson and Robert Gehrke, will be featured. They also will begin appearing daily during the week before conference at sltrib.com.

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