Marriage certificate from 1839 signed by Joseph Smith found in WIU archives

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A marriage certificate, signed by Smith, was included in the Illinois Regional Archives Depositories collection at WIU. | Photo courtesy of Western Illinois University

MACOMB, Ill. — The Archives and Special Collections of Western Illinois University is full of treasures relating to WIU and to local history. New discoveries are frequently being made as the collections are documented.

A previously unknown Archives document, written by Joseph Smith (the first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) from 1839, was shown to researchers from Utah in September.

A marriage certificate, signed by Smith, was included in the Illinois Regional Archives Depositories collection at WIU. Smith officiated a marriage between Graham Coltrin and Fanny Davis in McDonough County, and it was documented with the county.

WIU senior library specialist Bill Cook said he first saw the record several years ago.

In a press release, Cook said, “When I saw that, I realized it was an actual Joseph Smith written document. I was surprised.”

Cook remembered the discovery and shared the document with visiting archivists from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

“While Joseph Smith performed many marriages in Nauvoo, historians were previously unaware that he had performed a marriage when visiting Latter-day Saints in McDonough County, Illinois in June 1839,” Joseph Smith Papers Project archivist David Gura said. “Researchers have been scouring repositories in western Illinois for the last several decades looking for Joseph Smith documents, especially texts with Joseph Smith’s signature.”

Gura added it is rare to find a document his staff was not previously aware of.

“It was very exciting to learn that IRAD at WIU had a marriage certificate with Smith’s signature and to view it with our own eyes,” he said. “The inclusion of images of this document on the Joseph Smith Papers website will expand the documentary record of Joseph Smith’s life.”

A digital copy of the marriage certificate can be found at bit.ly/SmithPaper.

“We have a lot of important historical documents in our archives, and not all of it has been cataloged,” archives and special collections coordinator Michael Lorenzen said. “We are still finding important, primary material to complement the many documents we know about.”

Patrons can request to see the physical copy of the document on the sixth floor of WIU’s Malpass Library.

For more information about WIU’s archives, visit wiu.edu/libraries/archives.

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