The Shoulders Behind The Wheel

“The Shoulders Behind The Wheel”, Deseret News, Saturday, May 31, 1941, 5

“Who drove the mule tram in Salt Lake in the early days?” “Whose house used to stand where the Boston Building now is?”

Those are samples of the endless stream of questions shot daily across the counter in the Church Historian’s Office, 47 East South Temple Street, at Elder Alvin F. Smith, librarian. But most scalp scratching comes after such queries as: “Where was I born, and when, and can you prove it?”

With spy scares, alien registration and roundup of fifth columnists currently on in this country, Elder Smith’s job has been given a defense boom. People who lack birth certificates are elbowing their way to the counter beyond which they hope to find that their arrival has been penned into some ward’s records.

“We’re pretty well prepared to furnish accurate information on most Church members’ births,” the librarian said, “but now and again a person not a member of the Church, will apply for a birth certificate believing that we keep track of all mankind!”

“The need for birth certificates also is bringing many drifting members back into contact with the Church,” he added. “Sometimes it’s a pretty difficult task to disclose their ward ties.”

Since 1907 a complete history has been kept in the Church Offices. This contains such vital information as births, baptisms, ordinations, missions, blessings, marriages, deaths and divorces. For information before 1907, ward and stake records must be relied upon.

With questions like that of the mule tram, in addition to the rush for birth certificates, Elder Smith, whose official job as librarian is to catalog valuable books, publications and other historical data, says he believes he “does more looking up than filing away.”

“By the way, how did you answer the mule driver quiz?” the librarian was asked.

“I asked them to tell me which tram and which mules,” Elder Smith said. “I knew of several.”

The librarian, when he isn’t searching through rare volumes in the dozens of racks in his office, can be found at home, 923 Garfield Avenue, with his wife, the former Amelia Atkins of Salt Lake. They are the parents of five children and have five grandchildren.

He began work in the Church Historian’s Office in 1925. When his father, the late Pres. Joseph F. Smith, helped four sons to go on foreign missions at one time, Alvin Fielding went to England. That was in 1905.