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St. George • The LDS Church announced Friday that its historical catalog and a project featuring the papers of church founder Joseph Smith are now online and available to the public.

From records to manuscripts, the two free websites will be a great convenience to authors, scholars and anyone else who wants to learn about the history of the church.

As the fabric of the faith, the historical information on the Web is "exciting" said Jeffrey N. Walker, the project manager for the Smith papers.

"They are released to the great wide world," Walker said.

The announcement of the websites was made during the 46th convention of the Mormon History Association, which runs through Sunday in St. George.

The annual convention brings together scholars and others interested in Latter-day Saint history from around the world for lectures and tours of historical sites.

This year's emphasis is on the settlement by Mormon pioneers of southwestern Utah and southern Nevada, including Las Vegas.

Access to the online information costs nothing, unlike a 20-volume collection of the Joseph Smith documents that will be published in the next several years.

While the published volumes will be vetted by three levels of review, two levels will suffice to put information on the websites, organizers said. Walker noted that any new information concerning Smith can be posted on the website as quickly as it is vetted.

"We think there is still [material] out there," said Walker.

The site features a scanned image of the original document accompanied by a transcription of the text.

"Our goal is a digitized document-based library," said Walker.

In addition to the Joseph Smith project, information from the church's historical catalog is online, tracing the religion's development with records, family histories and photos.

Information that is licensed or not part of the church's archives might not make it to the websites, said assistant church historian Richard Turley.

Randy Olsen, director of church libraries, said the catalog website has the ability to search for information connected with people, even if they are not named in an original document.

During a demonstration of the catalog site, Walker brought up a rare early newspaper image of the "St. George Juvenile," published in St. George by 15-year-old journalist Joseph Carpenter in the 19th century, that had been collected in church archives.

"Now you can read it online, and don't have to travel to Salt Lake City," Olsen said.

David Monk, the senior product manager for the church history department who was instrumental in building the catalog site, said the project has been discussed for several years, but improvements in technology in the past two years made the project possible.

"We now have the [technology] tools to help us," he said.

History association member John Welch, a law professor at Brigham Young University who worked on the Smith project, is excited by the dual websites.

The websites "will ensure historical accuracy because we are able to see the original documents," he said. "We can check claims of what he [Smith] said, and if he did or not. There's no point in going down trails that don't go anywhere."

Read about it online

O The LDS Church unveiled two free websites open to the public that contain information from the religion's historical catalog and from the Joseph Smith Papers project.

The sites are: