From 1837 to 1838 and again from 1839 to 1841, Vilate Murray Kimball wrote often to her husband, Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, while he traveled in Great Britain to preach the gospel. During these two missions, Vilate updated him on the health and well-being of their family and the ongoing teachings and revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Vilate’s notes were a strength to her husband, but they have also become a blessing to the Church. Because Joseph Smith almost never used notes when he preached, we have to rely on the notes that others took to recover many of his remarks. Thus, Vilate’s letters, along with the transcriptions of others, have become a valuable source of many of Joseph’s doctrinal teachings and have made Vilate an important chronicler of Church history.
For instance, Vilate took note in 1840 when Joseph revealed more details on the doctrine of proxy baptisms for deceased men and women: “President Smith has opened a new and glorious subject … which has caused quite a revival in the church,” she wrote to Heber. “That is, being baptized for the dead.” Vilate mentioned the biblical precedent for the practice and added that “Joseph has received a more full explanation of it by Revelation. … It is the privilege of this church to be baptized for all their kinsfolks that have died before this Gospel came forth.” She explained that in performing these baptisms for deceased family members, “we act as agents for them; and give them the privilege of coming forth in the first resurrection.”1 Vilate was baptized for her mother in 1841.
Vilate recorded both prophetic revelation and how that revelation changed her views of life and eternity. Because of some of the Prophet’s teachings that she wrote down, we know more about the history of the Restoration than we would otherwise. Because of Vilate’s letters to her husband, we have some insight into how Vilate heard the voice of God through the revelations of a prophet.
Not only do Vilate’s letters reveal information about the early practice of proxy baptism and the unfolding of revelation during the Latter-day Saints’ time in Nauvoo, but they can also teach us about our own record keeping. While we may sit in Church meetings and record what was said by the speakers, Vilate’s example can remind us to also record our feelings and the actions we are inspired to take. In doing so, we are recording the ways—large and small—that we hear the voice of God in our own worship and lives.