Eliza’s Letter

In catching up on all the family history news I missed over a very busy holiday season I was pleased to see that the Church History Library has at last digitized the letter Eliza Haven Westover wrote to her son Lewis in 1916. This was the letter where Eliza detailed living in Nauvoo as a teenager and witnessing the transfiguration of Brigham Young. We have shared that story before here.

I am not sure how many others asked for that to be done. I have been requesting it to be done for more than five years.

Eliza Haven Westover was the first wife of Charles Westover, brother to grandfather Edwin Westover.

We have shared more of the story of Charles and Eliza at this link. They have their own pioneer story that is worthy of knowing.

It is quite a different thing to just read about Eliza’s letter than it is to actually see it. Seeing it changes the way you see it, if that makes sense.

I hope you click on the first link above to the Church History Library to see the actual letter itself (it is saved as well as a PDF in our Documents Archive here on WFH).

What you see is her handwriting on simple lined paper, written in pencil. Though she was in her late 80s when the letter was written it is clear to read. You can tell it was written not only with a steady hand but also a clear mind.

As previously touched upon in telling the story we note that critics of the Church point out that the memories of this event with Brigham Young were not recorded until years after it supposedly happened. This they say is proof the entire thing was made up. More than 80 people claimed to have had the experience and all those memories were recorded after-the-fact.

The content of the letter will forever be debated. You can take it for whatever you want.

But the letter is family history.

It reveals the heart, mind and soul of Eliza Haven Westover. She was an extraordinary woman.

The 103 year old letter is a treasure. It contains much more than just the story of Brigham’s transfiguration. It speaks of her love for her son and the desire she had to provide him with a sketch of her life. He had, in a previous letter to her, made note of the fact that few remained alive with memories of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

She described Joseph as a “great lover of children”, an important observation considering she was still a child when she arrived in Nauvoo at the age of about 12. She notes his smile and how interesting it was for her to listen to him preach. She talks of seeing him frequently and witnessing his last ride through Nauvoo as he went to Carthage.

She goes on to describe the Nauvoo Temple, then moving to Winter Quarters and then meeting Charles Westover on the plains.

Eliza writes of life on the trail and then in Utah as a pioneer so matter-of-fact. She was, by this point, quite elderly and suffering from ill health brought on by a broken hip.

Eliza was still living in St. George and her son was with his family in Lewiston, Utah on the opposite end of the state when the letter was written.

She would live until the age of 93, passing in 1923.

I believe it is fair to say Eliza Westover had developed a very deep sense of history and her place in it.

She was a stalwart Latter-Day Saint and she lived during a time when Family History was emphasized greatly among the faithful of the church.

Like many of her generation she lacked the means to document far into her family past but she clearly had a vision of the need for her to record her history. A great many details of her life — even beyond this letter — survive because of her efforts to create a record.

She is a beloved grandmother. Eliza made sure she knew them and they knew her. She told them stories. She had outstanding photos taken during an age when it was not common, especially in the place where she lived.

Eliza Westover frequently bore witness of her testimony of Jesus Christ. Her stories were shared. She was in the newspaper from time to time, even beyond her own obituary.

This all happened even though Eliza and Charles Westover were not church leaders or famous community figures. They were just regular folk.

The lessons from Eliza Westover are many, especially as it comes to cherishing her own life experience and sharing it with others.

Her son, Lewis Burton Westover, was born in 1868 and died in 1966. He was a fixture in the community of Lewiston, Utah, not far from where I live now.

My experience in Cache Valley these past several years has led me to encounter many Westovers from this line of the family. As I discuss family history with them I am yet to meet one who does not know all about Charles and Eliza.

But especially Eliza. It’s always the grandmother!

This I believe is Eliza’s greatest legacy — that her many great grandchildren know her and love her.

I can only hope so much for myself.

195th Century Christmas

The 19th Century Christmas

Historians tell us that Christmas in the United States and even the world was not celebrated much prior to Charles Dickens. They claim that the Puritans of Boston banned it and that it was “quite dead” in England of the 18th century.

That is all false.

While some evidence suggests Christmas was quite different it was not the fragmentary thing they made it out to be in America.

In fact, if anything was out of the usual when it came to Christmas it was the Puritan attitude about it. But the Puritans honestly never had a chance with their ban of Christmas.

Christmas was just too big even before they started.

The history of Christmas in the Americas dates back at least to the 14th century French explorers who first came to Canada. They did not record much of their activities however they did make a record of their Christmas celebrations in a strange land.

Columbus, too, made Christmas an event, even going so far as to name his first settlement in what we now call Cuba, La Navidad.

Of course, Columbus didn’t share his sacred Christmas with the natives and he allowed his own men to run wild. When Columbus returned the following year he found all his men dead and La Navidad burned beyond recognition. Columbus later took a more humble approach to teaching Christmas to later natives he discovered.

When the pilgrims of Jamestown arrived it was none other than John Smith who went on record as the first to drink eggnog at Christmas in the New World in 1607. The Jamestown record of Christmas celebration clearly pre-dates the Puritan ban.

Even in New England, outside of Puritan Boston, Christmas was widely observed. Newsprint clippings from the 1600s and 1700s shows Christmas recipes shared, poetry published and goods sold in association with Christmas.

In fact, old newspapers and family journals clearly show a culture where Christmas in one form or another was already a tradition that was passed for generations long before our ancestors of the 19th century came along.

What transpired culturally with Christmas in America only made it bigger as the 19th century advanced.

In New York City, by the late 1790s already a melting pot of nationalities, the secular Christmas in all of its raucous tradition was wildly celebrated.

The cultured and educated of the city fought to do something about it.

For years, spurred through the writings of Washington Irving, a man named John Pintard took up the challenge of taming the Christmas chaos in New York.

He did it by appealing to a common figure among all the immigrant groups of the city – St. Nicholas.

The true story of St. Nicholas (this historical figure, not the legendary Santa Claus he later became) is another that historians tend to gloss over.

Nicholas was a real person. He was a spiritual man, a bishop and a legendary figure in his time. He was one of those in attendance at the Council of Nicea and was a fervent backer of the Divinity of Christ.

In fact, it was there that Nicholas came to blows with a critic and was thrown into prison, only to be freed, it is said, by Jesus Christ, who returned to him his red priestly robes.

By the close of his life Nicholas was famous in many areas of the world, second only to Christ in terms of his fame. Within a few hundred years of his lifetime more than 2000 churches of the Old World would bear his name.

How did this happen in a world without Internet or media?

Nicholas’ exploits and some say miracles were carried by word of mouth. They were taught, as part of the Christmas season, in many lands.

Nicholas, long after he died, became known in many cultures and, due to his charity and his December 6th feast day, became associated with Christmas.

For Pintard in New York around the turn of the 19th century, Nicholas became the focal point of a more tame Christmas celebration.

He opened a museum of Nicholas history, drawing upon the Nicholas-themed traditions of every culture he could find.

He also used the literary market to great advantage by convincing popular writers such as Washington Irving to create works featuring St. Nicholas and Christmas. One of Washington
Irving’s associates was a wealthy professor of theology and religion named Clement Clark Moore.

Moore and his wife had a large family and, as the story goes, as he was delivering Christmas turkeys to the poor on a snowy Christmas Eve he penned a fun little poem about St. Nicholas based on the jolly demeanor of his white bearded sleigh driver.

Moore later shared his “Visit from St. Nicholas” with his many children, who were delighted.

The poem first became a family tradition of Christmas and later Moore had it published, anonymously in a New York newspaper, in 1823.

As was the tradition in those days, the poem passed from one paper to the next and was shared over time around the country. It became a media tradition of Christmas to share it every year.

Combine the image of Moore’s Santa Claus with Dicken’s resurgent embrace of Christmas with A Christmas Carol and you have the cultural fuel that made Christmas what it has become in America.

By the time our pioneer ancestors crossed the plains in the late 1840s they had, regardless of their land of origin, established traditions of Christmas celebrations.

They would continue those traditions of Christmas where they settled.

Christmas of 1847, the first in Salt Lake City, did not feature much of the usual trappings of Christmas. The 1500 or so of the first Saints in Zion did however gather at the flagpole that had been erected in the settlement and observed the day with song, talks and fellowship.

Christmas of 1848, just months after the Westovers had arrived, likely wasn’t much different in Salt Lake.

But by 1852 much progress had been made in building up the community, including a “social hall” where a Christmas day party was noted in one of the first editions of the Deseret News.

With the Westovers still living at that time within 3 blocks of the social hall there is little doubt that they were there.

It is quite likely that most there witnessed their first Christmas tree, which they then called a Santa Claus tree because it was decorated, as many trees then were, with gifts for the children.

Children really were the focus of the 19th century Christmas.

Thanks to the crafted images of Santa Claus in popular media it was common for children to commandeer the largest sock in the home – usually Fathers’ – to hang for Santa Claus to fill.

Christmas was almost always handmade.

Stockings were filled with handmade rag dolls, knitted items, candy and nuts. If fruit was available, which it often was not, that too might find its way into a stocking as a treat.

Albert Smith noted the passing of Christmas in his journal a couple of times, without much detail.

But with his home filled with children, especially in the 1860s and 1870s, you can be sure a special family meal was held and that inclusion in Manti’s Christmas activities, whatever they were included the Smiths.

It was the Smith home, after all, that served as the community theater for many years after Manti was first settled and Albert, known locally as “Father Smith”, due to his age and long-time Church member status, was certain to speak on any given occasion when folks gathered.

The Westovers of Southern Utah likely participated in the dedication of the St. George Tabernacle, which featured the first ever performance of Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.

We will never know if any of our family participated as choir members but we do know that both Charles and Edwin worked on the construction of that building, which took many years to construct and it is likely many of the family were present when it was dedicated.

While details of our pioneer family Christmases are scarce we can be assured their Christmas celebrations always meant a family gathering of some type mixed with church and community celebration.

They changed as the times changed in the 19th century.

It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas, along with Thanksgiving, became an “official” holiday. It did not come as grand announcement, but rather as a measure designed to give federal workers the day off with pay like most of their private sector counterparts already received.

What did this mean? It meant that Christmas had already been long observed in a special way as a common observance.

Our 19th century ancestors were not strangers to Christmas. As followers of Christ they marked the day, if even in their more unique way.

The Barnhursts

The Life of Ane Marie Jensen Barnhurst

Of the many reasons to be on Family Search few are as important to me than a fairly new feature known as the Family Calendar. It is just a simple timeline tied to your family tree that shows important dates – birthdays, days of passing, marriage, etc. It’s kind of cool because if you set it up right it will send you reminders of these dates via Facebook.

Tomorrow’s date marks the passing of Ane Marie Jensen – a pioneer of great significance in the Riggs line.

Just who is Ane Marie to me? My grandmother, Maurine Westover, is the daughter of Will Riggs. Will Riggs is the son of Will Riggs, Sr and Priscilla Barnhurst. Ane Marie Jensen is Priscilla’s mother – making her my 4th great grandmother.

Riggs Line

If you visit Ane Marie Jensen’s profile on Family Search (KWNC-D9G) you can read a great deal more about her than I am going to share here. Her life is very well documented and it is a great investment of your time to get to know her better.

The spelling of her name is Danish – because that is where she is from. It is pronounced “Annie”.

Ane was born of parents who had done well in their lives in Denmark. Her father served in some capacity with the government there. Regardless of their prosperity, it was required that all adults have a trade and Ane chose to be a seamstress. She learned young and did well, growing well known for her skills in making fine clothes.

While in her early 20s she was discovered by Mormon missionaries and began her conversion experience. Like many, her family did not approve. You can read the details of that on Family Search but suffice it to say here she determined to follow the faith shortly after she was baptized.

She was a handcart pioneer, arriving first after a miraculous sea voyage and then pressing on to Omaha, Nebraska where she would join a company of other Danish saints heading west.

The year was 1857 and her company, the Christensen Company, made their way west either with or near Johnston’s Army, who very famously were headed to Utah to “put down the Mormon rebellion”.

Ane was something of a clothes horse. Perhaps her skills as a seamstress and her family’s position in the community back home in Denmark gave her a great wardrobe. Stories are told of all the clothes and accessories she brought with her. One unproven history states she started across the plains in heels.

She was distressed to have to leave a great many of her belongings behind. Like other handcart pioneers she was limited to about 17 pounds of “stuff”. We don’t know how she covered her feet but somewhere along the journey she ruptured a blood vessel in her foot, which led to infection and made her very ill. Many thought she would die.

She heard people talking outside the tent one night, speculating on her chances of survival. She heard a man pass her tent and she prayed for a blessing. He was prompted to check on her and he did administer to her. He commanded her to get up and get dressed, and she did so – now healed.

She arrived in Salt Lake safely, decorating her handcart and singing her way with the others on the broad streets of Salt Lake as they arrived.

She was placed in a ward with other Danish Saints and the Bishop there, who spoke both English and Danish, asked her why she was not married. She explained that she had been engaged in Denmark before she left but that her fiancé did not want anything to do with the Church and didn’t think they should be married if she became a Mormon. Her heart was broken and she had grown reluctant at the idea of love and marriage.

The Bishop asked her if he found a worthy young man if she would be willing to raise a family to help build the Kingdom. To this Ane faithfully agreed.

Residing in that same ward was a young man whose name was Samuel Barnhurst. We have told a little of his story before. He was previously married, in Philadelphia, and his wife was a conspirator in the plot to get him thrown into an insane asylum – for joining the Mormon Church. He fled, came west to Utah, feeling ambivalent himself about love and marriage.

As with Ane, the Bishop asked Samuel if he would be married and raise a family to help build the Kingdom. He faithfully said yes.

So the Bishop got them together, speaking to Ane in Danish, and to Samuel in English.

They got married in the office of Brigham Young in November, 1857, and about a year later, while living in Ephriam, they brought twin girls into the world to begin their family.

The BarnhurstsThe story is told how it was agreed upon that in the family home the children would learn to speak Danish until the age of 5 – at which point only English would be spoken. This was done to teach them both languages.

This “dual immersion” approach proved useful for all the family, especially for Samuel and Ane, who continued to associated with Danish Saints in the many places they lived. They were able to serve in a variety of capacities because of these skills, as did their children.

In their growing up years both Ane and Samuel had grown up in families with means. This was not their lot in life as Mormon pioneers in central and southern Utah. The rest of their lives were a struggle to survive. They lived for many years in Cedar City, where Ane served in the Relief Society. They later moved to Hatch, where she would be for the rest of her life. While there she was the postmistress — and the Relief Society president.

Ane passed away on July 23, 1906 – leaving a remarkable family legacy.

I’ve only provided a very small glimpse into Ane’s history. I strongly encourage to visit her profile on Family Search and read the many histories of her there.

None Knew Them

None Knew Them But to Praise

The generation of my grandparents is rightfully known as The Greatest Generation.

They have been so identified because of their sacrifices and contributions during the years of the Great Depression and World War II.

We likewise are free with our praise of the Pioneer Generation, those pre-and-post Civil War era ancestors who conquered the West

We marvel as well over the Generation of Emigrants who crossed oceans and continents around the turn of the 20th century.

In greater measure, we identify our Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors of the Great Migration generations of the 1600s.

But as I continue to work family history it occurs to me that there was a generation just as great as all these yet they seem to escape any recognition. I have come to call them the Unheralded Generation.

This is the generation of ancestors born from roughly 1790 to 1810, or so – the children and grandchildren of early colonists of the American Revolution.

We just don’t give them the credit they deserve.

This thought came to me as I pondered over the graves of ancestors this week in Mendon, Utah.

There, between the tiny markers for William and Linzey Findley, is a monument erected in their honor by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

The monument clearly says “None knew them but to love them. None named them but to praise.”

Curious, I began to poke around looking for where those words came from. I wanted to know why these words are assigned to a marker to these 5th great-grandparents of mine.

The all-knowing Google could only point me in the direction of an obscure 19th century America poet by the name of Fitz-Greene Halleck.

Halleck was something of a mover and shaker in early American publishing circles in New York. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe.

A New York Times article described his poetic works as “ranging from the incomprehensible to the awful”. Yet there Halleck is, immortalized on the great Literary Walk of Central Park with William Shakespeare, Walter Scott and Robert Burns.

His one claim to poetic greatness comes from a work he penned for another poet, Joseph Rodman Drake, when Drake died. This poem made Halleck’s name widely known in the 19th century:

Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.

Tears fell, when thou wert dying,
From eyes unused to weep,
And long where thou art lying,
Will tears the cold turf steep.

When hearts, who truth was proven,
Like thine, are laid in earth,
There should a wreath be woven
To tell the world their worth;

And I, who woke each morrow
To clasp thy hand in mine,
Who shared thy joy and sorrow,
Whose weal and woe were thine.

It should be mine to braid it,
Around thy faded brow,
But I’ve in vain essayed it,
And feel I can not now.

While memory bids me weep thee,
Nor thoughts nor words are free,
The grief is fixed too deeply
That mourns a man like thee.

I have pondered all week why the Daughters of Utah Pioneers would put those words on that monument above the graves of the Findleys.

I have shared the history of the Findleys before in telling the story of Ann Westover, her brother William, Jr. and his wife, Sarah.

But I’ve not said much about their parents, William Sr. and Linzey, because there is honestly little known there to share.

I have a feeling it is the story of a great love between two people. It is clearly a story of tremendous sacrifice. And it is certainly a story that has never been told nor rightfully recognized.

William Sr. was a Scot, a coal miner and quite nearly an old man when he pushed the family handcart with Linzey and Ann to Utah in 1856.

He was 47 years old that year and he would spend the last 30 years of his life toiling on the farm in Mendon in obscurity.

The town of Mendon has a plaque honoring the founding families of the city near the town square and the Findley name is on it. But that is a reference to William Findley Jr, who came to Mendon in 1859 and claimed some of the best farm land there to be found.

It was William Findley Jr who was well known in the community. He was the one with the impressive team of 12 champion horses. It was William Jr who on the High Council. It was William Jr. the journals of visiting Church authorities would mention as a leader in the Mendon Ward.

William Sr. and Linzey settled next door to William Jr. and Sarah.

When William Jr. unexpectedly died in 1869 it was William Sr. who sent for daughter Ann.

We know William Sr. was faithful. He appears on the records of the Mendon Ward in various activities all the way until about a month or so before his passing in 1887.

When Ann received her patriarchal blessing it was mentioned that William Sr. had just previously given Ann a father’s blessing, and was standing in with the Patriarch as Ann received her patriarchal blessing.

There can be no doubt of how close Ann Westover was to her parents. She named her first son William.

When she came to Mendon it was to help William, Jr.’s widow – Sarah, and her children – but she lived in the home and on the farm of her parents next door.

Their place, in time, became “Sister Westover’s house”, where the school children would pass each day and stop for cookies and storytelling.

Throughout all this drama the steady influence and presence of William Sr. and Linzey is evident – but never mentioned.

We know that Linzey was a beloved Matriarch. Generations of granddaughters after her carry her name. We know the little iron that Sarah carried beneath her skirts across the plains has been passed down in the decades since only to daughters named Lindsay.

Yet no stories or known written history of William, Sr. and Linzey Findley exist.

“None named thee but to praise”, indeed.

These honored and beloved pioneers are not the only ones of their generation whose true stories are not really known.

Alexander Westover – Edwin’s father – is practically unknown as a man. His wife, Electa, we have a little more about but she too lived a life of incredible loneliness and sacrifice.

David Rowe and his wife, Hannah – grandparents to Ruth Althea Rowe Westover – were of this generation as well.

Their son William’s stories of service in the Mormon Battalion and great spiritual experiences are documented well. But the stories of conversion and sacrifice for David and Hannah are not known or remembered.

Levi Murdock, and his wife Elizabeth, are significant figures in the settlement of the north Ogden area of Utah. But they were considered among the oldest and wisest of Mormon pioneer families yet they left behind no family records, relying on their history to be recorded in the journals of others.

David Smith and his companion, Deborah Alden – parents to Albert Smith, are better remembered not for their own history but for their distant heritage among the pilgrim and puritan settlers of New England.

Grandma Sophie’s parents – Johan Frederick and Sophie Catrine – have no known history. Perhaps all the records from Denmark are yet to be found.

From the Humble side of the family we do know a little more of those of this generation. George and Mary Ann came over from England in about 1850. But while we know their travels a lot more could be known of their story.

We do have a few from this generation whose stories we know.

Notably we know the stories of Gardner Snow, Horace Roberts and of Elam Cheney. These are all notable characters in early LDS history. But without outside record keeping from Church events we might not know anything about them at all.

I think of this generation as unheralded because they were truly the first to push westward. They may have first settled in places like Indiana, Ohio and Illinois before pressing forward towards Utah but they aren’t celebrated for that.

They were, if truth be told, pioneers to many of those WE consider to be pioneers.

So I find the DUP marker between William and Linzey in Mendon to be quite appropriate in its sentiment.

But I hope to one day make that sentiment obsolete. Their story should be discovered, shared and celebrated. They were, by all evidence, greatly devoted to family and grandparents I would be proud to know.

Kim Westover

Great Beards in Family History

Facial hair is not prolific in our family lines.

It may be all the missionaries and school teachers we have had over the years or perhaps it just that the manly art of beards and mustaches just isn’t in our gene pool.

But on a recent perusal of the gallery feature at FamilySearch.org I began to notice not only that we DO have some beards we actually have some EPIC beards — you know, hall of fame stuff — when it comes to facial hair.

Take, for example, this very modern-looking beard from William Rowe:

William Rowe

William is the father of Ruth Althea Rowe. He was a member of the Mormon Battalion as well as one of the founding fathers of the town of Mendon, Utah. He had a huge influence on William Westover and it appears he kept his beard for the majority of his adult life. It is not known when this photo was taken but I suspect it dates from about the 1860s.

So many of these pictures feature older men with beards. Not this one. Here is Uncle Loris, from about 1943, with a young man’s beard for sure. He is in uniform here so I think there is a story to this image and this beard that maybe someone out there knows:

Loris Westover

The first of the Riggs family to join the Church was William Sears Riggs. He too sported a beard most of his adult life but this later-in-life image is my favorite his epic beard:

William Sears Riggs

He was one of many who headed west for the gold fields in California, but he came west with an LDS wagon train in 1850. He was convinced to wait the winter months out in Utah before pressing on to the gold mines. He ended up staying, joining the Church and raising a family in Utah.

His story isn’t quite as dramatic as the story of Samuel Barnhurst (told in this post). Here is Samuel and his fine beard from about 1870:

Samuel Barnhurst

Samuel, of course, is father of Priscilla Barnhurst, who is the mother of the man sporting this more subtle beard:

Will Riggs

This is my great-grandpa Riggs and I know many who just love this picture of him. The hat always gets the first comment but honestly the mustache and the soul-patch on his chin just complete the look altogether. This is one of those pictures I would love to know the story behind. When was it taken, what’s up with that hat and why didn’t he keep the trendy facial hair?

Next up and sporting the under-the-chin beard variety is the very famous, Horace Roberts:

Horace Roberts

Horace Roberts learned the art of pottery and dish making from his father — in Illinois. When he joined the Church he was asked by the Prophet Joseph to open a pottery shop in Nauvoo, and he did. Later Brigham asked him to do the same in Provo. Due to his craft he was a very well known individual. He was also father to Jane Cecelia Roberts, who was a wife to this guy:

James C. Snow

James Chauncey Snow was a son of Garner Snow, who you’ve read about here on WFH, who joined the Church in 1833. James would have a prolific career in the Church, serving as a missionary and later in several leadership positions. He was also involved in local and state politics. When he died he was buried in Manti, which just happens to be the home of this man:

Albert Smith

Rockin’ the Amish style beard is Albert Smith, whose story will be told soon in an upcoming video. Albert too was a member of the Mormon Battalion and later a founder of the city of Manti, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was there so long and was so beloved in that community that for decades it seemed “Father Smith” spoke at every civic 4th of July and Pioneer Day celebration in Manti.

Rounding out our review of epic beards is a turn to the 21st century and my cousin, Kim Westover.

Kim Westover

This epic shot of this iconic beard reminds many of Hemingway and while I get that what I really see is a man with profound love for family and heritage. He knows well all the men above, as well as many others, and leads the family not only with occasional facial hair but in a unifying spirit, a great disposition, and a generous nature.

I hope I haven’t left anyone out. If you have any other great beards from our family past to share, please send them in!