Family in the Cemetery

Family in the Cemetery

The passing of Maureen Westover this month came as a sudden shock, as sometimes can happen.

This past week her funeral was held as family from all over the country gathered together physically and virtually to celebrate her life. There an incredible story was told.

Her story is not over. And another story is emerging that I believe is of great significance and huge value to anyone calling themselves family – especially for Maureen’s children and grandchildren.

As I write this there are seven vehicles carrying a large number of those so important to Maureen from California to Idaho for her burial.

Maureen is a native Californian with roots in the Bay Area. There she and Gale raised their children. For them, California has been the scene of so much life and family history.

But Rexburg is where Maureen, and I assume that someday, Gale, will rest.

I’m sure that was not the original plan. I’m certain the strange politics and expense of California has something to do with it.

Those details aside, I see the coming of a new story to the cemetery in Rexburg as a continuation of an old story. I pray the real significance of this is not lost of those of Maureen’s children and grandchildren left behind.

I hope they all come to understand that this is actually a blessing and, I believe, an answer to prayers given by one of our grandfathers many, many years ago.

The Rexburg cemetery resides on land that once belonged to family members. I believe we have shared this story before but I will recount it here again briefly.

A man by the name of Walter Paul came to Utah with his father, who was a rather well-known furniture maker. Walter and his brothers all learned that trade and when Walter married and started raising a family with his first wife he moved to Logan, Utah where he opened a furniture store.

Years later, after many children were born to him and his wife and after his furniture business had prospered, Walter’s wife suddenly passed away. Given that they had many children and several of them were quite young, Walter needed to remarry and he chose a young bride by the name of Emma Westover, of Mendon, Utah.

Emma was actually close in age to one of Walter’s oldest daughters and they were, in fact, good friends. But Emma was not a plural wife.

It was their intent to have children of their own – and to build a new life. Before long, Walter was asked to join a group of local men in Cache Valley who were assigned to settle the Rexburg area.

Walter opened a new store in the frontier town of Rexburg and, in fact, took on many roles within the community. He was a constable, very active in church leadership, a frequent host and producer of local plays in the theater and a justice of the peace. He was, conveniently, also the town undertaker and the primary source of caskets.

Walter and Emma, like everyone else in Rexburg in the 1880s staked a claim under the Homestead Act. This famous legislation provided them with at least 40 acres for free if they developed it and made it productive within five years.

This was a daunting task for Walter because building a house and managing a farm was a lot of work on top of all his other duties.

In fact, he decided he couldn’t do it and would “quarter” his claim. That meant dividing his property into four equal parts and having others develop the land for him. This was evidently a common practice, especially for men in Walter’s kind of situation.

One quarter of the land went to a local that Walter wanted to help. Another quarter went to his brother in law, our great grandfather William Westover, father to Arnold who was the father of Darrell – Grandpa to Gale and Maureen’s children.

William’s story is one we should all get to know.

The opportunity for him and his young bride, Ruth, in the 1880s to get some land that could be their own to raise a family on was significant to William. He wanted something lasting that he could give to his children. That was something his father could not do for him and something his father had never had himself.

So, William and Ruth went to work and it was brutally hard. Harsh winters, dry summers and the swampland that became the Westover Ranch was not an easy project to develop. Their poverty was severe.

As their children were born and they fought the challenges and disease of the time, they also had to contend with a struggling local economy that was devasted by a lingering depression during the 1890s.

That same depression devastated the finances of Walter and Emma Paul.

They went into bankruptcy and it was complicated.

Sadly, the finances of Walter Paul directly affected the hopes of William and Ruth and they stood to lose all they had invested and could do nothing about it.

But Walter was an influential man who could see no good in everyone losing everything in Rexburg and having to walk away.

With others, he worked with federal regulators to not only save the land but the entire community that was on the brink of becoming a ghost town.

In the end one of Walter’s quarters would be “donated” to become the community cemetery.

William and Ruth could claim the land they had already been working for years and could press forward by starting over – and agreeing to a payment arrangement.

When this arrangement was made there was no way William Westover could know that he was sick with a cancer that would prematurely take his life.

But when he found out, he re-doubled his efforts to make the farm produce and to pay it off before he passed.

He barely made it.

Within weeks of his death he cleared the debt and secured the land for his family – all that he could leave for his children and grandchildren. He was only 42.

Those children of William and Ruth, as well as the generation of their grandchildren, never had an easy life in Rexburg.

But it was home to them. It was precious. It reflected the dying wish of a father and grandfather who wanted permanence of his family for generations.

The Westover Ranch has a difficult and interesting story. Very few of us of my generation and beyond have the connection that our grandparents have to the place.

But it has survived thanks to their vision.

Now the cemetery will begin to see new generations laid to rest there.

I do not see Maureen’s burial there as a thing of necessity. I see it as a miracle of connection. I believe it begins a new tradition of coming home that perhaps is something our grandparents never considered.

I cannot help but think that William and Ruth are pleased.

This land is not what is important. The family with this land is what is important.

The Westover and Paul roots in Rexburg should be honored for their sacrifices during their years there. I can think of no better way than coming home to rest when times like this come.

As I have traveled the cemeteries where we find our grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins it has given me great pause for where I will someday be buried.

I think in most cases folks are buried wherever it is they made their home, and that’s okay.

But to come home where home was originally built is a thing of honor and, oddly for me, something of security. It adds to the permanence Grandpa William was seeking.

I hope when Maureen is buried there that some time is taken to consider all the Westovers and Pauls already buried in that rural resting place. In the years to come when Maureen’s children and grandchildren come to visit and tell her story I pray they will look around. There are stories aplenty there to learn. Adding Maureen’s story there only enriches the heritage of the family going forward.

I hope other members of the family consider that sacred place for themselves.

They will add to an already great story, too.

Zena A Westover

Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping

While researching for another project I found myself on the Library of Congress website. It is the kind of online repository I can get lost in forever. There are just so many items of interest.

While there it occurred to me that perhaps I could find items of interest related to Family History. I was expecting to find photos of places. Instead I found this gem – copies of sheet music published in 1920. The song is called “Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping”. The words to this song were written by Aunt Zena. As I marveled at the discovery my mind raced: Is this our Zena A. Westover?

Going to Zena’s history on Family Search confirmed it. Sure enough, it says “Another talent she had was to write poetry. She had a song published “Somewhere Daddy Is Sleeping” about a soldier killed in the first world war.”

This is exactly the kind of detail I love discovering about our ancestors. What insight!

Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping

Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping

Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping

PDF of the sheet music for Somewhere Daddy is Sleeping

Zena A Westover

Taken around 1908 this is Zena, on the right, with her sister Myrtle (on the left), with their sheep (in the middle)

The Loyalists of Sheffield

Family history has changed the Fourth of July for me.

The grand holiday we call Independence Day has always been filled with the celebration of liberty. We put up the flag, planned festive physical activities and lit the night sky with fireworks every year as we contemplated the brave men and women of the revolutionary era.

But learning where our Westover family was and what they thought has brought sobering reality to our festive day. The Westover’s of the revolutionary era were conflicted.

Jonathan Westover, son of Jonas and Hannah Westover, and brother to Jonas Jr, was among the founding members of what was then the American Frontier in the 1720s. He settled and raised the orphaned youngest sons – John, Nathaniel and Jonah III – in the beautiful Berkshires in a place that would become known as Sheffield.

Sheffield, Massachusetts

The little town of Sheffield has about 3000 residents – not much more than during the times of the American Revolution.

John, Nathaniel and Jonah III would settle this fertile country and contribute to the new town in various ways.

Nathaniel was the oldest of these surviving siblings. He built his home on the road that led through Sheffield from Albany to Boston. It became a popular place, known as Nathaniel Westover’s Inn – a tavern.

From this base Nathaniel Westover served the town in various capacities, including town surveyor, constable, bark measurer, tythingman, surveyor of highways and member of both the school and bridge committees. He and his wife Mary Eno raised a family of 14 children.

Westover Bacon Potts Farm

The home built by Jonah Westover III in Sheffield.

Jonah III married Deborah Eno, who was sister to Nathaniel’s wife Mary. They had 9 children. Jonah is known now for building the home that still stands today that is known as the Westover Bacon Potts home in Sheffield. He was a farmer whose history is less known than the history of his brothers.

John, from whom our Westover line descends, is perhaps better remembered than most due to his position with the local branch of the Church of England in Sheffield.

Sheffield Church

This is a drawing of the church where John Westover served as clerk of the church.

He married Rachel Morton and they had 10 children. John’s position as clerk of the church tells us a lot about him. He was respected and well-known in Sheffield. And he was no doubt a loyalist.

Being a loyalist in Massachusetts in the mid-18th century was not an unusual thing.

In fact, the more you dig into the debates of the age the more one realizes that our grade-school learning of the American Revolution was very one-sided.

The sons of John and Rachel Westover teach us this lesson. These six sons were born between the years 1739 and 1753 – meaning they all came of age just as the American Revolution was beginning.

The records show most of them served at one time in local militias in support of the Colonies.

But the record also shows that several among them could hardly be called “patriots”, at least as they were so labeled at the time.

In May of 1775 at least three of these brothers were sought out by a committee in the little town of Sheffield – John Westover Jr (b. 1739), Job Westover (b. 1742) and their younger brother, Noah (b. 1751).

It was called the Committee of Observation for the Town of Sheffield.

The record states, “Complaint being made to this Committee that John Westover, Job Westover, and Noah Westover, had, in various instances, contravened the doings and Resolutions of the General and Provincial Congresses; and that the said John, Job, and Noah, were enemies of American liberty…”

How did things get to this point?

Sheffield is located about as far west and south of Boston as a place could possibly get in Massachusetts. But the events of Boston, of Concord and Lexington, were well known and debated in Sheffield.

In 1773 several prominent citizens in Sheffield drafted the Sheffield Declaration, also known as the Sheffield Resolves.

The first resolution of this document stated a now-familiar sentiment: “Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property…”

On July 6, 1774, 60 delegates met at a convention in near-by Stockbridge and endorsed a “league and covenant” to boycott all British goods and merchants who sold them.

These resolutions were clear to communicate their loyalty to the sovereignty of the king, but firmly insisted that “the inhabitants of his Majesty’s colonies in America are justly entitled to all of the rights and liberties that the inhabitants of Great Britain are entitled to,” and pledged to face existing violations of these rights through economic action.

The growing appetite for revolutionary action spurred an upheaval in the local political structure in Pittsfield, where Tory leanings were found predominantly among the families of its earliest settlers and included some of its prominent leaders.

For logical reasons, those wealthy in land and property tended to fear the outcome of agitation against the crown more than did the majority of families at the time.

In fact, it was through the political orchestrations of one local attorney, Woodbridge Little, that local towns had passed a resolution chiding the illegal actions taken by parties involved in the Boston Tea Party.

Clearly the entire populace was conflicted and apparently the Westover sons of John and Rachel got caught up in it. The Committee wanted to deal with John, Job and Noah Westover.

The Committee said “John hath affirmed that the late Continental Congress, in their doings, were guilty of rebellion against the King.”

They complained that “Job hath affirmed that the Parliament of Great Britain had a right to tax the American; and that each of them had said many things disrespectful of the said Congress, and the Provincial Congresses.”

Curiously, the Committee never mentions Noah Westover again. Why? Well, they couldn’t find him. He had gone into hiding. But they were able to bring in John and Job to be questioned.

To both men was posed this question: If an engagement should unfortunately happen between the British and American Armies, which they would choose should prevail?

John Westover candidly admitted it was a difficult question and he could not give a direct answer to it.

Job was more forthcoming: “…he supposed the consequences of a victory on the side of the American Army would be more prejudicial to this Country than the contrary.”

After this, John “voluntarily and solemnly engaged, that at no time hereafter will he do any thing detrimental to the cause…”

Job remained silent.

The committee voted and declared John Westover’s declaration satisfactory.

But of Job they unanimously labeled him an “enemy of American liberty and that it is the duty of all those who wish well to the cause of freedom, from henceforth to break off all dealings with the said Job.”

John’s history documents his service to the Colonial cause serving both in 1776 and again in 1777 with Colonel John Ashley’s regiment. (Ashley was a local leader who was vociferous in the fight against England).

Job Westover served in a like fashion, with the same units.

Curiously, when it was over, John with his brother Moses headed north to Canada, where the king was bestowing land grants to loyalists. John’s children all resided in the Canada the rest of their lives and grew that branch of the family there.

But Job stayed in Sheffield, living until 1813. It was his son, Job Jr, who pioneered Missouri and raise a large branch of the family that still prospers there. Another son, Calvin, headed to Minnesota and raised a large family as well.

Grave of Job Westover of Sheffield

This is the headstone over the grave of Job Westover in a Sheffield cemetery.

Younger brother Noah also survived the war. In fact, in 1775 in the middle of it he got married. He too stayed in Massachusetts to raise a family and lived a long life, dying in 1834 in Hartford, Connecticut.

The youngest of the six sons of John and Rachel Westover was Amos, our grandfather. Though born in 1753 he was definitely of age during the Revolution. But no known records exist showing military service for Amos.

Like Noah, he married during the Revolution. But most of his children would be born in Sheffield until about 20 years later, when he tried to settle near his brothers who had moved to Canada. But Amos was clearly not possessed of the sentiments of any of his brothers.

Was Amos a patriot…or a loyalist? That fact is lost to history.

What is not lost is that the children of John and Rachel Westover survived the American Revolution. Whatever their feelings and political leanings were gave way to industrious lives that contributed to the building of not one but two nations.

Their children would live to thrive under the banner of liberty. That is still something to celebrate.

Shay's Rebellion

After the Revolution the conflict was not quite over in Sheffield. It was the site of Shay’s Rebellion, a famous skirmish led by a local farmer, Daniel Shay, to contest heavy taxes by the newly formed State of Massachusetts.

Mum Bett

“Mum Bett” was the first woman to be declared free from slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. That document joined the Declaration of Independence in declaring: “All men are born free and equal.”
In 1781, with mere months left in the American Revolution, Mum Bett decided to put those words to the test—in court. It couldn’t have been easy. Her owner, Colonel John Ashley, was a powerful judge in Sheffield, Massachusetts and the leader of the local militia, under whom the Westover boys served during the Revolution.

Westover Family Tree

Our Family Tree

I believe now will be a good time to introduce a significant new feature to our website, one that has been requested and worked on for some time. It is our family tree.

What many folks want is a visual. They want to be able to understand how they connect to all the individuals we talk about.

That’s actually a pretty tall order and one I have frankly tried to avoid for a long time. It’s so very complex.

Most places you go online – such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org – are really limited in showing information of the living. We get why that is. The issues of privacy are complex.

Complicating that is the fact that logging in and keeping a password for any site is just plain problematic for some folks (well, everyone).

What has been requested is a way to have a tree that shows the living and yet doesn’t require a login or password.

Well, we think we have found a way. You can access our family tree at this link.

Please understand that this is a work in progress and it will always be a work in progress. We’re also attempting to include all of our many branches. This is not just Westovers alone.

We are also very focused on grafting in the ancient branches of the family – or at least those we can find within the past 500 years.

That means we are in active pursuit of the Canadian Westover lines, the Michigan Westovers, the Missouri Westovers, etc. – and we want ALL of them on the tree.

We cannot do this alone.

We know there are a lot of skill levels to this and we’re wanting to connect and work with them all.

If you have resources, especially pertaining to connected branches of the family so far not represented on the tree, we’d love to converse and, if possible, get a GEDCOM file of your current data for those missing lines.

The tree presently has about 33,000 names and more than 13,000 family groups. And that’s nothing. There are literally MILLIONS of us.

The living are very important. The Edwin Westover Family Project is a good example. We just want to know how many living descendants Edwin has and who they are. We feel that if we can find them and list them we can better share his story (and thus OUR story).

But it doesn’t end with Edwin. In fact, we want as many living family members as we can find.

We do not need any private information for the living. We just want a photo and a name. That’s it.

Here is an example of a living individual – one of my daughters, Allie. This shows only basic information about her family and her connection to me and thus to all our ancestors.

In fact, our tree is set up to showcase both the ancestors and descendants of any individual. Explore the menus a little bit, you’ll see.

And that is our primary goal: to make it possible to see how we are all connected – whether you’re on a computer, a phone or a tablet.

As with any family tree, this project will take time and effort. It will get better with time and the effort it takes to fill it out.

While we really want GEDCOM files of all our many branches we desire more to get the stories, photos and journals of as many as possible. We will work with anyone to help get that information on the site. It may take a while to achieve it but we will achieve it.

My big fear in putting this feature out there is that we will get bombarded with comments like “It’s wrong! You have my information wrong! Stuff is missing! You mangled my grandma! Where’s Uncle LeRoy? This sucks!”

We KNOW some of this wrong. We know it is incomplete. Please just help us get it right.

To begin, please see this page about what the tree is or is not (if the info above doesn’t explain it enough for you).

Then see our use and contribution policy. It contains a form where you can submit information you may want added to the tree.

Then point your folks here and have them see how they connect. Invite them to contribute or suggest. The more involved we all get the better the tree becomes.

Finally, I want to once again caution you about the many resources found online related to family history.

Any resource online – Family Search, Ancestry, even Westover Family History – is only temporary. EVER. Don’t think it will be there forever and never think it is absolute. Someone’s always messing with it.

You need to be keeping your own separate records.

You need to gather and preserve information for your own children and grandchildren. You need to have a standalone organized library of information that you have put together featuring your own research blood, sweat and tears.

That’s a lot of work and so daunting. Some have issues using computers. Others just do not see the time required to do these things. Some just rely on others to get it done. Most just don’t know where or how to begin.

We get that. We have all been there.

Whatever your excuse, please get over it.

The only way is to just jump into the pool and to take the sting of the cold water. Every journey begins with a step. There are lots around to help you and that’s all we’re offering.

It can be done if that is your true desire.

Please also recognize there are a lot of ways to bring your own talents and knowledge to the table besides working the project of researching and recording names and dates.

You can help catalog pictures, for example. We need all kinds of help organizing and identifying people in pictures.

You can write histories – really, just memories of your experiences with family members and those things you can remember. It doesn’t have to be a thesis or school paper. Just talk.

You don’t even have to write them anymore. Even recording them into your phone and passing along that recording would do.

You can be a family history reviewer – where you read and submit corrections to written histories of the past.

You can simply video yourself telling stories to your grandchildren.

There are lots of ways of doing family history and they all can now come back to the tree. Everyone putting in stuff makes the tree stronger.

I’m excited for this feature and I’m terrified by it. I hope you will consider becoming a part of it.