Patriarchal Blessing

The Blessings of Patriarchal Blessings

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can receive what is known as a Patriarchal Blessing.

Such an event in the life of a faithful member is of a very personal nature and is sacred. The patriarchal blessing declares lineage, making it an object of family history value dating back to Adam.

The “blessings of Abraham” actually date back Biblically to Adam through his son Seth. “From Adam to Seth, who was ordained by Adam at the age of sixty-nine years, and was blessed by him three years previous to his (Adam’s) death, and received the promise of God by his father, that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth.” (D&C 107:41-42)

Abraham was a descendent of Seth and is celebrated as the “father of many nations”. Thus, Abraham is honored by many world faiths. For Latter-day Saints, a patriarchal blessing is a link to the sacred work of gathering Israel – that is, the names and histories of loved ones so they can be identified in sacred temple ordinances.

As with all things spiritual, a patriarchal blessing is a multifaceted gift – ancient in historical ties, while being very personal in nature. A patriarchal blessing is considered prophetic, giving the recipient counsel on their spiritual eternal path of development as a son or daughter of God.

The Church in recent years has digitized their library of patriarchal blessings and made them available to Church members who want to read the patriarchal blessings of their ancestors.

They connect the data from Family Search to import as many of these recorded blessings into the accounts of Church members.

We need only log in to our Church account to review them. While the Church has long made access to the blessings of ancestors it used to take time to research if such a blessing existed and even longer, if found, for it to be digitized.

Ten years ago I had maybe a handful of such records. Now, with the acceleration of digitization work done by FamilySearch, I have 57 blessings available to me (some ancestors received more than one blessing).

Patriarchal blessings contain insights into the character and history of those who receive them. They are of inestimable value to family researchers.

Below are insights I’ve gained in reading the blessings given to some of my beloved ancestors.

~ Maurine Riggs Westover ~

Maurine RiggsMy grandmother, Maurine Riggs Westover, is remembered by many still living but with her passing now close to 40 years in the past the pool of those who recall personal interactions with her is dwindling fast.

I am grateful to have a copy of her patriarchal blessing for my children and grandchildren to review.

While her record is considerable, and we have many photos and videos to remember her by, the nature of her personality is something I don’t want lost.

Her blessing, given to her by a patriarch named Brigham Jensen sometime before she married my grandfather, details things that speak to her later life of which I can testify. She was told in her blessing:

“…You shall be able to obtain many names of your ancestry, some who have died hundreds of years ago. They’re watching you, waiting for you, praying for you, that you may be an instrument in the hands of the Lord. Many of them have been converted to the truthfulness of the gospel in the spirit world and when you have accomplished this labor, they will rise up and call you blessed…”

I wonder how this statement looked to Grandma when she first read it when she received it as a young woman. This was in the mid-1930s.

Knowing how Grandma’s life ended up means knowing the literal fulfillment of that prophetic statement. I can recall talking with Grandma about her family history research and in my treasure room I have a small box of papers showing some of the work she and Grandpa did in the 1970s trying to locate records of ancestors in distant places.

I can also recall, with great clarity, the time Grandma came to Salt Lake City in 1986 to visit the Family History Library, which had recently been opened.

She was quite excited to show me how to locate records on microfilm, how to put it into a film reader and how to copy information from the film to my personal records.
This was all thoroughly modern at the time and I wonder what she would think of our day today with the billions of records literally at our finger tips in the flash of an eye.

Was Grandma’s blessing an influence on her pioneering work in family history? I believe it was.

She was spiritually convicted of its importance and, along side my grandfather, she went after it with her whole soul.

I also believe that when she did pass those ancestors she found and did the work for were there to express their love for her and the work that she did.

~ Mary Ann Humble Smith ~

Mary Ann Humble Smith

I recently shared this fantastic image showing four generations of women – Olive Mehitable Cheney born in 1855; her daughter, Mary Ann Humble Smith born in 1870; her granddaughter, Olive Zenola Smith Westover born in 1892, and her great-granddaughter, Edna Olive Westover Kortright, born in 1913.

It is interesting in my mind to contemplate the personal history of Mary Ann Humble Smith up to the date this picture was taken in 1914.

She was the oldest of 12 children born of her parents, George Anthony and Olive Humble.

Mary Ann was born at a time when plural marriage had peaked in Utah. By the time she came of age many engaged in the practice had endured years of hiding from federal marshals looking to prosecute for “co-habitation”.

In 1887, at the age of 17, she became the plural wife of Clark James Brinkerhoff, a man who had already married some 8 years before.

The circumstances of their courtship is not shared in either the history of Clark or Mary Ann. He was called on a mission shortly after they married and he was gone when their son George was born in December of 1888.

It is important to note that histories of both Mary Ann and Clark declare them to be good faithful people. There appears to have been no complaint between them and, individually, they lived good productive lives.

Upon return from his mission Clark moved with his first wife and family to Colorado.

While he provided well for Mary Ann and baby George he rarely saw them. In 1891 Mary Ann sought and received a divorce through the 1st Presidency of the Church and it was granted.

Of course, we know the rest of her story, thanks to histories written by her children.

In time she would marry a widower by the name of Albert Smith Jr and they would raise a large and faithful family.

Albert Smith Jr’s history details more about their love story. Albert Jr was married and lost his young wife after the birth of their 2nd son.

He took his young boys to his sister, who lived in Huntington, Utah, and who was a neighbor to Mary Ann Humble and her little boy, George.

Albert Jr visited Huntington often to see his children.

On one such visit he saw Mary Ann out chopping wood and offered to help her. This started a friendship which turned into a courtship and they later married.

Years later, in 1904, after the birth of six more of her children and many pioneering trials in the remote places in which they lived, Mary Ann Humble Smith sought out a patriarchal blessing.

The language of this patriarchal blessing has become sacred to me.

I, of course, never met this 2nd great-grandmother of mine and, honestly, I had never heard much about her. But a tender history written by her daughters and her patriarchal blessing give me a great desire to meet her and get to know her. She was told:

“…there is power and virtue in the touch of your hands to the healing of the sick and the comforting of the down trodden and there is light and intelligence sparkling in your eyes and your sisters and your friends among whom you labor will recognize the light of the Lord in your countenance…”

Mary Ann Humble Smith would live until 1930 having served family and church in many faithful ways. The record of her life, which includes her patriarchal blessing, makes me want to know her.

~ Kyle Jay Westover ~

I had many conversations with my father about patriarchal blessings.

In his later years I was able to read and share the blessings of those I had been able to gather of our ancestors. Dad had a great love for these records.

But he felt his own blessing was unremarkable.

Upon reading it recently for the first time, I can kind of understand why Dad felt that way. It is brief and quite different in tone compared to the blessing of my Mother or even of his parents. It is only four paragraphs long and was given to my father when he was just 13 years old.

I’m working on my Dad’s history and while I have a great deal of material to work with I feel this brief statement from his blessing will stand out in retrospect:

“…I bless thee to be a man of courage and energy and to be happy all the days of thy life. I bless thee to be successful in thy studies and in the discharge of all thy duties, that you may be prospered in the affairs of thy hand and may be magnified as a man of righteousness in the Church and in the community.”

Was it not so? And what does this statement, and the amen I add to it, speak to our children and grandchildren of my father’s character?

I’m grateful for Dad’s brief blessing.

~ Levi Murdock ~

Levi Murdock

Levi Murdock

I found the grave of Levi Murdock in the massive city cemetery of Ogden, Utah last year with my grandsons. When we go through these old cemeteries looking for graves the boys like it when I can tell the stories of who we are looking for.

All I could tell them about Old Levi was that he was one of the settlers in Ogden and that he was one of the oldest of our Utah pioneer ancestors. Levi was born in 1790, making him well into his 50s before he came to Utah.

The details on his life’s journey are a little sparse, though we know he lost his first wife just after they passed through Nauvoo on their way west, leaving Levi with a family of 8 children to care for.

Levi settled in Northern Utah in Ogden and having been a successful farmer before he set about to use his talents in providing for his family. He did not fail. But over the course of four years between 1850 and 1854 Levi had two patriarchal blessings.

This was not uncommon, though most I have found who received multiple blessings usually did so around major events such as temple dedications. There were no such events for Levi that I can find in the early 1850s that would explain this.

These blessings sometimes give us nuggets of information that cause us to ask more questions.

In the 1852 blessing, given under the hand of John Smith, Patriarch to the Church, we read this bit of information:

“…you have been a child of sorrow, days of vanity and weary some nights have been appointed unto thee. Inasmuch as you have born it patiently and received the law of the most high, and keen and willing to walk in it, the Lord is pleased with the integrity of thine heart and your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. Angels shall minister unto you and turn away thy sorrow…”

What does this mean?

This is an unspoken value in patriarchal blessings. We sometimes learn there is more to the story and our questions pile up.

Unfortunately, Levi’s known history is pretty sparse.

He did marry again in 1849, to Elizabeth Tennant Wade. There is no record of Levi and Elizabeth having children together and likely because she was mother to 14 children all born to Elizabeth with her first husband, who separated from her when she joined the Church.

The record of this Elizabeth’s life is sparse too. Though she is listed in the 1850 and 1860 census records as living with Levi there is very little to suggest they had much of a life together. Levi’s obituary in 1879 never mentions her.

Despite Levi’s fairly high profile as an original Ogden settler and a successful local farm it is from these two patriarchal blessings that we learn much of anything personal about him. I’m grateful for that and hope the clues these blessings provide will eventually lead us to more of his history.

~ Leon Arnold Westover ~

My grandfather, Leon Westover, remains to this day something of an enigma to some. He was a complex man.

Of course, he was my grandfather and I was blessed to know him when I was a child and when I was a young adult. I have stories. I remember conversations. I have stuff that allows me to keep his memory in my life.

In this article I have shared details of some who were close to him. Mary Ann Humble Smith was his grandmother. My dad was his son. Maurine Riggs, his wife. Levi Murdock was a great grandfather.

In all these people and others unmentioned I see influences that help me come to understand my complex grandfather better.

His patriarchal blessing is a treasure to me, too. I encourage especially my cousins born after Grandpa died and my children and grandchildren to begin their exploration of his life with his patriarchal blessing. I believe it focuses rather sharply many of the details that make up the memories of Grandpa being a “complicated man”.

He received his blessing at the hand of Alma B. Larsen in 1935. He was told in his blessing:

“…It shall be your privilege, Leon, to become a spiritual teacher among the children of men for your success and happiness shall not be found in the gathering of gold or silver but in the service of the Lord…”

This telling statement was absolutely true. Grandpa was a brilliant man, a man of math and science. He was prudent with money and tried his hand at investing. But that wasn’t his gift.

Another passage in his blessing tells more of his story, which I tell you came to pass almost exactly as it is spoken here:

“…Your life shall be made rich and your labors shall be crowned with success for you shall be called to responsible positions and it shall be your privilege to sit in the councils of the church and plan and arrange the activities of both the young and the old and thru your influence many shall be brought into active service that other wise would fall by the wayside for you have been blessed with executive ability and the spirit of leadership shall be given you…”

Grandpa never served as a Bishop or a Stake president to my knowledge. But he served in ward and stake councils, headed up countless projects, served missions and worked in the temple. His life was marked by continual service and his counsel was frequently sought after.

Grandpa’s entire history is yet to be written and I hope to be a participant in that. He deserves to be remembered for his complexities for sure but more so for the many quiet ways he served, especially with wisdom and foresight.

His blessing is just a foreshadow of what will be written in that history. Please remember that.

~ Susanne Catherine Begich ~

Susanne C. BegichIt occurs to me that of the people I’ve talked about above all of them I either knew or come from my father’s family, which of course makes the most sense, because my father’s heritage on both side are very LDS.

Of those 57 blessings one is not a Westover or a Humble or a Smith or a Riggs – it’s my mother’s blessing.

Her case is interesting because Mom was a convert and one of the only members of the Church in her family. Thus, her blessing is the only one I have access to from her family.

What can I learn from my Mom’s patriarchal blessing? Much. A lot. A ton. And it’s humbling.

Mother converted to the Church just after meeting my father and graduating from high school.

She had a rather dramatic spiritual experience during her conversion and was blessed to have several deeply spiritual events throughout her adult life. This, I believe, was one of her spiritual gifts, to enjoy manifestations from the other side.

But Mom did not seek out her patriarchal blessing until 1964 – a year after I was born.

By this time she was mother to three and had a little Church service experience under her belt. Her blessing told her this:

“…I bless you with the true spirit of Elijah that you may be knowledgeable in genealogical work. I bless you as a teacher among mankind in this regard…”

I can only imagine how my then 21-year-old mother took that statement.

At that point in time my Mom was barely even aware of who her grandparents were on either side.

She was an only child. She possessed not only little practical information beyond the names of her grandparents she did not yet have any association with any family members who might have known them.

How was she ever to become an expert in “genealogical work” coming from where she did?

Knowing my Mom, I’m sure she rolled her eyes, and said, “Yeah – right!”

Of course, here we are some 60 years later and we know the rest of her story.

Mother fulfilled that prophetic statement completely and absolutely.

And therein comes the excitement in looking back through the blessings of our ancestors. The Lord knows the end from the beginning.

In the case of my Mom, and many of the others listed above, it falls on me to tell the “rest of the story” as these blessings reveal them.

We must remember that we are engaged in a spiritual cause.

A patriarchal blessing is a spiritual document, a spiritual message and a very personal revelation to those who receive it and to those who use it as a family history research tool.

If approached prayerfully they will reveal much, and aid in moving this great work forward.

Understanding the Ancient Origins Revealed in Big Y DNA Tests

Imagine it: archeologists working an ancient site in Scandinavia uncover the remains of a man found in ruins only recently discovered. They run DNA tests on those remains and determine they date back thousands of years.

They attach that information to a database of collected DNA and with sophisticated software they are able to determine connections to the currently living members of this ancient dude’s family.

For the living, having this genetic information from a family member who lived in a time without records is very valuable.

Even though there is no way to know names or dates from such an ancient family member it can provide clues that can be useful in family history research.

This is the cutting edge of modern DNA family history research. A year ago I took this Big Y test. Here are some of the results I was given:


This image is called a time tree. It shows identified ancient people by location and the approximate dates of their birth.

On the far left is the oldest person they have so far found that I connect to – dating back more than 2800 years.

Further down the timeline we see other individuals that I share DNA with born at other times – and their locations are shown as mostly in England and Ireland.

~ What is Y-DNA? ~

At the urging of a distant cousin far more versed in Y-DNA testing I paid to take this test. It wasn’t cheap – better than $400. But I did it as a direct descendant Westover on our documented paper trail of genealogy because we all want to know more about our family history.

This test, I figured, could help us not only discover ancient roots but also to connect other family members who also engage in DNA testing.

Y-DNA testing looks for the Y-chromosome, which is passed down from father to son. This is a rather constant standard, genetically speaking. It is what allows one to trace ancestry over thousands of years.

While this standard is constant there are limitations to remember: only males can take these tests because only males have a Y-chromosome.

This makes having a testing plan critical. If your research goal is on a particular family line then a male test candidate will need to be recruited from that line in order to benefit from genetic testing.

This is why the distant cousin I referenced above contacted me. He was researching the Westover line and he needed a directly descended Westover to take the test.

~ The Burden of the Science ~

DNA testing of any type is a challenge for anyone researching family history.

In our connected world we have come to expect instant answers.

As family history research has advanced I have become rather amazed at people who think all they have to do is get an account at Family Search or and they will have instant family history answers.

In some cases, that may be true. But it is only because someone in the past has put in the work of compiling and connecting all that ancestral information.

DNA advances the false expectation of instant answers.

Some actually think that if you just spit in a tube the results you get will be formatted with names, dates, stories and pictures.

DNA research is instead a more complicated course.

It’s data and data never lies. But connecting dots and understanding the data to find the names, dates, stories and pictures is actually very difficult and, sometimes, can be fraught with heartbreaking discoveries.

For me, with the first DNA test I took through Ancestry, the initial results were less than helpful. I took the most common DNA test, known as an Autosomal DNA test.

Everyone has autosomal chromosomes. This is what makes taking this DNA test so common and Ancestry claims better than 20 million testers in their database.

That’s just one tidbit of DNA testing everyone needs to remember. The more people testing the more accurate the results are for everyone.

That is because results are compared against each other. The more they get to test the stronger than information becomes. This is what Ancestry reports when you take one of these tests:


This is interesting information, to be sure, but it revealed nothing new to me. I knew all this long before ever taking this test.

A lot of people get overly excited about these kinds of results.

I’ve known people who swore to be Italian claim the test results are faulty because they don’t show any Italian ancestry results. Others seem to take pride in being, say, 25% Italian.

What they fail to understand is that these are merely “Ethnicity Estimates”, the operative word there being “estimates”.

Others are chagrined to learn that years after taking this test their ethnicity estimate changes.

At one time the report shows them being 25% Italian and then years later it shows them only being 9% Italian.

Some opt to take DNA tests from other companies such as 23 and Me or FTDNA. Frequently, those tests show a different result than what Ancestry shows.

What gives? I thought this was science, right?

There’s nothing wrong with the science.

All results are tied to the database of the company they buy the test from. If Ancestry has 20 million testers but another company only has a fraction of that it is reasonable to assume the results are going to look different.

That is why getting DNA testing requires some investment in the science.

One needs to understand just what the test is actually testing for and how big the DNA sample pool might be – and then take the results only as “clues” instead of proof of ancestry.

~ Investing in DNA Research ~

I’m sharing my DNA test results here because I’m not afraid to admit this is all over my head.

The same thing happens to me every time I sit in a presentation attempting to explain DNA. The presenter inevitably ends up being a geeky, overly-excited scientist who slings terms around like everyone works for NASA.

These aren’t normal people.

So let’s just say our purposes here are NOT to be yet another resource for explaining all this stuff. There are plenty of websites out there to do that.

I’ll just say you are going to spend a lot of investment in DNA family history work that goes beyond the money. It takes time to learn and understand this stuff.

But there is value here, depending upon your situation. I know many, especially those who are adopted or who have run into 19th century brick walls, that have overcome hurdles through DNA tests.

But every single one of them have had to take a deep dive into the science and the data to get where they are. Forget about instant answers.

For me, it has taken a year of less than consistent effort to begin to wrap my head around that $400 Y-DNA test.

It will remain a work in progress. It will remain a target to especially help with the long-range family history work beyond that 500-year level. It will, like all family history work, remain an ever-changing, never-finished project.

I welcome feedback. I welcome help. I welcome lots of Tylenol when it comes to this stuff.

I also welcome learning through your experiences with DNA testing. I do encourage testing of all types, even expensive tests like these. Through these tests we help not only ourselves but we can help others with them – both now and in the future.

Edwin's Promise

Edwin’s Promise

Edwin’s Promise is a new video promoting what we have been calling the Edwin Westover Family Project.

When discussing this idea with some cousins several years ago it seemed then – and now, frankly – an impossible task. The work of family history is the gathering of information of our ancestors who have passed on.

But in the case of Edwin Westover, my fourth great-grandfather who lived from 1824-1878, he was given a promise. He was told of a future gathering in which both his ancestors and posterity would attend.

In discussing this with cousins we mused what it would be like to gather the living descendants of Edwin Westover. How many could there be? What are their stories? How have we all added to the legacy of Edwin Westover in 200 years?

As I set out again for Rootstech this year I’m asking these questions anew. I’m hoping that perhaps I might meet even more cousins who might be interested in the Edwin Westover Family Project.

What we’re putting together here is more than just a family reunion. It is a family history event that is unique because we’re trying to learn the extended story of Edwin Westover. We’re a part of it.

We have roughly 18 months to put this together. We want to offer it to those in person and online. All of those details are yet to be worked out but as it comes together we will share through regular updates right here and through as many family channels as we can acquire.

I’m excited for this event. I cannot wait to learn more about my cousins of the 20th and 21st centuries who claim Edwin as an ancestor.

The work of learning how to do family history at Rootstech is one I gladly take up again after three years away due to the pandemic. In years passed I have been able to meet family – almost all exclusively related as well to Edwin – that I did not know previously. Through this website and Rootstech I have met so many wonderful cousins and I cannot wait to meet more.

According to my Rootstech app and, I have more than 45,000 relatives attending Rootstech either in person or online.

So, if you’re there, drop me a text or give me a call at 435-294-9783 – I will be there all three days. I would love to meet with you, take a photo and exchange contact information.

With each contact we make we take another step forward in fulfilling Edwin’s Promise.

Ancestor Christmas Tree

My Ancestor Christmas Tree

As a year-round Christmas enthusiast the Christmas tree has long been more than just a seasonal thing for me. In fact, when the season comes around I famously put up several trees in our home. I just love them.

A few years back one of my friends in the Christmas community featured in an episode her podcast the idea of an Ancestor Christmas tree. It was a thought that immediately resonated with me and after hearing it I decided to put up an Ancestor Christmas tree as soon as I could.

Well, life got in the way. And it wasn’t until this year after my dear wife expressed a desire for a new flocked tree that I made up my mind to do it.

On a whim, shortly after Thanksgiving, I quickly ordered some prints made of about 50 collected ancestor photos. Then I ordered a number and variety of photo ornaments and within a week or so I had enough to get started on my Ancestor Christmas tree.

As it started to come together I was kind of surprised at how I felt about it all.

Ancestor Christmas Tree

The ornaments are all ordinary and yet completely unique. Each one features a smiling face and a different story.

As we trimmed pictures, assembled the ornaments and hung them on tree it slowly dawned on me what we were creating with all this: my family’s faces on a tree is the ultimate symbolism of Christmas.

The Christmas tree, you see, is celebrated around the world. People with and without faith all have Christmas trees. Even those who are not Christian have Christmas trees.

What many do not realize is that the Christmas tree, whether you buy the idea of pagan origins of it or grasp the Martin Luther tale from old Germany, is not just a symbol of Christmas.

The big symbol here is the tree. The size, type, shape or color of the tree hardly matters. It is the tree that makes for the more universal symbol.

The tree has been embraced by world religions for eons as a symbol of eternal life and God’s love. The Bible says there is no greater gift than God’s love.

So to have one of my trees filled with the faces of family suddenly brought the symbolism of it all to mind and it has made for a powerful seasonal statement in our home.

We did discuss this whole thing with a few of our children during the season over phone calls and emails. They teased me, as they often do with my many Christmas and family history pursuits. “What are you going to call it, Dad?” one daughter asked. “The Family HisTree or the AncestTree?”

I can take this kind of teasing. It’s the best sort.

As family and neighbors would come to visit they came and stood before the tree. Looking. Searching. Seeing things no other tree in our home could offer.

It was especially gratifying for me to see my children and grandchildren stop and look.

“Grandpa,” a grandson asked, “Who’s that?”

While it was never my intent to make our Christmas tree an object of family history I am thrilled to have such a question asked.

But even setting all the reactions of others aside I have to admit to my own unexpected reaction to it all. As the tree came together I was overcome.

Gratitude was the first thing I felt. Of course, longing for their presence again, especially in the case of my parents, was unavoidable.

I know every individual on our tree and their stories.

Seeing them as we decorated the tree brought them home to me for Christmas.

I felt the presence of some as I had all these thoughts and never in my life had decorating for Christmas been so personal.

Of course, this will be a tradition going forward. But we’re only beginning to see what we can do.

It became clear, right away, that I need to put names and dates on the back of each ornament.

Likewise, I need to plan for time to tell stories at Christmas as these ornaments are explored.

It will, ironically, become a living Christmas tree. I don’t see that it can ever be “finished” and I don’t see how we can avoid mixing in photos of the living to mingle with the images of the dead.

After all, the overwhelming reaction upon close examination of the images was how much someone from our family past resembles members of our family now.

Another idea that occurs to me is that I need to duplicate these ornaments and give them to our children so they can have their own Ancestor Christmas tree.

It’s a personal and powerful gift of family that is entirely unique.

I look forward to seeing how we can make this new tradition evolve in our home.

Over the years I have slowly added some favorite images of ancestors on the walls of our home. That effort will continue.

But to celebrate them all – both my family and those of my wife – together in one honored spot in our home as a Christmas tree every season is something I view as a gift to myself.

It is a reminder of all those who came before that made our modern life so possible.

It is a connection of sorts too, because they all had Christmas trees once upon a time.

This tree went up just two months after the passing of my father-in-law, Sandy’s Dad, Gary Gillen.

There are three photos of him on our tree – once as a baby, as a young man and as a grown man.

It was a tender thing to remember him this Christmas, knowing how many Christmases of the past we were together.

My Mom, who was an avid Christmas decorator and the creator of so much Christmas magic during my childhood, was present again for Christmas this year.

So too were her parents – all of them. And my Dad too, along with his parents.

We spent this Christmas together.

And we will spend every Christmas together again going forward.

Family history is a gift.


The Place Manti Has in Our Family History

The Deseret News this week featured an article about the Manti Temple, telling this famous story of Brigham Young and Warren S. Snow from 1877:

Standing on the southeast corner of the Manti Utah Temple site, Brigham Young told Warren S. Snow, “Here is the spot where the Prophet Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land for a temple site, and that is the reason why the location is made here, and we can’t move it from this spot.”

This story in recent years has been cast into doubt by bloggers and historians alike who claim there is no official record of this ever happening.

Yet the story is told and retold, as it was in the Deseret News this week. It has been archived in Church publications for decades.

In fact, of all the records kept of the dedication of the Manti temple there is nothing to suggest that anything was “dedicated” before the temple was constructed.

Yet the story persists. Why?

Because it was put forward by Warren S. Snow, not the Church.

Historians have a bone or two to pick with Bishop Snow, Mayor Snow and General Snow, as he was known during his lifetime.

And yes – he is family.

He is one of the many illustrious sons of Gardner Snow, that grand patriarch of the Snow family.

The Snow family started joining the Church in the very early 1830s, and their experiences in Vermont, Kirtland, Far West and later, Nauvoo, led to pioneering the West.

Warren S. Snow is just one part of multiple Snow family members who founded, lived, and played a part in establishing Manti, Utah. Manti, and the temple built there, would over the generations come to play a big part for the Westovers, the Smiths, the Snows, the Riggs and the Quilter families.

Manti has always been and likely will always be a very small and remote place. But it looms large as a home, a gathering place and a sacred ground for many we call family.

To fully understand how this came to be we need to tell some stories of those early Manti pioneers who helped to make that temple possible.

~ A Little Manti History ~

Chief Walkara, also known as Walker, was born about 1808, along the Spanish Fork River in what is now Utah, one of five sons of a chief of the Timpanogos band.

Chief Wakara

Described as being over six feet tall and extremely strong, he was a successful warrior from a young age. His piercing eyes earned him the nickname “Hawk of the Mountains.”

While there are plenty of stories about his life it must be noted that Wakara was known for both good and bad things. Some historians have called him the most prolific horse stealer in history. Others call him a great peacemaker.

What there is to know about historians, whether the speak of a man like Chief Wakara or a man like Warren Stone, is that historians usually have some point they are trying to make.

I personally believe that history is best told through those who passed through it. In the case of both Wakara and Snow, they left us plenty on their own to think about.

Around the year 1845, before white settlers came to Utah, Chief Wakara had a dream.

This is an account he told that was recorded by a Mormon settler later:

“He died and his spirit went to heaven. He saw the lord s sitting upon a throne dressed in white. The Lord told him he could not stay, he had to return. Walker desired to stay but the Lord told him that he had to return to earth that there would come to him a race of white people that would be his friends and he must treat them kindly.”

When the Mormons did come Chief Walker met in council, along with 12 of his warriors, with Brigham Young and church leaders in the Salt Lake Valley.

These Indians had come to ask Brigham Young to send colonists into the Sanpitch Valley to teach the Indians how to build homes and till the soil.

During the proceedings of this council which convened on June 14, 1849, at Salt Lake City, Walker remarked “I was always friendly with the Mormons. I hear what they say and remember it. It is good to live like the Mormons and their children. I do not care about the land, but I want the Mormons to go and settle it.”

A scout team was sent in August and by fall fifty families were called to go to the valley to settle it. It would be the first settlement south of Provo.

They were led by experienced men who names mark the pages of early Church history. Men like Isaac Morley, Charles Shumway, and our own great-grandfathers, Gardner Snow and Albert Smith, were sent.

Upon arriving many felt that the Sanpitch Valley was indeed a blessed place.

Father Morley, as most of the settlers referred to him, pointed a prophetic finger to a hill rising in the distance and said, “There is the termination of our journey; in close proximity to that hill, God willing, we will build our city there.”

That hill would come to be known as Temple Hill, in time. It was recognized as early as 1850 as a special place and some claimed visions while arriving there.

A woman named Betsy Bradley, and her three-year-old son, Hyrum, saw a personage in white on a white horse mysteriously appear on the hill and then, just as mysteriously, he disappeared.

Bradley told about this mysterious appearance to everyone who desired to listen and through it one of the Sagas of the Sanpitch was born: Everyone said, “This personage dressed in white on the white horse is the same personage that constrained Father Morley to proclaim it a special place and that person is the Prophet Moroni!”

Orson F. Whitney, in his book Life of Heber C. Kimball, relates this story:

“In an early day when President Young and party were making the location of the settlement here, President Heber C. Kimball, prophesied that the day would come when a temple would be built on this hill. Some disbelieved and doubted the possibility of even making a settlement here. Brother Kimball said, “Well, it will be so, and more than that the rock will be quarried from that hill to build it with, and some of the stone from that quarry will be taken to help complete the Salt Lake Temple.”

All of this was widely known long before Warren Snow and Brigham Young climbed that hill in April of 1877.

By that time, the history of Manti, of Warren Snow, of Brigham Young, of the Ute Indians, and of the temple had already covered a lot of ground.

~ Gardner Snow, A Patriarch ~

Gardner Snow moved to Manti in 1850, a little after the original parties led by his good friend Isaac Morley had selected Manti’s hill as the base for the community.

He was, at this point in his life, 57 years of age, an experienced veteran of the early LDS Church experience. He was seasoned. He had served as a missionary, Bishop, and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy.

He experienced the temple for the first time in Kirtland and later lived in Far West. He was chased, with many others, by mobs out of Missouri, and later had his home and possessions burned to the ground while living at Morley’s Settlement in Illinois.

In Nauvoo he received his temple endowments and later moved to Council Bluffs, where he resumed his work as Bishop.

When he was finally allowed to come to Utah he was assigned to Sanpete County, where he worked as a councilman and then later as a probate judge for many years.

By avocation, Gardner Snow was a sheepherder in Manti. He was in Manti less than a year when his partner, Sarah Sawyer Hastings Snow, passed away at the age of 60.

Gardner Snow

During their life together Gardner and Sarah had 9 children – six of them sons. Of those six sons only three survived into extended maturity.

James Chauncey Snow (our great grandfather), like his father, had experience in early Church history and came around the same time as his father to Utah. He would be a Stake President in Provo and live a long life of family and church service.

Warren Stone Snow, who you will read more about below, would become a Presiding Bishop in Utah and a controversial figure in the history of Manti.

George Washington Snow came with his brothers to Utah in the early 1850s, settling near their father in Manti. He would work for some years as a cooper in Manti, where he also studied the law and later served as a lawyer, the prosecutor of Sanpete County and in various elected public roles for years.

All of these Snow men were deeply embedded in Church and public service in Central Utah.

Their histories are all public record. In their various fields of service they touched the lives and many and were known by generations of Manti citizens.

Gardner Snow was especially well thought of, much like his friend Isaac Morley, because they were early church members who knew the Prophet and had experienced the persecutions of the early Church experience.

All of these men would die before connections with the Westover, Smith, Riggs and Quilter families were made.

It is curious to contemplate how their passions for the temple and getting it completed in Manti during their lifetimes would come to be meaningful for their later descendants.

~ Albert Smith in Manti ~

Albert Smith’s connection to the Westover family comes through is granddaughter, Mary Ann Smith, who married my great-grandfather, Arnold Westover.

If there is any individual representative of the 19th century Mormon experience, it is Albert Smith.

He joined the Church in 1835, lived in Missouri and Western Illinois, suffering from the persecution and loss of those places before the Nauvoo period.

Like many others, he relocated to Nauvoo and was in the same ward as Joseph Smith – in fact, he knew the Prophet well.

Albert was friends with several individuals known in Church history, notably Wilford Woodruff, and he would, in time, become acquainted with others who played important roles in pioneering Manti.

While living in Nauvoo, Albert served a mission, returned home to find his family in crisis due to the scandals of John C. Bennett, and he helped to construct the Nauvoo temple.

Albert and his family were among the first company to leave Nauvoo and was at Mt. Pisgah when Brigham Young called for service in the Mormon Battalion.

Albert served, along with his 17-year-old son, Azariah, the entire year. They backtracked to Utah from California, arriving just after the Saints first got there in the summer of 1847.

He farmed his allotted acreage in the Salt Lake Valley, and it was on his land that the miracle of the seagulls took place, an event he recorded in detail in his journal.

With many others Albert and family were called to move to Sanpete County.

Albert and his wife established a farm and used their home for the first several years to host the first dramatic productions held in Manti. They were very involved in the community and Albert dutifully recorded it all in his journals.

For all his Mormon experience and his faithfulness, Albert never held high position in the LDS Church. In time he would embrace plural marriage, albeit reluctantly.

For more than 40 years Albert steadfastly built the Kingdom of his faith, commenting here and there in his journal of both his experiences and his opinions of the pioneer experience.

The Manti temple, for him, represented many things.

What he would do over the forty years it took to build that temple in Manti should be an inspiration for all of us who call ourselves his grandchildren.

His quiet, in-the-background life of service stands in contrast to a man he would share family with in the generations to come.

That man’s name is Warren Stone Snow.

~ Warren S. Snow – A Complicated Man ~

The Snow family of Manti has a long history in the LDS faith.

In fact, they were one of the most unique families in early church history with the likes of Lorenzo Snow, Eliza R. Snow, Erastus Snow, Gardner Snow, James Chauncey Snow and Warren S. Snow among their famous numbers.

Their history and exploits as a family during the rise of the Church in the 19th century was so great that one Congressman, Charles B. Landis, in a speech made in 1900, declared the Snow family “the most consistent Mormons in the whole bunch”.

But Warren S. Snow was different from his famous father, brothers and cousins.

Warren S. Snow

His foundation of faith was indeed built in his youth while attending early church gatherings in the Mormon Barn, as it was called, of his grandfather, Levi Snow, in Chesterfield, Vermont.

But his experiences as a young man serving in security capacities for the Church seeded a conflict within him that colored nearly all of his later experiences as a church leader.

He was there – and close to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family – when the Prophet was murdered in 1844.

In fact, in recorded talks given in church conferences not long after the Martyrdom, Warren referred to the bodies as “mangled”. It was an event that traumatized him so greatly that he often spoke strongly, if not violently, against the enemies of the Church.

Warren’s long service in the conflicts that arose during the post-Nauvoo period later left him described as a chosen defender of the Church and its prophets. He would, in time, enter into the circle of Brigham Young and become his close friend.

Brigham at one time considered Warren S. Snow as a potential member of the Quorum of the Twelve, saying that he was a “good man” when his name was brought up in counsels.

As it was, Warren S. Snow was assigned to Manti and made the presiding Bishop there, as well as a leading representative in the territorial legislature. In these capacities Warren had vast responsibilities related to church and civic governance.

He was consulted on how and where new settlements would be established and he placed men in important positions in Church leadership all over central Utah. He reported directly to Brigham and the Quorum of the Twelve and met with them frequently.

But there were troubled episodes during the early church leadership service of Warren Snow.

During a brief period after the Utah War, an examination of tithing funds in Manti resulted in a scandal made public from the pulpit by a visiting apostle, Orson Hyde, who declared Warren’s leadership suspect.

After a long and humiliating public investigation, it was determined that the bishopric led by Warren Snow was “careless” instead of dishonest.

Warren Snow publicly repented of his part in the scandal and that repentance was accepted by his superiors who had stood critical of him. But the event did great damage to his reputation and Warren struggled to regain the respect of the people of Manti.

His reputation as a hard man had proceeded him, and many questioned his judgment given the rumors they had heard about him over the years.

During the passionate period known as the Mormon Reformation, a time when “hellfire and damnation” was preached from the pulpit as leaders browbeat the Saints for not living their religion, Warren Snow was among the most vociferous.

His sermons from the time accused Church members of the need to repent and do better against all kinds of weaknesses and shortcomings.

During this period Warren was viewed as a particularly harsh leader. Some of his actions in his callings did little to dissuade the skeptical nature of how others viewed him.

In one famous episode the case of a man who was guilty of serious sexual transgression was brought before a Church court led by Bishop Snow. Excommunicating the man was not strong enough for members of the council – or for Bishop Snow.

In a clandestine midnight mugging of the man he was castrated, evidently at the hands of the Bishop and those members of the council who had excommunicated him.

Word of this reached Brigham Young and other Church leaders and another investigation ensued, casting a cloud of suspicion over Warren Snow that he never fully recovered from.

Part of the suspicion of Bishop Snow came from his reputation as a Church defender.

During the Utah War Warren Snow was a commanding general in the Nauvoo Legion, the holdover militia organized in Utah to defend against invading forces.

Snow was specifically charged by Brigham Young not to kill the troops on the way. He could steal cattle and supplies, set fires, and do anything possible to disrupt their march to Utah but he was not to engage in the use of deadly force.

Surviving records of the campaign indicate this was a difficult charge for Warren Snow, who wanted revenge on the enemies of the Church.

In Church talks Warren Snow often spoke of defending the faith.

A patriarchal blessing given to him sharpened his self-view in this role. It told him he was called to the protective service to the Church and promised that he could not be killed by enemies of the faith.

But for all of Warren’s passion about defending the faith there was another side to him that was markedly compassionate and spiritual.

He was blessed with a number of spiritual experiences that profoundly influenced him, including hearing the voice of God during the dedication of the Kirkland temple and witnessing the transfiguration of Brigham Young.

In the early 1860s, perhaps in a move to rescue Warren Snow from his reputation, Brigham Young sent the Bishop to England on a mission.

He served for several years with distinction and surviving letters between Warren and Brigham show that Warren did all he could to re-establish good feeling between them.
When Warren returned Brigham did welcome him with open arms and he sent the same apostle, Orson Hyde, who had led the investigation against him years before, to address the people to proclaim Warren’s innocence and to re-establish him in local church leadership in Manti once again.

Warren S. Snow Letter

A letter from Warren Snow to Brigham Young. Source: Church History Library

It did not go well for a time. But before long Indian uprisings created a need for Warren Snow, Defender of the Faith.

For years the residents in Central Utah had endured constant badgering by roving bands of Indians who would steal cattle and occasionally kill settlers.

Brigham’s strategy statewide for the longest time was to appease the Native Americans who lived there, clinging to the idea that he would “rather feed them then fight them”.

But not all settlers had Brigham’s patience.

When property was destroyed and especially when lives were taken many felt to impose an equal loss upon the Indians.

This inflamed situations over and over, and after a particularly gruesome killing of white settlers up a nearby canyon, things quickly got out of hand with a young Indian leader known as Black Hawk (a nephew to Chief Walker and a son of Chief Sanpitch).

The more the back-and-forth of killing between the Indians and the whites happened the bigger it seemed that Black Hawk’s band grew. In short time, greater damage and increased numbers of people were killed on both sides.

When the appointed leader of the local militia abandoned his post in the middle of a conflict it was Warren Snow who assumed command.

Working as closely with Brigham Young as he could Warren saw this new opportunity to prove to the community of Manti that he was a changed man.

For more than a year the Black Hawk War, as it came to be called, raged as Warren and Brigham tried to bring peace through restraint.

While Warren Snow was plain spoken with Brigham Young and other Church leaders about what he thought should be done he always sided publicly with what Young both advised and publicly said.

But Black Hawk persisted, and the event escalated after Warren Snow had promised safety for Indian warriors only to have more of them killed by restless settlers bent on revenge.

Everyone was aware of how tenuous the situation was – even Albert Smith.

From his journal we hear of an uprising that started in Gunnison, where a Mormon family was brutally murdered by marauding Indians.

The retaliation event took place right in front of the Smith home in Manti, as local settlers there captured two Indians completely unconnected with the Gunnison affair and tried to kill them.

Albert intervened and pled for their lives, stating to his fellow citizens of Manti that killing the wandering pair would only lead to more bloodshed on their own properties and to their own families.

He echoed, perhaps unknowingly, the same sentiments advanced by Brigham Young and Warren Snow.

As had happened so many times before, Albert’s admonition was ignored. For months the people in Manti went into hiding for fear of Indian retaliation.

In time, both Brigham and Warren came to see that something needed to be done to get Black Hawk to back down. Over the course of 9 months Warren led large groups of men in attacking and capturing leaders of the Indian band.

The Indians stepped up their part by using women and children to help captured prisoners to escape and on one careless night at the jail in Manti, Utah they caused the escape of about 8 Indian warriors.

Warren and his men gave chase and during a very close exchange of gunfire on the streets of Manti, Warren killed two Indian chiefs while sustaining a bullet wound to his arm and shoulder.

He wrote to Brigham to report on the affair, expressing regret at having to take a life to save his own.

Knowing that the event would inflame things even further, Brigham sent Warren on a relentless chase into the Fish Lake forest in search of Black Hawk and his closest men. It took months, and Warren ended up with greater wounds and became exhausted from the chase.

His exploits were reported in the news and in time the campaign began to wear down Black Hawk and his men. Black Hawk went on record to say that as long as Warren Snow lived in Manti he would never know peace.

Brigham felt that maybe Warren Snow, for as valiant as his efforts had been, could have been making things worse with Black Hawk. Seeing that Warren was injured, exhausted, and leaving the care of his family to others for long stretches of time, Brigham relieved him of command and sent him home to heal.

The change in leadership did help in ending the conflict with Black Hawk. In months, hostilities ended.

But the whole affair had a restorative effect on Warren Snow’s reputation. He returned to cheers in the streets of Manti and in time became Mayor of the city.

His service as a church leader in the years that followed were markedly different this time around.

For the next 30-years Warren Snow enjoyed a reputation as a man of prudence, a man of compassion and a man who defended the faith with softer tones and greater testimony.

So, when Warren Snow stood on Temple Hill in Manti with Brigham Young and later declared that President Young had said Moroni had dedicated that spot for a temple in the Latter-days, people took him seriously.

In fact, his funeral in 1896 was attended by thousands of people. His impact on the community and the whole of central Utah would go down in local history in glowing terms.

The Manti Temple, which was announced in 1875, featured a variety of events that involved the entirety of the community.

A parade was held when the ground was dedicated (or, rededicated, if you will). The Mormon hierarchy present included the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and prominent local citizens such as Patriarch Garner Snow, and, of course, General Snow.

The Monday following the dedication of the site, on April 30th, 1877, the citizens of Manti gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony so that work could commence that day.

The 100-people gathered knelt in prayer led by Bishop John B. Maiben, then Partriarch Gardner Snow prayed over the labors.

One by one the prominent individuals of Manti took their turn with the shovels in the following order: Bishop Maiben, Patriarch Snow, James Wareham, Hans Jensen, Frederick Cox, Albert Smith, Jezreel Showemaker, George Peacock, Luther Tuttle, and George Billings.

After these ceremonial few, more than 80 men with their horses and oxen began the broad work of excavating with plows, scrapers, picks, and shovels. It would be the first day of more than 11 years of temple construction.

For Albert Smith, who attended these events and noted them in his journal, the coming of the temple spurred an effort to do his family history.

He wrote letters and sent money to genealogists in New York and Massachusetts. This happened before the temple was first announced in 1875.

Along with his third wife, Grandmother Sophia Smith, the anticipation of the temple was something recorded with each passing season. Albert and Sophie would visit the unfinished temple frequently and record what they saw.

By the time the temple was completed in 1888 Albert had possession of nearly 2000 names of his ancestors. He was proud of his Mayflower connections and was anxious to get into the temple to do work for them.

The temple dedication was an event so anticipated it is believed that was when this notable image of Albert and Sophie was taken:

Albert & Sophie Smith

When it finally came time to dedicate the temple more than 5000 people came to the remote location of Manti to participate.

Going to these events required tickets or invitations. In fact, nearly everything associated with the Temple over the years of it’s construction featured some sort of documentation. Here is a donation slip showing a contribution made by Gardner Snow:

Gardner Snow donation

Albert himself did not get tickets to the first day of dedication events. He watched the assembled masses at the temple from his front porch and attended for himself on the 2nd day.

Crowds at the Manti Temple dedication

Crowds at the Manti Temple dedication

~ What Temples Meant to the Pioneers ~

The pioneer era temples – which include both Kirtland and Nauvoo, by the way – were built during seasons of duress. They were built despite the poverty of Church members. Each was a tremendous act of faith.

As such, the completion of each temple was a celebration of faith. Within the temples the Saints could worship in the most sacred ways.

Simply put, a temple dedication was a big deal.

When Saint George was completed in 1877 as the first temple in the West, nearly all of those living in Manti, including the Snow and the Smith families, traveled to participate.

For years prior to its completion the Saints in Sanpete sent money and materials to St. George to help with the temple. After the St. George Temple was completed the members of the Church there returned the favor to assist in building the Manti temple.

For these pioneer temple builders the Temples provided a place for their children to make covenants and to be “sealed” together.

Perhaps the first of the next generation of the family to take advantage of the new Manti Temple was Joseph Homer Snow, son of James C. Snow. On July 19, 1888, just a few months after the dedication of the Manti Temple, he was sealed to Mary Nielsen, who went to the temple for herself for the first time on that date that they were married.

Joseph and Mary Snow would go on to have ten children. Their fourth, a girl they named Muriel, was born in 1891. In 1913, Muriel Snow would go to the Manti Temple and marry William Reeves Riggs, Jr.

They had a large family too. Their 2nd child, a daughter named Maurine, went to the Manti Temple in 1940 – and there married Leon Westover.

Maurine was following in the steps of her sister, Milda. Who only months before, in June 1940, went to the Manti Temple and married Charles Gerald Quilter.

Of course, there were other marriages and other temples in different places. That is not the point.

The point is that generations after the pioneer era temples were built the children and grandchildren of those pioneers who built them took advantage of them, fulfilling prophecy, fulfilling dreams and bringing forth new generations “born under the covenant”.

Was this what Moroni, the last of his ancient people, was thinking if he was indeed seen in vision in Manti?

Who exactly was Moroni and what could be his connection to Manti?

For members of the Church, we know that Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 to extend to him his calling. During that event, the Prophet Joseph recorded that Moroni quoted from the Biblical book of Malachi, stating, in part:

“…And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the father, and the hearts of the children shall turn to the fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be wasted at his coming…”

This, and other things given to Joseph Smith as Moroni taught him over the next several years, laid the foundation for modern temples as part of the “restoration of all things”.

Joseph Smith spoke of Moroni several times during his lifetime and offered information not contained within the Book of Mormon about him. Associates of the Prophet recorded such conversations and from those memories came this map outlining the travels of Moroni in North America:

Map of Moroni's Travels

Researchers now conclude that Moroni may have not only dedicated the land where the Manti temple now stands but that he could well have done similarly in St. George, Nauvoo, Independence, Kirtland and “others we know not of yet”.

This research was not conducted before the time of the pioneer era in Manti. It was not information that was widely shared or known.

Is it merely coincidental then that Warren Snow and other such as Betsy Bradley shared what they knew of Moroni in Manti?

That is speculation of a spiritual scope left for greater minds than my own.

All I can say, as one living in the 21st century, attending a temple and reflecting on my pioneer temple heritage, and as one now anticipating a new temple dedication in the years ahead where I live in my stake in Smithfield, Utah, is that I have no doubt of Moroni’s connection.

Smithfield Utah Temple

No, like Albert Smith, I lay no claim to visions.

I take on faith that the gift of such given to others is theirs.

The gift given to me to know is that God is in command and we know that best through work done in temples, where my heart is indeed knit with theirs and the covenants they made with God.