Westovers in Rexburg

Land and Legacy: The William and Ruth Westover Story

William Ruthven Westover only lived to be 42 years old. Those of us who are older than that do not have much of a problem remembering 42 years of time. It just is not that long.

But for a man who lived such a short life William sure had to learn the lessons of patience that come with waiting long periods of time.

From histories that have long existed we know that William and Ruth had to wait seven long years to marry. And we learned that one of his last mortal acts before he died was turning in the paperwork to complete his claim in Rexburg putting the Westover ranch at last in the Westover name. For whatever reason, William had to wait 13 years to complete a 5 year claim.

What we don’t know from those histories was why William had to wait so long for these things to happen. Those questions we answer in our newest video, presented below.

I was really hesitant to put William’s name on our project list this year, though he falls into the line of natural progression we have pursued with these videos. I hesitated because I wasn’t confident we could find enough information about him and his life to really even make a video.

I was wrong.

While we do not have a journal and really even lack much in the way of direct evidence of William’s life and activities I learned a huge lesson in perusing the histories of those around him to build the story we tell in the video.

We tend to forget that the world was smaller then. Lives of family and neighbors affected each other in significant ways and never was that more true than in the life of William Westover.

For William as a boy and a young man it meant doing the work of the head of the house. Due to his family’s circumstances William was thrust in to the role of provider. This was the reason why William and Ruth waited to marry. Without William’s work his siblings and cousins simply did not eat.

Surely William and Ruth wanted their own place so that they could raise their own family. For whatever reason they chose to wait to marry until a time when they could leave Mendon. Once they married that is exactly what they did.

When they moved to Rexburg it was once again due to a family situation. William and Ruth moved to help his big sister Emma’s husband, Walter Paul.

In the research of this story I came to really love both William Westover and Walter Paul. These men were separated in years and in talent. But they were connected through marriage and the land they pursued together.

William didn’t have to take a quarter claim from Walter in order to have a farm. He could have simply filed his own claim with the government. There was plenty of land to go around. But he did it to help his sister and brother-in-law and their large family.

This is what families did in those days. This is what William had done all of his life.

William took a quarter claim because both he and Walter knew he could develop it. It was a desperate situation that took years but William eventually conquered the task.

Another man who took another quarter claim from Walter was not as successful. One history of Walter Paul suggests that the struggles of the quarter claims worked by William and this other man led to Walter Paul’s financial disgrace. That history suggests some bitterness over those circumstances.

I did not find evidence of that.

The newspaper clippings and court records that exist suggest that nobody in Rexburg escaped the financial turmoil of the times. The years 1893 and 1894 were times of panic and financial depression. Country-wide many were affected and many were destroyed. Those living in remote Rexburg, Idaho suffered greatly.

Walter Paul was a high profile public figure in Rexburg. He was the Justice of the Peace, the Coroner, a president of a Quorum of Seventy, a leading figure in the first local theater and a prominent merchant in a furniture store and a hardware store. While he had a large family with many older children who worked hard too Walter and Emma did not keep a farm.

William and Ruth worked their property. They had at first a small dugout home and then later a house that was built on the ranch property. They worked for years to bring successful crops and that only came after building canals to bring water to the property.

The other claim, for whatever reason, didn’t develop and didn’t prosper. When Walter had to file for bankruptcy for his in-town businesses his farm land north of town was thrown into jeopardy. It languished in the courts as administrators at the land office debated what to do with the land in settling Walter’s affairs. Their indecision was complicated by the fact that one quarter of Walter’s claim was productive and the other was not.

Stipulations of the Homestead Act of 1862 stated that 10 acres of the 160 acres had to be started within 6 months. That’s the part most are familiar with. But when you divide a claim as Walter did you fall under a different set of rules. These rules put all the effort that William and Ruth were making at great risk of loss.

The answer that came to Walter was the result of his work as coroner. The town of Rexburg had a cemetery closer to its center in 1893 but nobody was happy with it because it was filled with lava rock that made it very difficult to manage. It was hard to dig in and placement of graves was haphazard. Rexburg officials were looking for an alternative spot for the town cemetery.

It was Walter’s suggestion, as a settlement to the court issues surrounding his bankruptcy, that he donate the unproductive quarter claim to the city for its cemetery. This was a suitable solution to most associated the case – except for federal land office administrators. They still wanted William’s portion.

A compromise was struck only when William agreed to file anew, a commitment that basically required him to start over in waiting another five years before the land could officially become his.

Of course, William was not sick when this deal with struck. But knowing the end of his story – and the story of what the ranch came to mean to his children and grandchildren – well, it makes the ranch that much more important to me today.

As I’ve stated before, I did not grow up with the Westover Ranch in my life. That was a place of the stories of my grandfather. Only in recent years have I visited the ranch and have invested myself in it emotionally.

Learning William’s story draws me closer than ever to it. To me, it is sacred ground.

In fact, I would even tell you that I’ve entertained thoughts of purchasing plots in the Rexburg cemetery for my family because I want dearly to be so associated with the Westovers (and the Pauls) that are buried there.

This, once again, shows the power of digging into our ancestor past.

William is, like his father, a man I want to know and to converse with. As men of this earth we have little in common beyond our last name. But as children of God and as family to each other I value the lessons of their lives and the sacrifices they made for me and for my children to follow.

At the end of the video you will see a list of all the histories we used in producing this story. Reading these histories give me a new appreciation not only for those the histories are about but also for their children and grandchildren. These individuals are the grandparents and great grandparents that I’ve known growing up – people I have admired and looked upon with wonder for their goodness.

These are all amazing generations. I am glad to know them beyond just names on paper. They inspire me to try to be a better person.

Faith, Love and Fidelity of Heart

Rarely can a complete story be told of a pioneer ancestor that doesn’t come from a personal journal. But through good fortune we have been able to piece together the life Ann Findley Westover lived and present it here in a new video:

We cannot help but think that more can be learned of this beloved pioneer mother and grandmother.

Her life after about the age of 30 was stable to mostly one location. She served a high profile, central role in Westover family life and in the daily life of the community in which she lived in Mendon, Utah. She touched many lives. We think stories of Ann’s mortal journey may continue to surface.

Ann’s growing up years in Scotland we know little about, other than the Findleys were poor, working class Scots dependent upon coal mining. What we do know is that they were very close and they remained that way all their lives. Her father, William Sr., was present in Ann’s life until the late 1880s. We know precious little about him or Ann’s mother, Linzy. No known record exists detailing their life experience, thoughts or feelings.

Her experience on the pioneer trail would have been interesting to capture. She came as a teen age daughter — and she pushed a handcart in the successful Daniel D. McArthur Company, a handcart experience that gets little notice because it came in front of the Willie Handcart Company by nearly 2 months. Notes we found in Mendon Ward records in the Church History Library tease us a little bit in this regard. Many primary meetings featured Ann telling pioneer stories and we have to wonder how many of those stories were her own.

Likewise it would have been significant to know Ann’s thoughts about plural marriage. She and Edwin spent effectively just 12 years of their lives together. And though they had five children the bulk of their experience was spent in separation from each other, a fact that was common to plural wives in Utah history.

They were both devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to each other. Edwin frequently made trips to Mendon, even before Ann lived there. But when he died in 1878 Ann was just 40 years old. It was not uncommon for widows of the time to remarry. Ann did not.

Instead Ann focused her efforts on serving the children of her family and of her community.

Our first real break in learning more of Ann’s personality came in finding the city of Mendon website that showcases Ann’s personal history. That history was written by a local sister who was asked to pen her memories of Ann more than a decade after she died.

She got some of the details wrong — for example, listing her as a wife to Charles Westover instead of Edwin — but we were thrilled to get the tidbits of information about Ann’s service in the Church and the community. We learned that Ann’s inclusion in city history only came after former children she served wrote to the city to remember her.

The image at the top of this post is of the Old Rock Church in Mendon, a building that Ann no doubt spent many hours in during her lifetime. It was located on the town square, kitty corner to the house that she lived in. That pioneer structure was built in the early 1860s and was torn down and replaced in 1914.

Listed below are links to various other sources we used to compile the history and some of the images used in the video:

The Ebb and Flow of Mormonism in Scotland 1840-1900 — BYU Studies

Scotland Saints on the S. Curling 1856 — Mormon Migration Records

Biography of William Findley, Jr. — FamilySearch.org

Isaac Sorensen’s History of Mendon — A Pioneer Chronicle of a Mormon Settlement

Leadership, Planning and Management of the 1856 Mormon Handcart Emigration — State Historical Society of Iowa

Life Sketch of William Ruthven Westover — WestoverGenealogy.org

The Reluctant Bride — Dorothy J Schimmelpfennig Ph.D.

Creating the Family History of the Future

Years ago we began a tradition in our family. Between Christmas and New Year I gather all the images and videos from each of the devices in the house and produce a family video that all gather to watch as part of our New Year’s Eve activities. It was never intended to be part of the family record but as we look back at these productions they have become an obvious source of remembering things and a happy accident of family history.

I just completed this year’s video and it tallies more than 50-minutes. I won’t burden you with the whole thing but will share this portion of the video that celebrates the birth of a new grandson and the impact these boys have been on my family this past year:

We customarily start these videos with a brief pictorial overview of the world — we will grab images from news sources and create a backdrop of what was going on in the world while we went through the events of our year. I think this is important for putting some things in context down the road. Then we get into the major events and activities of the year. It might include travel and vacations but many years, like this past year, we can’t do those kinds of things because of other events.

It doesn’t matter what happens.

What matters is that we tell the big stories. This year the stories were of losing my mother, celebrating the graduation of a daughter from high school, welcoming a new grandson and making a move — a huge year and a big story to tell. While I do “narrate” at parts this video is more about my children and their part in it all and I try to use as much of “their stuff” as I can.

My kids are all Millennials — they have grown up with the Internet and screens and devices and they are fluent in the savvy uses of video and images. They take thousands of images. Our videos are primarily their pictures and in the case of this video above I’m particularly proud of their technical work because the very best pictures of my grandsons have been taken by my children, not by me.

It’s now been 8 years since we began this tradition and our videos have become better over time. They aren’t intended for a general audience because frequently they include references to family culture or even inside jokes that would just take too long to understand. And, to be honest, we have pictures that include Christmas morning hair and every day chaos that my wife and children would rather not the world at large see. Later generations of family seeing this stuff after we’re gone is ok, I suppose.

But none of this is lost on me. These slideshows are part of the family history we will pass down. It is a tradition in keeping family records that many would enjoy if they would invest the time. It takes me the better part of a day to produce these videos. I consider it now sacred time.

The Spirit of Receiving

As my Dad has labored this past year on the history of his Mother, Maurine R. Westover, I have been sitting on this video just waiting to share it now — at Christmastime. Many of you have seen these before and may, in fact, have it in your possession. But many others have not seen it. It is as timely now as when Grandma recorded it 29 years ago.

As I understand the story, even though she was very ill at this time (and I think the video makes this somewhat apparent), Grandma was asked to give the main talk in Church the Sunday before Christmas. Of course, she was in no condition to be there but Dad would video tape her message and they would playback the video for her ward during the meeting.

Watching this video brings a variety of emotions to me. Seeing Grandma, no matter her age, brings back a flood of memories. Hearing her voice and seeing her in her home always makes me remember times from my childhood. But there are other elements in this video that get to me now. The afghan in her lap was made by my mother. I’d know her work anywhere. The chair grandma is sitting in, the way she and Grandpa would decorate the Christmas tree — it all comes back even though the image is simple.

But best of all is the message of Christmas. It was never really elaborate at Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas. But I loved it there at that time of the year because it was always filled with conversation accented by laughter and memories. Tears were sometimes shed but only because people were fondly remembered and missed.

Please share this video with your family with our best wishes here at Westover Family History for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year:

Family History through Photographs

I had an opportunity to prepare a presentation at a Stake Family History Discovery Day. My assigned topic was Working with Old Family Photos. Being a life long photo geek and a late life family history enthusiast this was for me an easy topic to present.

I struggled with how to begin the class because I wanted the Spirit of what we were doing to be behind the conversation as much as possible (I’ve taught this before and it can get quite technical and I was trying to avoid that).

It dawned on me that my own journey of family history could be told through pictures. This was the result of that realization, and what I used to kick off the presentation: