Years ago, when we moved into our present home, we met the nextdoor neighbor over the fence. As we introduced ourselves to each other this new neighbor, Lynn Bates, he excitedly responded to my last name, Westover.
“Do ya know any Westovers in Rexburg?” Lynn asked me.
Over the years we grew fond of Lynn. He was in his golden years, often didn’t feel well and he could be a little gruff.
But he was always so very kind to us and he took a shine to my dear wife, who just loved him. As usual, she always saw a bit of her Dad in a guy like Lynn, and because of that they seemed to hit it off. I know he adored her.
Lynn was born in Rexburg and had a few Westover friends there. I wasn’t able to relate to any of the Westover names he shared because all my Westover experience in Rexburg is buried in the past of family history.
Lynn was a very smart man, I believe he worked for a number of years as a project manager or engineer for Space Dynamics. He also owned a local business, a flower shop, I believe.
But when we met him he was very retired. He worked endlessly in his garden, where he and his wife great beautiful things and he had a ride on mower he would use to mow both of our yards.
Having Lynn nextdoor was like having a another parent. He would joke with us, scold us, and give unsolicited advice.
One of the things I do that drove Lynn crazy was to keep my Christmas tree up. He talked about our Christmas tree in the window of our house on Main Street long after Christmas was over.
That was because I had a little rule I never told him about.
I told my wife that every time he complained about our tree I would keep it up another two weeks. One year he brought it up so often the tree was up into the month of June.
Lynn passed away here a few years ago and the house next door was sold.
But Lynn’s son, Ryan, and his family literally live behind our back fence, and we have remained friends. Ryan serves in the bishopric in our ward and his kids and our grandsons have played together.
This week at Church, Memorial Day weekend and the fifth Sunday meeting led by the bishopric, saw Ryan give a brief presentation about using Family Search.
During the course of the class he had everyone pull out their phones and give the “Relatives Around Me” feature a spin. I always love when this happens in a Church meeting because there is always a little buzz that goes up as folks discover things they didn’t know before.
Sure enough, the entire energy in that very packed room sparked with this activity.
I was part of that buzz as I discovered that Ryan and I are fourth cousins. He too is a grandson of James Chauncey Snow. Which, of course, means that Lynn was as well.
So, as it turns out, Lynn was asking about the wrong branch of the family. How I wish he was here for me to give him a hard time about that.
Now I ask you, once again, is this just a coincidence?
You move into a new home and next door there is kin you don’t even know you had. What are the odds of that?
James Chauncey Snow was one of the many dynamic sons of Gardner Snow. As was the case with Gardner Snow, who was an early Church convert, James C. is mentioned in various bits of Church history.
He led his own pioneer company west and was assigned to live in Provo, where he was put to work as Stake President. We have written a little before about some of his places in our family history, notable in this feature titled True Love and Plural Marriage.
James C. was also married multiple times. As is the case in many of our LDS ancestors from this generation, we find family descended from a common ancestor like James and one of his wives.
Ryan and Lynn are descended from the union of James C. and his first wife, Eliza Carter. James and Eliza had 10 children together. I am descended – as was my father – from the union of James C. and Jane Cecilia Roberts, who produced 11 children.
These two families of James C. Snow has likely produced thousands of descendants at this point in time.
But here’s a curious fact, to me: Ryan in the third person in my ward who I’ve been able to identify as family through our family history work. James C. Snow lived from 1817 to 1884 – and yet here we are, two of his grandsons – living back to back here in Smithfield Utah some 140 years later.
Another neighbor and ward member we have discovered as family is Judy Fornefeld. Sister Fornefeld is a descendant of Edwin Ruthvin Westover.
Another neighbor and ward member is Merlin Humphreys, who is a grandson of Andrew Franklin Riggs. Brother Humpheys even looks like a Riggs.
I did not have time during class yesterday to explore every connection during the Relatives Around Me activity. At last look there were 21 total connections in that room and most of them were showing as 9th and 10th cousins, which means we shared ancestors from the 1600s.
But isn’t it curious enough to see that right here in Smithfield, in just the few blocks that make up our ward boundaries, we have the Westovers, Snows and Riggs all represented and connected?
Is our placement here on earth such a chance thing? Is there purpose in these, uh, coincidences?
Another thing to consider: all of us here, cousins in very close proximity, can do no more temple work on these lines. These ancestors did all of their own work or others who came before us saw that it was done before we came along.
So what then could be the purpose of us finding each other and sharing our family connections?
The business of “turning hearts” is a complex one.
Joseph taught: “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”
As I have pondered this over the years it strikes me that the connections I am discovering with family everywhere is essential to my understanding of the doctrine of the family. Our ancestors – those of me, of Ryan, of Judy and of Merlin – are all working on our behalf.
What does that mean? For me, it means my children and grandchildren.
These connections form bonds across the generations. They build testimony, which leads to covenants. Covenants lead to gospel living. Gospel living leads to personal salvation. Covenants lead to family exaltation.
The work of our ancestors, all on the other side, is a sacred thing and they are active indeed.
This Memorial Day weekend, as we celebrated the life of Aunt Evie and as I once again traveled with my grandsons to local cemeteries, I have once again been reminded of really how small the world is in relation to families.
I took the boys to the Logan cemetery, where they have been before. Damon is 9, Jax is 6. It’s a great activity for two very active grandsons and we have loved doing this together.
One of the graves we usually visit is that of Byron Snow, who lived his life here locally in Cache Valley. His grave is always a little tricky to find. He’s buried in his wife’s family plot. Their name is Dunn. And the Snow headstone lies flat on the ground.
Jax, who is a beginning reader, was anxious to be the one to find Uncle Byron’s grave, because “Snow” is easy for him to read. So I pointed us in the right direction and we hiked to that part of the cemetery and Jax went to work trying to find him. Soon, he did.
We placed the flowers and talked about it a few minutes. Then we took a picture.
As we started to walk back to the car we passed an older lady who was pulling flowers from the trunk of her car. If you know my grandsons you know they don’t need to know a person to talk to them. They are very friendly and quite forward.
In passing this lady Jax said, “Hey, we just found Byron Snow!”. The lady looked up, a little startled. Then, seeing Jax was really just a little guy, she smiled.
“You did?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jax said. “I found him. He’s right over there.”
Then the lady surprised me.
“Did you know I knew Byron Snow?”
Now it was my turn to talk. “You did?”
“Yes,” she said. “He was my stake president”. Jax, hearing that turned to me and said, “Grandpa, he’s a president TOO?”
We had a delightful visit with this new friend, who seemed to thrill in her memory of President Snow. She was little at the time, and didn’t know him on a personal level, but she knew him. What a thrill it was to meet her, just because of that.
We are all learning through these connections and these coincidences.
Lynn Bates, my old neighbor who I liked to antagonize with my Christmas tree, is now on the other side.
His family is my family, at least in part.
What hand has he played in his short time on the other side in bringing our families together?
I love Lynn Bates. That sour, grumpy, surly, and beloved old neighbor is my cousin.
No wonder I love him.