This is NOT Alexander Westover

Certain dates tend to stick in the minds of most avid family historians. 1890, of course, is notorious.

That year of the federal census was mostly lost to history due to a fire in 1921 that wiped out most of the records. Nearly every family has a missing piece of information tied to that census – and that causes challenges in solving family mysteries.

Years of war – 1860-1865, 1914-1918, 1940-1945 – these are worldwide event windows that have profound effects on family history.

For me one date in history is a very definite line in the sand: 1838.

1838 is the year when the first photograph of a human being was first recorded.

That is why I know that at least 18 people on are dead wrong.

They have posted and shared the image seen on the right as a picture of Alexander Westover.

But that is NOT Alexander Westover.

Alexander Westover died in 1834. The earliest known photographs of people in the United States only date back to about 1839. That can’t be Alexander Westover.

Fortunately, we know who the man is.

It’s Levi Murdock – and yes, he’s family.

He is Ruth Althea Rowe’s grandfather (her mother’s father).

Levi is actually older than Alexander – by about nine years. But he lived much longer, passing away in 1879. If I had to guess, I would say this picture dates from the 1850s at the earliest.

Levi joined the church in 1840 and traveled with his family west from Indiana in the 1850s. He settled in Ogden and had a successful farm there until he passed at nearly 90 years of age.

We don’t know who first confused the picture of Levi for Alexander – but the Internet has perpetuated the inaccuracy.

This little incident proves everything that is wrong with Ancestry. 1 person posted this image in error and several others re-posted it as fact. I contacted a few of those who had posted the image and told them as gently as I could who the picture really represented.

A few got upset with me — despite my best efforts to tell them why it couldn’t be Alexander.

Genealogists live by a strict code: it you can’t prove it, it’s not true.

That is really hard to do with photographs.

Most think that rule applies to names and dates. But it should apply to photographs, too.

In this case, all one has to do is the math. Alexander died before the age of photography. I would love to have an actual picture of Alexander Westover. But it is not possible.

I would love to have a picture of his grave, too. On Family Search right now, someone has posted a picture of Alexander’s grave on Alexander’s memories page.

But, sadly – like the mistaken image of Levi Murdock, I fear the posted picture is false.

You see, there is no record of a grave site for Alexander.

We know when and where he died. We even know with official government documentation of the time when he and Electa were married. But we have no documentation on his death and burial.

I am guessing that is because Alexander was likely buried on the farm he was working. They were pioneers – there just wasn’t a town cemetery back in 1834 in Goshen, Ohio – at least not one we have found.

So Alexander remains somewhat of a mystery in terms of what he looked like and where he is laid to rest. I am hoping that some modern day sleuthing can resolve some of this because Alexander is a key part to the Westover family story of the 19th century.

But so too is Levi Murdock. And look at that handsome mug of his – who can’t look at him and not see family?

A lot of people ask me why these old time photos aren’t more happy.

We have to remember that taking a picture then was quite a production. Albert Smith, in his journal, talked about traveling to Salt Like to get his “likeness” done, which is what they called the imaging process of people back then.

Albert bought a new suit for the event.

Likely, Levi did the same. Look at how sharp he is. But why isn’t he smiling?

Probably because he had to stand absolutely still for over a minute while the exposure was made.

Lost in our review of these old pictures is the reason they were doing it. These pioneer families and individuals took these images precisely because they knew we’d be looking at them today.

It was important to them.

Contemplate that.

Where the Name Edwin Ruthven Came From

scottishchiefsTradition within the Westover family for centuries has been the re-use of common first names. Perhaps the most common is “John”. There is also plenty use of the names Jonas or Jonah, William, and, of course, Gabriel. In researching an upcoming video on the life of Edwin Ruthven Westover we have been a bit hung up on his name. Where did it come from and why did Alexander and Electa choose that name for their first born son?

There has to be a reason for this, right?

In researching we have found that while we can find plenty of Edwin Westovers in both America and in England in the 18th and 19th centuries we cannot find a connection to our branch of the Westover family. There isn’t an uncle or a distant cousin that we can find who would influence the naming of a baby born in 1824. In fact, in looking at the names Alexander and Electa chose for all their children we cannot find a Westover family connection: Edwin Ruthven, Albert, Charles Beal and Oscar Fitzland have no connection within Westover history whatsoever.

Well, there’s no crime in that and we suppose the reasons are clear enough.

One of the lingering questions in our minds is how disconnected Alexander Westover himself may have felt from the Westover family. (We wonder as well about his faith). Unlike his father he was separated while quite young with most Westovers he may have known:

Alexander was one of the younger children of Amos and Ruth and he was born, it appears, during the transitory years of the Amos Westover family migration to Ohio.

Most researchers feel he was born in Canada, though no official birth records exist that confirm 1798 as the actual year of his birth or the place of birth. Records just say he was born “about 1798” and Canada is where most assume the family was based upon the census records found from the early 1790s for Amos and Ruth.

Alexander was clearly with Amos and Ruth in Ohio when they got there around 1815. In 1821 both Amos and Ruth died within weeks of each other, leaving Alexander seemingly alone in the wilderness without much connection to the old family home in Sheffield, Massachusetts or the growing homestead of his uncles in Eastern Canada. (And, obviously he didn’t have text, email or Skype).

Alexander married the sister of his sister Olive’s husband, Electa Beal — and I’m guessing if he had much of a sense of family at all it came from this association and that of the Beal family.

So family is likely not the influence in naming the first child of Alexander and Electa. So where then did the name come from?

In trying to answer that question we have found that the name “Edwin Ruthven” was quite popular in the 19th century.

A quick search of Google or Family Search reveals thousands of uses of the name, mostly from this time period. What caused that?

The answer? Pop culture.

In 1809 a historical novel by the title of The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter was published and it became wildly successful. I’ve never read it but the book very much was an influence to youthful readers in the early 19th century in the ways that movies are an influence today. The book is based in 14th century Scotland and details in a romantic and suspenseful fashion the heroic adventures of Sir William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and — Edwin Ruthven.

How popular was it? Think Harry Potter. That’s how popular it was.

Of course, now I HAVE to read the book. The question in my mind is who was caught by its charms — was it Alexander or Electa? (Or both?)

I’m betting on Electa, at this point, given the romantic nature of the book and the fact that it appears to have been so popular with teenage girls. Electa was born in 1802 — so she would have been a teen right at the height of popularity for the book in the US (it was a sensation in Europe before coming to America).

Can we be sure this is the true origin of Edwin’s name?

No, of course not. And in the grand scheme of things in relation to family history it may in fact not be all that important.

In a more clinical search for the meaning and origin of the names “Edwin” and “Ruthven” we find them to come directly from Scotland.

Edwin was the name of a 7th century King, the first Christian conqueror in Scotland who was famous and beloved — and for whom the city of Edinburgh gets its name.

Ruthven has a dual meaning in Scotland as both the name of a clan but also the name of a place meaning “red river”. There is, as with many words of Gaelic origin, vast confusion over how the name “Ruthven” is pronounced. It is in Scotland pronounced “Riven”. (I’ve never heard anyone here say it that way, though).

This little side note in family history has been helpful to me in a few ways.

First of all, the spelling of “Ruthven” has always been a question in my mind. I’ve seen many instances on official family group sheets of various age that some have spelled it “Ruthvin”. There is enough of that that I have never known which is correct. I’m fairly certain now it is supposed to be “Ruthven”.

But even more important to me is the little glimpse it gives us into the personality of Electa (it HAS to be her) — a bookworm! A romantic! (Would she love The Book of Mormon? No doubt. But what about The Princess Bride? NOT inconceivable).

That makes her one of us, right?

All of this, you know, won’t make the video.

I can’t confirm my theory and, frankly, the story of Edwin is already running long at better than 1500 words.

But, once again, this is just one of the fun little diversions of doing family history — a 30-minute exploration brought on by questions that opens the door just a little more to an endearing part of our family past.


The years of our family history from 1714 to 1834 is something of an emotional journey for me.

I think the more we invest in discovering the lives of our ancestors the more they jump off the page and become real to us. Such is certainly true of Jonathan Westover, brother to Jonas Jr.

I have learned what a critical role he played in the early history of the family. To be honest, I had never considered him much before doing this research. His journey is part of a compelling story, a story marked by one generation after the other where Westover brothers left a mark and had a profound influence. Watch our latest video:

I had never considered Jonathan Westover because he was “just a brother” of my 9th great grandfather, Jonas Westover, Jr.

He’s a good example of the “cousins” initiative put forth by the Church on family history.

The Church is encouraging us to work on the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins in our lines because our temple work is never truly done. We all tend to focus on the Mothers and the Fathers, and well we should. But these from whom we are not directly descended are important, too.

Our Jonathan Westover is a prime example of that.

For me this began in validating some dates — a common task in genealogical work. And I discovered something I had never considered before: I noticed that Hannah Westover, Abigail Westover and Jonas Westover Jr all died within a month of each other. Immediately it led me to question: what about the kids?

You do that don’t you? I do. In the dark of night I’ve had the conversation many times with my wife about what would become of our children if both of us suddenly died. It is horrific to contemplate and it DOES happen to some people. It happened to Jonas, Jr and Abigail.

That’s where I learned about Jonathan. I wanted to find out who took charge of the kids. That wasn’t a necessary question for the purposes of genealogy or temple work. I just wanted to know.

At first I was impressed to look at the sisters of Jonas Jr. It seemed logical to me that one of the aunts would take charge. But that search never really bore fruit.

Then I found the will of Abigail Westover and noticed that she had listed two of her own brothers and the brother of her husband, Jonas Jr, as executors. I decided those were the people I needed to look into.

I never had to look further than Jonathan. I started, as one usually does, with the hard data: when was he born, when did he die, where did he live, when did he marry, how many kids, etc.

I discovered that he was unmarried when Jonas Jr. died and that he himself didn’t marry until years later.

Curious about that, I started looking closer at dates and places. Then I searched for anything I could find about Jonathan in those places.

I found a gold mine about Jonathan in Sheffield, Massachusetts. And by discovering the story of that place I was able to put together the story of Jonathan Westover.

What a story it is! And what a service he performed for the family.

It is hard to me to think of him in terms any less than I feel for others here we have profiled. He was a great, great man and I am proud to be related to him. I’m glad I know this story.

It helps me to better consider my own actions as a man and as a brother. It inspires me to become better.

That’s the value of real family history.

These people are bearing their testimonies to us. They are sharing the lessons of their lives.

And we are better for it.