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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.

We have enjoyed KBYU’s new reality series called Relative Race, on every Sunday night now. The premise of the show is that four couples compete for a cash prize as they travel from San Francisco to New York over ten days, searching for family members through DNA matches. My favorite part of each episode is when they actually get to meet their mystery relative they never knew they had. They meet a new one every day during the race.

It’s fun to see that moment they meet as total strangers — and how quickly they realize they are family. Truth be told, we have more cousins out there than we really know.

Case in point: we’re close to wrapping up our video about Ann Findley Westover. I’ve delayed this project because I’ve had a nagging feeling there was something more about her to uncover. Since coming to that conclusion I’ve found LOTS more about her that I didn’t know a year ago. And some of those new details have come from total strangers I have contacted either via FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com.

On either site you can see who has contributed information about any given person. I have learned to seek out siblings and children of people I am researching and contact others who have either obtained the same info I have or have contributed something new. In the case of Ann Findley Westover, I’ve been contacting the great grandchildren of Ann’s children.

It’s a little nerve wracking reaching out to total strangers online. “Hi, don’t think I’m a weirdo but give me everything you got on Grandma…”

But in every case I have run into people just as anxious to learn from me as I am to learn from them. And the information has been so very much appreciated.

For example I found an individual who did some research on my wife’s paternal Grandfather. This grandfather is the brick wall in that family line — there’s little information to be had about him and we don’t know who his parents are or where he was born.

But I’ve got his death certificate and this individual on Ancestry had the same information.

I wondered what else he had so I just clicked on his name and asked him. He was so very helpful. He was able to give me where this grandfather is buried and how to find him. Since there are no known pictures of his grave I plan to stop by this cemetery on our trip this fall. Who knows where that road will lead?

In the case of Ann Findley Westover I’ve found other great-great descendants who are just like me — wanting to know more.

They each have had something just a little different that has added to Ann’s story and made it even more compelling. Both of these contacts were found through Family Search.

I have found it very useful to every few weeks take a good look at the “Gallery” feature on Family Search to see what new photos people have added. I usually find one or two I don’t already have — and many times those photos contain information about an individual I did not have before. Every picture has a link to the person who uploaded it so that you can contact them.

I love the information I get from doing family history in this fashion. But I love even more the joy of discovery of family members I didn’t know I had. And I don’t have to go on a reality TV show in order to do it.

emmadora

About the picture with this post: Ann and Edwin’s eldest daughter was named Emma Jane, born in 1858 in Big Cottonwood, Utah. (She is William R. Westover’s big sister). Emma Jane was about 12 years old when Ann moved to Mendon, Utah and years later Emma Jane married a man from nearby Hyrum, Utah named Walter Paul. Emma had 11 children and, in fact, died several months after her 11th child was born in Rexburg, Idaho. You thought the William Westovers were the only family in Rexburg? You may already know that when Emma Jane passed away Grandmother Ann Westover took two of Emma Jane’s children into her home. One of them was Dora, pictured above — Emma on the left and Dora on the right. That picture of Dora was taken around 1916 when she was about 18 years old — and not long before Dora died. She lived in Rexburg and HER story dovetails with the hardship story of the Westovers of Rexburg around the same time. I learned all this — and more — by just asking about Dora’s growing up years with Grandma Ann of one of Dora’s grandchildren via Family Search. Dora’s story is compelling and we’ll tell it as soon as we complete telling Ann’s story. The Westover cousins in Rexburg cast a wide net — and pioneer Grandma Ann, as miraculous as it seems — was a frequent visitor to her many grandchildren in Rexburg.

For several years now the Church History Library has teased me. Knowing what I know now about much of our 19th century family history I’ve wanted to go there to see what I could find out. Today, after registering for Rootstech, I had a few hours to kill before my first class. Now was the time.

I hoofed it on over there and walked into the front door, meeting a man in a suit and wearing an ear piece. He looked at me and asked what I was looking for.

“The sword of Laban,” I said confidently.

Ok, I didn’t say that but I wished I had thought of it at the time.

But that is the difference between this facility and others I have visited associated with family and church history. In this building they will allow even amateur researchers like myself access to Church records.

I decided I would play nice and follow by the rules. They checked my ID, made me log on to my LDS.org account and then I had to watch a video about how things are handled and what the procedures were there at the library.

After going through all that I put my visions of Liahonas aside and meekly asked for the ward records for Mendon, Utah.

In the time I had to spend I thought a worthy goal would be to find out if Ann Findley Westover was really primary president in Mendon for 37 years.

I had about ten minutes with a historian. He seemed impressed with my target and what I knew about Grandma Ann already. He was confident that maybe the records would show something of her calling and service.

As it turns out the ward records dated back to 1861 (I knew that) and all I needed to do was to sort through those. They made me sign, ditch my coat and phone, and sent me to the reading room where I awaited 4 rolls of microfilm. I wouldn’t see the records themselves – because they had them on film and that was safer for me to handle.

I thought about that sword again – surely they had a picture, no? I still lacked the nerve.

The first roll of film had nothing I could use, though I spent a good 45 minutes going through it. There was no rhyme or reason to what was filmed. One minute I was reading notes from the Bishopric in 1890 and the next I was dealing with YMMIA meeting notes from the 1950s.

The second reel I hit pay dirt. “Primary meeting minutes, November 5th, 1888, President Ann Westover presiding.”

There she was. Week after week, first for years and then for decades.

These were comprehensive meeting notes. Immediately I felt the pangs of guilt for the 2-line meeting notes I kept as Teacher’s Quorum secretary years ago. These pioneer meeting notes outlined total attendance (over 60 kids usually in the Mendon Ward), who spoke, what they sang and the themes of the meeting.

In looking at week after week of these notes one trend became clear: President Westover was the storyteller of the Mendon Primary. She was always relating something – the story of the blind boy who had faith, the story of Moses from the Bible, the story of Joseph sold into Egypt. My favorite note was “President Westover tells stories of early church history”. Boy, what I wouldn’t give to hear that story today!

In all, I spent three hours in 19th century Mendon, perusing minutes all the way past the year 1906, when Ann’s name stopped appearing the minutes and she no longer presided.

I doubt she was Primary President for 37 years…though I think she spent close to that time in the Primary presidency because she was a counselor for several years before she was made president.

It was a good training session for me. And you can bet I’ll be back.

I wanna see that sword.

For more than a year we have been working on telling the story through a new video about Ann Findley Westover, mother of William Westover and grandmother of Arnold Westover.

But the video keeps getting pushed back. Some of it has to do with my own personal time and life getting into the way of completing the project. But also there has been a little hesitancy because we keep finding out new parts to her story — causing me to re-write the video script time and again.

Ann’s life is crucial to telling the story of the Westover family. Born in 1838 in Scotland her years spanned the 19th century and all the events of Mormon history in Utah. Hers was the prototypical life of a 19th century Mormon woman.

The problem in telling her story, as with so many others, is that we lack a personal narrative of what happened to her. She left no journal that we know about. So we are left to pick of the pieces of her life from here and there — and from the records left by others.

These records just leave more questions we want answers to.

Ann was 17 when she arrived in the 2nd handcart company to make it to Utah in the fall of 1856. Just a few months later in February 1857 Ann found herself as the plural wife of Edwin Ruthvin Westover.

What was that like? Getting married at 17 may not have been unusual for the time but becoming a plural wife, at any age, was certainly out of the norm.

Putting her experience in Utah in just her first six months here requires us to know something of what the atmosphere was like in Utah when she arrived.

1856 was the year the first handcart companies made it to Utah. Ann was in a group that was successful in crossing the plains. She, along with the others of that company, were cheered as they were welcomed into Salt Lake City. But just two weeks after her arrival Brigham Young learned of the Willie and Martin companies still out on the plains and in a meeting called the Saints to rescue them.

She had to have been there. Was she? Rescue parties were formed, donations gathered and supplies were rushed to Wyoming. This saga lingered through the middle of December as Willie and Martin were not the only companies out there. The Hodgett and Hunt wagon trains were out there too. How much of this effort did Ann witness?

But there was other drama going on as well.

During the fall of 1856 the beginnings of the “Mormon Reformation” were taking place and this directly affected the life and future of Ann Findley. Mormon Apostle Jedidiah Grant began with a chastisement of the Saints in Kaysville, pleading with the Saints there to live lives more in harmony with the Gospel. The year 1856 was a year of horrible drought and devastating infestation of crickets. Some speculated that God was not pleased with the Saints and Grant led the charge as a member of the First Presidency in declaring repentance and reformation of faith among the Mormons.

It cannot be stated enough how much this impacted lives. As Saints recommitted themselves to living more holy lives they were rebaptized, they worked harder on doing baptisms for their kindred dead and they embraced more fully the principle of plural marriage. Records show thousands were engaged in these sacred activities at this time, including Ann Findley.

This was also the time when word was received that Johnston’s army was being sent to Utah to “put down the Mormon rebellion”. This event also affected the daily lives of regular Latter day Saints like Ann Findley Westover. Within months her new husband would be absent due to his duties as part of the Lot Smith band of Mormon Raiders — whose assigned duties included harassing the incoming army and breaking up their supply train.

Ann’s first two years in Utah were filled with drama and we don’t know what she thought of any of it. She bore her first child and by 1859 began a ten year period of moving from place to place with her husband and his other wife and family. She would bear five children and go as far as St. George in her travels before abruptly leaving Edwin to move to Mendon, Utah.

Sarah Shaw Findley

Sarah Shaw Findley

What was that all about? There are conflicting stories in what histories I can find. But maybe some answers could be found in the histories we can find from others who lived near her. One of those histories comes from Sarah Shaw Findley, Ann’s sister-in-law.

From FamilySearch we can find a lot about Sarah and her husband, William, who was Ann’s brother. But recently I found a history completely unrelated to our family that discusses some of the later years of Sarah — and that history sheds some light on the life of our Ann Findley Westover. It is called The Reluctant Bride — and that history is now available for download in our documents area of the site.

Sarah is another one of those women with an epic tale as a 19th century Mormon woman. But her life was marked with heart wrenching tragedy.

Sarah Shaw was married to William Findley Jr. in England in 1849 on Christmas Day. At the time, William was a coal miner and Sarah was a housemaid. Previous to getting married, William had heard a Mormon street preacher and converted, and Sarah joined him in converting to the church either during their courtship or shortly after they were married. She became pregnant but lost the baby, a boy, who survived just five minutes. It was with no small amount of heartbreak that she buried this child.

The Saints of England were emigrating in vast numbers and William wanted to join them. But Sarah was reluctant to leave her dead son and her parents. Several surviving histories document her struggle with this. At one point, William told her that he was going and he would pay for her passage with the church emigration agent if she ever wanted to go. And then he left. After days of agonizing over the decision Sarah left and joined William, catching him just in time as he was about to board the ship.

But their’s was a love story never to be forgotten and told through the generations. Sarah packed a small iron that she would use to iron a cap that William liked to wear. As with all immigrant companies they were not allowed to bring much and the small iron was definitely not a necessity. But Sarah didn’t view it that way. She hid the little iron up under her skirt and traveled the whole way to Utah with it concealed that way. The iron and it’s story has become a family legend. It ended up in the hands of…Ann Findley Westover. She gave it to one of Sarah’s grandchildren long after Sarah died — with the instruction that it be handed down only to a daughter named Lindsay (after her Mother, Linzey Hannah Hughes Findley).

That connection between Sarah and Ann is important.

How well they knew each other in their early years in Utah is unknown. Ann was all over southern Utah with Edwin, bearing children and living a wretched pioneer lifestyle in some of the most difficult areas of the territory. Meanwhile, Sarah was with William, who left Big Cottonwood in 1859 and moved to Mendon, Utah in Cache Valley. There William became a member of the stake high council and he farmed — becoming somewhat famous for his team of 12 beautiful horses. William partnered in some respects with another former coal miner from Scotland by the name of Henry Hughes.

William and Henry were best of friends, living near each other. Their children played together. And together they farmed. In 1868, after finally achieving some prosperity, both William and Henry decided they could now live the law of plural marriage and each took a teenage bride. A double wedding was held in Salt Lake in December 1868 but over the winter of 1869 William developed pneumonia and died. He, of course, left two wives — Sarah, and her five children — and Agnes, his new wife who was now pregnant with another child.

How and when Ann heard about her brother’s passing we don’t know. But we do know that she and Edwin reacted and it changed the course of their lives. Some histories suggest that Ann wanted to give up the rugged pioneer existence Edwin was giving her and another history says Ann felt compelled to go to Mendon not only to attend the funeral for her brother but also to help her aging parents, who with William were considered among the founding settlers of Mendon. Whatever the real reason, Ann and her children ended up in Mendon living with Sarah, her children and the newlywed Agnes.

What was Ann’s motivation in staying in Mendon? What did Edwin feel about that? What were Ann’s thoughts about marriage and family then?

But it was Sarah’s life that was thrown in to chaos.

William’s friend, Henry Hughes, informed Sarah, that he intended to marry her. This had nothing to do with love between Henry and Sarah. It had to do with a promise between friends — William and Henry. As they took plural brides in December 1868 they promised each other to “raise seed to the other”, as was a common practice among Latter Day saint men who lived life on a dangerous frontier. We have seen this once before in our family history. When Edwin died another man married his wife Sarah in Northern Arizona and famously “raised a righteous seed” in his name.

This was all news to Sarah, who liked the idea not at all. Not only was she left to grieve the sudden loss of her sweetheart but she was now being pursued by her husband’s best friend — who just happened to have been called as Bishop of Mendon around the same time.

Can you imagine the pressure on Sarah? How was she to move forward? How would she support her family? How much did all this turmoil in her life get discussed with Ann Findley Westover and how did all of it influence Ann’s decision to stay in Mendon?

The story doesn’t end there, of course. Tragedy continued to mark the life of Sarah Shaw Findley. A few short years later her eldest son, James Findley, who along with young William Westover, were now the men of the combined household, drowned in the Logan River. It was only after this and feeling backed into a corner for want of support for her other children that Sarah gave in to the insistent urging of Bishop Hughes — and married him.

Was Sarah happy? How did this affect her future? How did this affect her relationships with the rest of the family, such as her relationship with Ann? You’ll have to read about that in The Reluctant Bride.

Sarah died in 1891. But Ann, who obviously loved Sarah and her children, did much to honor her memory and the love story between William and Sarah by passing down the story of the iron and setting forth the traditions associated with it. Was Ann a closet family historian? You gotta wonder.

We will get Ann’s story told this year. But we’re going to dig a little longer — we think there is more to the story of Ann Westover to tell. We know that Ann stayed in Mendon where she experienced sacred events that blessed her life and the lives of her children. We will tell you about those. We know that she became a huge figure in that little community — eventually called by her quasi-brother-in-law Bishop Hughes to be the Primary President in Mendon.

We know that Ann was a storyteller and a lover of children. She lived a life of going to the rescue of others and their children.

But we think there is something more to learn about Ann — and we’re going to find out what it is as we learn more of her story from the parallel lives others around her were living.