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.

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