Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Genealogical Work

Apologies for dropping off the grid somewhat there for a while. I suppose one could say that 'my heart has been turned to my fathers' lately (cf. D&C 2:2; 98:16; 110:15). I've been laboring quite intently on my maternal genealogy lately. Often it's consumed virtually the entirety of my day. A significant portion of that labor has involved systematizing much of my data into an ahnentafel covering twelve generations, with myself as the base person. Previously, I hadn't put much effort into ensuring that I had clear documentation for my information, so I've been slowly locating sources (birth certificates, census records, obituaries and death notices, tombstone inscriptions, those little pamphlet things they distribute at funerals...), citing them in footnotes attached to various claims made in the ahnentafel, and transcribing those sources into an appendix. Needless to say, it's been a long process, and I'm still working on it. I've also been spending a few days in the library of the local historical society; yesterday I succeeded in procuring about fourteen additional obituaries to utilize. (I've certainly used microfilm much more in the past week than I ever imagined I would in a lifetime.) I've found numerous treasures lately, including a few ancestors I'd simply never known about before. Perhaps one of the most treasured finds is a pair of newspaper articles about my great-great-grandmother Kate's demise in 1904 - a horrible death by burning oil, due to an exploding kerosene lamp, the day before a Christmas family reunion that she'd organized. In addition, I've found out much more lately of her ancestry (indeed, up until a few days ago, I'd never known her maiden name), and so last night and this morning I've been transcribing and translating the German inscriptions on a few ancestors' tombstones, some of which delightfully mention the biblical text preached at their funerals (Job 6:22; Luke 23:28; Psalm 119:105).

Now, I consider this to be a topic ripe for discussion here because of the strong historical involvement of Latter-day Saints in genealogical work (ordinarily carried on with an eye to performing proxy baptisms for the dead, thereby offering deceased ancestors an opportunity to accept the LDS faith in a valid manner). Does anyone have any general counsel for how I can research these matters more effectively?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Samuel Burgess on the Utah Saints

S. A. Burgess was a member of the RLDS Church Historian's Office in the first half of the twentieth century. Likely sometime in the 1920s, Burgess authored a pamphlet titled The Early History of Nauvoo. In the pamphlet, he offered an overview of (R)LDS history that included the following remarks:

The assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage on June 27, 1844, followed by the repeal of the charter of the city of Nauvoo on January 13, 1845, led to the decline of the city. For a few years every effort was made to continue to erect substantial edifices, but the continued unrest in the city led to the agreement of many to withdraw from Nauvoo. A large part of these scattered throughout the neighboring States. A few thousand, however, under the leadership of Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve, proceeded in 1846 across Iowa to Kanesville or Council Bluffs, and thence to Utah....

This faction led by Brigham Young was only a small percentage of the original church, perhaps five or ten per cent at the most. After their arrival at Salt Lake City, all who went there were rebaptized. New doctrines were introduced, such as Adam God and blood atonement, and in 1852 a purported revelation was presented to the church by Brigham Young, favoring plural marriage. These doctrines of Adam God, blood atonement, and polygamy, were never tenets of the original church during the lifetime of Joseph Smith but were a departure from the early faith and doctrine....

From the first, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has denounced polygamy and the other doctrines added by the church of Utah. They have also emphasized, and still do, that the original church never accepted nor had anything to do with these doctrines. The Reorganized Church was held the lawful successor or the continuation of the original church by Judge L. S. Sherman in the Kirtland Temple Suit, in the Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio, in 1880.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Charles Lanman on Nauvoo After the Mormon Exodus

In 1846, an American librarian and explorer named Charles Lanman (1819-1895) took a canoe and made a voyage up the Mississippi. On his way, he stopped at Nauvoo for a very brief visit in July 1846, shortly after most of the Latter Day Saints had struck out for the west and while a few were still embarking on the trip. In his book about his journey, he included a chapter about his visit to Nauvoo, and due to its brevity and relative obscurity, I reprint the whole chapter here. The following is from Charles Lanman, A Summer in the Wilderness; Embracing a Canoe Voyage Up the Mississippi and Around Lake Superior (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1847), 30-33:

On my way up the Mississippi, I tarried a few hours at the far-famed city of Nauvoo; and when I resumed my course, I felt like one just awakened from an incomprehensible dream. Surely, surely Fanaticism is a most foul fiend, and we ought to rejoice with exceeding joy that He who ruleth the armies of heaven, is yet the protector of earth, and its inhabitants, and will not leave all mankind alone to the mercy of their idols.

The Mormon City occupies an elevated position, and, as approached from the south, appears capable of containing a hundred thousand souls. But its gloomy streets bring a most melancholy disappointment. Where lately resided no less than twenty-five thousand people, there are not to be seen more than about five hundred; and these, in mind, body and purse, seem to be perfectly wretched. In a walk of about ten minutes, I counted several hundred chimneys, which were all at least that number of families had left behind them, as memorials of their folly, and the wickedness of their persecutors. When this city was in its glory, every dwelling was surrounded with a garden, so that the corporation limits were uncommonly extensive; but now all the fences are in ruin, and the lately crowded streets actually rank with vegetation. Of the houses left standing, not more than one out of every ten is occupied, excepting by the spider and the toad. Hardly a window retained a whole pane of glass, and the doors were broken, and open, and hingeless. Not a single laughing voice did I hear in the whole place, and the lines of suffering and care seemed to be imprinted on the faces of the very children who met me in the way. I saw not a single one of those numerous domestic animals, which add so much to the comforts of human life; and I heard not a single song even from the robin and the wren, which are always so sure to build their nests about the habitations of man. Aye, the very sunshine, and the pleasant passing breeze, seemed both to speak of sin, sorrow, and utter desolation.

Yet, in the centre of this scene of ruins, stands the Temple of Nauvoo, which is unquestionably one of the finest buildings in this country. It is built of limestone, quarried within the limits of the city, in the bed of a dry stream, and the architect, named Weeks, and every individual who labored upon the building were Mormons. It is one hundred and twenty-eight feet in length, eighty feet wide, and from the ground to the extreme summit it measures two hundred and ninety-two feet. It is principally after the Roman style of architecture, somewhat intermixed with Grecian and Egyptian. It has a portico, with three Roman archways. It is surrounded with pilasters; at the base of each is carved a new moon, inverted, while the capital of each is formed of an uncouth head, supported by two hands holding a trumpet. Directly under the tower in front is this inscription, in golden letters: "The House of the Lord. Built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Commenced April 6th, 1841. Holiness to the Lord." In the basement room, which is paved with brick, and converges to the centre, is a Baptismal Font, supported by twelve oxen, large as life, the whole executed in solid stone. Two stairways lead into it, from opposite directions, while on the other side are two rooms for the recording clerks, and, all around, no less than twelve preparation rooms besides. On the first floor are three pulpits, and a place for the choir; and on either side eight Roman windows. Over the prophet's pulpit, or throne, is this inscription: "The Lord has beheld our sacrifice; come after us." Between the first and second floors are two long rooms, appropriated to the patriarchs, which are lighted with eight circular windows each. The room of the second floor, in every particular, is precisely like that of the first. Around the hall of a spacious attic are twelve small rooms, with circular windows and a massive lock on each door. At the two front corners on the edifice are two winding stairways, which meet at the base of the tower and lead to the summit, - while the roof of the main building is arranged for a place of promenade; and the walls of the noble edifice vary from four to six feet in thickness.

Estimating the manual labor at the usual prices of the day, it is said that the cost of the Temple was about $800,000. The owners now offer to sell it for $200,000, but it will be a very long time, I fancy, before a purchaser is found.

The Mormon, who took me over the Temple, and gave me the above information, was nearly broken hearted. Like the majority of his brethren, remaining in the city, he was without money, and without friends, and yet, it was to be his destiny, in a few days, to push his way into the wilderness, with a large family depending upon him for support. It was in a most melancholy tone, indeed, that he spoke to me the following words: "Mine, sir, is a hard, hard lot. What if my religion is a false one, if I am sincere, is it not cruel, in the extreme, for those, who call themselves the only true church, to oppress me and my people as they have done? My property has been stolen from me, and my dwelling has been consumed; and now, while my family is dependent upon a more fortunate brother for support, my little children cannot go into the streets without being pelted with stones, and my daughters cannot go to the well after a pail of water, without being insulted by the young and noble among our persecutors. I do not deserve this treatment. I am not a scoundrel or a foreigner; - far, far from the truth is this supposition. My grandfather, sir, was killed at the battle of Yorktown, as an officer of the glorious Revolution; my own father, too, was also an American army officer during the last war; and all my kindred have ever been faithful to the upright laws of the government. Knowing, therefore, these things to be true, and knowing, too, that I am an honest man, it is very hard to be treated by my fellow countrymen as a 'vagabond.' O, I love this sacred Temple, dearly, and it makes me weep to think that I must so soon leave it to the tender mercies of the Christian world."

Thus far had the poor man proceeded, when his utterance was actually choked with tears, - and I was glad of it, for my own heart was affected by his piteous tale. I gave him a dollar for his trouble, when he was called to attend a new arrival of visitors, and I was left alone in the belfry of the Temple.

Then it was that I had an opportunity to muse upon the superb panorama which met my gaze upon every side. I was in a truly splendid temple, - that temple in the centre of a desolate city, - and that city in the centre of an apparently boundless wilderness. To the easy lay in perfect beauty the grand Prairie of Illinois, reaching to the waters of Michigan; to the north and south faded away the winding Mississippi; and on the west, far as the eye could reach, was spread out a perfect sea of forest land, entering which, I could just distinguish a caravan of exiled Mormons, on their line of march to Oregon and California. As before remarked, when I went forth from out the massy porches of the Mormon Temple, to journey deeper into the wilderness, I felt like one awakened from a dream.