The Girls of Polygamy — A Spotlight on the Young Women Married Much Too Young

It’s that dreaded P-word, polygamy. A word that many genealogists groan at and those of particular persuasions try to pretend it didn’t happen. But it did. Polygamy (in the United States) was practiced by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) from 1852 to 1890 when it was officially discontinued by the leaders of the Mormon Church. Even though there was a strict edict to stop this practice, many members (including high ranking leaders) still practiced in secret. Some even left the country and moved to Mexico and Canada where polygamist Mormon communities were created, and in some aspects still exist today.

Academia Juárez, part of the Mormon community from Colonia Dublán
Academia Juárez, part of the Mormon community from Colonia Dublán —

During this time of multiple marriages, men married as many women as were ‘given’ to them or that they were commanded to marry. In many cases, this would include mothers and daughters, sisters, and various members of the same families all married to the same man. What isn’t talked about as much when we talk about multiple wives and dozens of children are the ages of these women, no, girls when they married much older men. The following research is just a snippet from the larger picture of polygamy.

Diantha Hanchett

  • Name: Diantha Hanchett
  • Age When Married: 17
  • Husband: Elias Gardner
  • Husband’s Age: 39
  • Age Difference: 22

Diantha Hanchett was born to parents Martin Elan and Sarah Hanchett in 1830 and shortly thereafter, her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, not knowing then that they would be wedding their daughter off to a polygamist one day. At the age of 15, Diantha was baptized into the Mormon Church, and before her 18th birthday had been married off to Elias Gardner, a man who was twenty-two years her senior.

At the time of her marriage to Elias, in 1847, Diantha joined a family and a man who already had one other wife, with four other wives to join the family soon afterward. At the age of 19, Diantha gave birth to her first child, a daughter by the name of Betsy Ann, with six more children to come in quick succession.


Elias and Ellen Elizabeth Gardner
Elias and Ellen Elizabeth Gardner
  • Name: Ellen Elizabeth Abbott
  • Age When Married: 14
  • Husband: Elias Gardner
  • Husband’s Age: 43
  • Age Difference: 29

Ellen Elizabeth Abbott was the fourth wife of Elias Gardner and the sister an daughter of two of his other wives (Ruth and Emily). At the age of 13, we can find Ellen on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census living with her mother Ruth and sister Emily after their father Joshua Chandler Abbott had left the family to go fight in the military. Just a year later, in February of 1852, at the age of 14, Ellen Elizabeth was married off to Elias Gardner, who was 43 years old — this was a 29-year difference.

Just a few months after their marriage, in August of 1852, Elias left his new bride in the care of his other wives Betsey and Diantha, while he left on a religious (Mormon) mission for two years in Great Britain. During this time, Ellen Elizabeth lived with the family and their children, not yet having any of her own until 1857, when her first son, Elias Gardner, Jr. was born — Ellen Elizabeth was twenty years old. Within those years, Elias also took two other wives, Ann and Ruth; the former whom he met on his mission to Great Britain and latter of which was her very own mother. Over the years, Elias and Ellen Elizabeth had ten children (including Elias Jr.).

When Ellen was only 53 years old, her husband died in 1891, at the age of 82, leaving her behind with 10 children ranging from Martha Jane who was only 10 years old to Elias Jr., who was 33 years old. She never married again.


Emily Ann Gravestone

  • Name: Emily Ann Abbott
  • Age When Married: 18
  • Husbands Name: Elias Gardner
  • Husband Age When Married: 59
  • Years Between the Two: 41

Emily Ann Abbott was the 5th wife of Elias Gardner and the sister and daughter of two of his wives. When they married in July of 1867 (on the same day he was married to another woman), she was only eighteen years old, compared to his fifty-nine — a forty-one-year difference. According to a family life sketch of Emily:

Emily Ann, the daughter of Ruth and sister to Ellen, had been living in Elias’ home all the while she was growing up.  She did not have good health, and so Ruth and Ellen encouraged her to marry Elias.  They felt that if she were to marry Elias, they would be better able to care for her in her poor health.  Having thus been persuaded, Elias agreed.

And even though Emily Ann had grown up in the Gardner household, both her sister and mother convincer her to marry their husband ‘for her health’. Despite such ‘health’ problems, Emily Ann and Elias had four children:

In 1880, at the age of 31, after 13 years of marriage to Elias Gardner. When Emily Ann died, she left her four children (ages 2 [Harriet], 6 [Franklin]m 9 [Emily], and 11 [Lois Anne] to her husband Elias who was 72-years old at the time.


Zelpha Cornwell Thompson Jackson

  • Name: Zelpha Cornwell
  • Age When Married: 13
  • Husbands Name: Edmund Hobert Thompson Sr.
  • Husband Age When Married: 54
  • Years Between the Two: 41

Zelpha Cornwell was born in 1870, and little did she know, at the time of her birth that her first husband was already forty-years-old. Only a mere thirteen years later Zelpha was married off to Edmund Hobert Thompson Sr. who was forty-one years her senior and already had one other wife. She bore her first child to her husband at age 16 and in quick succession, the other two children came — one at 18 years of age and one at 20.

  • Infant Thompson – Son (1887 – 1887)
  • George Andrew (1889 – 1947)
  • Mary Frances (1890 – 1976)

By the time she was twenty-one, she had been married for eight years and lost not only her firstborn child but her husband, who had previously abandoned her with her children while he ran to Mexico so he wouldn’t get prosecuted for polygamy*.

*After his death, Zelpha remarried a man by the name of Joseph Jackson.


These aren’t the only stories of the girls of polygamy, but they are some that deserve to be heard. Which stories in your family would you like to share? Comment below. Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory


The Biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall — Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, we bought Part 1 of the biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench. Today we are feature part two of her biography, written by her own hand. We last left off when Susan’s mother, Maria Watson Kirby had passed away. In this section of her biography, we learn more about her father’s mission and what he brought home from it.

Note: This particular entry does have a disturbing recollection in it, please be aware of that in your reading and understand the time and place of which this was written.

John Longman Bench and his 3rd wife Clara Ann Steer
John Longman Bench and his 3rd wife Clara Ann Steer

In 1882 father (John Longman Bench) was called on a mission to England. He was to go for two years. We all went to see him off in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both boys were to live with our Bench grandparents in Manti and I was to live in Salt Lake City and work. Father left on the 16th of October, three days before my 18th birthday. As long as I live I will remember that day. There were sixty-three elders at the depot to go to the European mission. I felt like I had not a soul on earth. Just as father kissed me goodbye George G. Cannon, who had been bidding the elders God speed, saw me standing along crying, he came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t cry, the Lord will return your father to you.” And he did in two years time.

George G. Cannon
George G. Cannon

Before leaving, however, father found me a home to live in and work for the winter. A man by the name of J. S. Lewis and family. I only stayed two weeks. I am sorry to say he had been very free with me, so I left the home one night just at supper time. I bundled up my belongings and waited until the family was all around the table, then I left and went to my Grandmother’s Kirby. I had four blocks to walk along after dark, but I knew I was not alone for I felt all the time my guardian angel had charge of me. Grandma had gone out so I sat there on the doorstep until she returned. I told her my story, between sobs. Then, next morning she went with me across the street to Mrs. Mary Weiler, a dear friend of grandma’s and I was hired out for $5.00 a week. She kept boarders, mostly students at the U. of U. (University of Utah). I lived with her family for a year and a half and was treated like one of them. Mrs. Weiler was a wonderful woman. She taught me so many things in housekeeping and cooking. I took care of my money and was able to send father five dollars when I could and I kept my two brothers in shoes and other clothes.

Ann Longman
Ann Longman

Grandmother Ann Bench (née Longman) was not well so I was asked to come to Manti, Utah to help take care of the boys, which I did. On returning home I went to work for a Mrs. Laurnrency Laury for four months at $5.00 a week. In 1884, father returned home from his mission and he brought with him a very sweet girl by the name of Lavisa Griffin, whom he married 24th of April 1885 in the Logan Temple. Our family had a loving mother once again for a time. We were all very happy for about two years but fate did come our way again for she passed away in 1886, November 21, leaving us without a mother again. While she was with us I did some temple work. During these days I had some social life. I went with a crowd of young people, the nicest in Manti. One, especially, a young man Jay Jensen and a fine fellow whom I kept company with as you would call a boyfriend now. We had some very good times together.

To read part one, click here. Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory




The Name Game: Rebecca

Every time I start a new family tree for a client, I marvel at the variety of names and dates before me. Each one of those individuals was an actual person and lived a life. Some of the names are familiar, and others are a bit more unique (like Seattleton). In this post series, I’d like to dedicate time each week to a particular name(s) that can be found in our files.

Fun Fact: One of the names on this list is actually my maiden name, though the individual isn’t me.

To start this fun exercise out, I’ve chosen my given first name, Rebecca.

Meaning of Rebecca

Rebecca Anderson (1749 – ?? )

Not much is known about the first daughter of Patrick and Hannah Anderson, but she was born in 1749 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The United States had yet to be formed at this point, it was only the colonies of the British empire that Rebecca and her family were living in. At this point and time, this is all the information we can find on her.

Rebecca Churchill (1875 – 1875 ); Nine Days Old

Out of all the Rebecca’s shared in today’s post, Rebecca Churchill was probably the youngest when she passed. At only nine days old, the first daughter of George Washington and Kazia Elizabeth Churchill lived and died where she was born.

Rebecca Woodbury Corning (1785 – 1881 ); 95 years old

Miss Rebecca Woodbury Corning was born in 1785, the same year that the newly created American government she was born into sent their first ambassador to Great Britain. Born in Preston, Connecticut to Uriah and Elizabeth Corning, Rebecca was third out of eight children. At the age of seventeen, Rebecca married Jeffrey Champlain. The two only had one child, their daughter Frances Amanda, born in 1806. Sadly, Rebecca outlasted her own daughter and husband and lived until the age of 91, when she died in Norwich, Connecticut, only five miles away from where she was born.

Rebecca Darby (1797 – 1859); 61 years old 

Note: Out of all the entries in today’s Name Game entry, this one struck me the most. You see, Rebecca Campbell isn’t the name I was born with, Rebecca Darby was the name given to me at birth, and it was slightly odd to see my own name on a clients family tree dating back five generations.

Marriage Intention of Eben Davis & Rebecca Darby
Marriage Intention of Eben Davis & Rebecca Darby

Rebecca Darby was born right before the turn of the 19th century to parents Rebecca & Captain Benjamin Darby in Leominster, Massachusetts. Not the first Rebecca in her family (her mother), this Rebecca came last out of six children. In May of 1814, Rebecca married a young man by the name of Ebeneezer Davis, from New Salem, Massachusetts and had nine children over the next few years. In her late twenties, not only did her own mother pass away but her young daughter, Arvilla Davis died at the age of two. Only a few years before she died, at age 54, Rebecca married Ashael Divoll. At the age of 61, Rebecca passed away in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Rebecca Dunbar (1900 – 1968); 68 years old 

Rebecca Dunbar was born at the beginning of a new century, in the middle of a hot July summer in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania — most likely on her families farm. Her parents, Solomon T. and Elizabeth V. Dunbar had nine other children — four boys and five girls. By the time she was 19 years old, she had met her future husband, Martin Van Buren Phillippi and they were married on the 7th of July, 1919. Over the course of the next 15 years, Martin and Rebecca had five children before he died, making her a widow at the age of 33. Never marrying again, Rebecca lived out the rest of her life in Pennsylvania until she died in Orrville, Ohio where she passed away at age 68.

Rebecca Ferguson (1799 – 1861); 61 years old

Rebecca Ferguson was born in North Carolina around the turn of the 19th century. When she was 21 years of age, she married Joseph Hickenbottom in Adair, Kentucky, which at the time had many Chesnut trees, but as of this date has one of the only remaining American Chesnut trees in the world. Joseph and Rebecca had twelve children before she passed away at the age of 61 in Lockridge, Iowa in 1861.

Rebecca Fulton (1851 – 1933 ); 82 years old 

Death Certificate of Rebecca Fulton Fishel
Death Certificate of Rebecca Fulton Fishel

Simon and Elizabeth Fulton’s daughter, Rebecca was born in 1851, in Clearside, Pennsylvania. One of twelve children, Rebecca spent her life on her families farm until she met John F. Fishel and they married. Seven children (six girls and one boy) came to this union. Rebecca died at the age of 82 in 1933 when she got pneumonia and then died of influenza within the course of a month.

Rebekah Hall (1740 – 1815); 75 years old

Rebekah Hall was born in Alstead, New Hampshire in 1740, only five years after the town was charted by then Massachusetts Governor Jonathan Belcher as a line of nine forts that were intended to protect southwestern New Hampshire from native indigenous attacks. Rebekah was married to Jonathan Webster when she was twenty years old in Plaistow, New Hampshire in 1761. The couple had eleven children to their union before Rebekah passed way in 1815 at the age of 75 years old.

Rebecca Hickenbottom (1838 – 1916); 78 years old

Rebecca Hickenbottom was the daughter of Rebecca Ferguson and Joseph Hickenbottom and was one of twelve children born into the family on the 12th of July 1838 in Morgan County, Illinois. She married John Willis Toothaker when she was 21 years old in Jefferson County, Iowa and quickly had six children — two girls and four boys. Rebecca passed away at the age of 78 years old in Hoxie, Kansas.

Rebecca Tanner (1791 – 1824 ); 33 years old

Very little is known about Rebecca Tanner, the daughter of Nathan and Lucy Tanner. It is known that she married a man by the name of Ephraim Powers and may have had children with him, but how many is not known. After he died, family rumor goes, she married a ‘Latter Day Saints preacher and moved to Nauvoo, Ill., where she died.’ From what little information there is about Rebecca Tanner, it is believed she died at 33 years old in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Rebecca Ann Tate (1867 – 1938); 71 years old 

Rebecca Ann Tate was born to parents George Washington and Rosana Tate in Kanawha County, West Virginia. At age 18, Rebecca Ann married a young man by the name of William Addison Casdorph. To this union, six children were born. At the age of 71, Rebecca died from arsenic poisoning and was laid to rest in the same county she had been born into.

Rebecca Edith Tucker (1903 – 1982 ); 78 years old 

Rebecca Edith Tucker was born to William and Emma Tucker in Patton, Pennsylvania — a small borough of Cambria County. Rebecca Edith was one of eight children. Rebecca married William T. Hutchinson and had two children, John and Richard Bruce Hutchinson. In May of 1982, Rebecca passed away in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

Rebecca Van Alstyne (abt. 1790 – abt. 1820); abt. 30 years old

Rebecca Van Alstyne was born in Montgomery, New York in about 1790, the same year that George Washington gave the very first State of the Union address and the same year that Congress approved the first federal census of 1790. In October of 1807, around the age of 17, Rebecca married Martin Quackenbush. The two had two daughters before Rebecca passed away around 1820.

Do you have any Rebecca or Becky’s in your family history? Be sure to share their story with us in the comments below!

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The Biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall — Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Susan Elizabeth Bench, the polygamist who escaped to Mexico after being arrested for the crime of bigamy. Today, we bring you more from Susan, but instead of a first-person narrative story written by myself, we bring you the words of Susan herself, taken from her biography. If you have a biography or journal entry from one of your relatives that you would like to share, e-mail us at thehipsterhistorian (at) gmail (dot) com or share with us on our Facebook page here. Now, without further ado, Part 1 of the biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall.
Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall
Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall
“I was born on the 19th of October 1864 at Manti, Utah, the daughter of John L. Bench and Mariah Kirby, of England, pioneers of 1852. I lived there through childhood and enjoyed my parents and grandparents very much. As a child, I remember going to Salt Lake City (Utah) with father and mother to the April and October conference (of the LDS Church). It would take us four days each way with horse and buggy or wagon. We would stay at grandmother Kirby’s. She made her home there-after years had married a man by the name of John Picknell who had a butcher business.
Grandfather (William Bench, 1815-1875) Bench worked all day at blacksmithing, but at the end of the day’s work, Eliza Bench, a cousin, and I would race to meet him as he came home. We had many pleasant romps with him, black and dirty, as he was, he would kick us all as we would try to grab him around the legs. He would run and we would chase him home. Grandmother always had an apple or cookie waiting for us as we went in with him.


William Bench (1815 - 1875)
William Bench (1815 – 1875)

Often father would go to his friend and we would ride with him or sit on the back of the wagon and let our feet hang out. I remember mother would go; she would always wait on the side of the canal if it was full of water until he returned because she was frightened of water. As a small child she would take me out and we would wait until father came back. I went to school up to the eighth grade. My parents always saw to it that I attended out (sic) duties such as going to Sunday School, Mutual, Sacrament Meeting. When I was older I sang in the ward choir. We sang at the dedication of the Manti Temple and our choir was known as a very good choir—the best of its time. I did some temple work, baptismal word for the dead and father baptized me for 500 souls one time.

Manti Utah Mormon Temple
Manti Utah Mormon Temple

I was fourteen years old when mother took sick on the ninth of January 1878. She was only sick for three weeks and died on the 21st of January. Her health had been poor and father contributed it to hardships in early life. Father was left along with only myself and my two brothers, John L., 8 years and William Edward, 2 years. Mother had had two other boys, Charles Watson and Urban Lorenzo but they had died in infancy. Mother died of rheumatic fever. I was old enough to know how to do a few things but mother had made the mistake in not teaching me to cook and I did not know much about it, so I kept house and did the best I could for father and the boys.

Susan's Mother, Maria Watson Kirby
Susan’s Mother, Maria Watson Kirby

Join us next week when we continue the story of Susan Elizabeth Bench.

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A Polygamist In Peril – Susan Elizabeth Bench’s Escape to Mexico

Author’s Note: This is not an actual letter from Susan Elizabeth Bench to her grandchildren but a historical narrative based off facts from Susan’s life as noted in her biography.

My Dearest Grandchildren,

I write you this letter to clarify some of my life as you have asked. The stories of my life I would not want to repeat for any of you, but they have shaped me into who I am today.

Back in 1886, I met you grandfather, Francis George Wall in Glenwood, Utah while he was a Sunday School counselor and I was the Sunday School Secretary. Early the next year, in the snowy days of February I made my way by wagon to Nephi with Francis. Once when we arrived in Nephi, we left our horses and wagon and took a train to Salt Lake City.

Susan Elizabeth Bench
Susan Elizabeth Bench

When we arrived in Salt Lake, it was a blinding snow storm, but we were able to make it for my Grandmothers (Honor Hannah Watson) home at 647 South Main Street. Francis and I stayed with my family for just one day before taking the train to the People’s Hotel in Logan.

On the 18th of February 1887, Francis and I went to the Logan LDS Temple where we were married by a C.D. Felstead. We stayed three days in the People’s hotel before returning to my Grandmother Honor’s home in Salt Lake City.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as we made our ways back to our respective homes, I didn’t see Francis (or as I called him, Brother Wall) again until November of that same year (1887).

No one in town knew where I had gone for those few days, because polygamy had started to be looked upon with disdain by non-members and member of my church alike. In fact, I lived “underground” (as it was commonly called) for three years, without ever publicly declaring my marriage to Francis.

Francis George Wall
Francis George Wall

Our first son, John Edward Wall was born on the 13th of February of 1890 in Manti, Utah. When John was only a week old, I was arrested on charges of bigamy and put under a $2,500.00 bond and ordered to appear in court in Salina, Utah by the United States Deputy Marshall to answer the charges of five years.

On the 21st of March 1890, my brother John drove the team of oxen with me in the back of the wagon box after a deep and hard snow storm while I took my son, John Edward, with me.

As it goes with the court, dates change and the next morning after arriving in Salina, I was informed I was to appear in Spring City on the 1st of June in that year.  After that appearance, the court date was again pushed back until the 27th of September 1890, this time in Provo, Utah — before a grand jury.

I was quite worried that they were going to put me away and that my little son, John Edward would be without a mother. The night before I was supposed to be in court, I stayed with the Farr family and told the wife that if I never came back to retrieve my boy that she could have him.

During all this time, Francis was nowhere to be found, as he had already made his escape to Mexico on the advice of our Church President, John Taylor. At this point, Brother Wall had never even seen our son.

While at court, I could hear all the other women give their testimonies in court about their polygamist lives. In fact, there was one woman, Bell Harris who had her small child in her arms during the whole ordeal, and she was sentenced to five years.

When my turn came, they locked the door as if I would escape and asked me all the questions they could think — I told the truth as my husband had instructed me to do so. After all was said and done, I was released on bail. It probably helped that the prosecuting attorney was Aunt Jane’s (one of my father’s polygamous wives — Jane Nickland) brother.

Provo Utah Courthouse
Provo Utah Courthouse

Just the very next year, in June of 1891, I left my home in Manti, Utah for Mexico to escape the persecution for practicing polygamy, which was now officially declared unfit for members of my church. John Edward was only a year and a half when we left.

From Manti, we traveled by train to Deming, New Mexico — which took three days. From Deming, I had to try and find anyone that would take me and my baby to Mexico, as no trains were running into the country at that time. I was able to find two men (Charles Shumway and Henry Marteneau.) that would take me there.

We were set to leave the next day, but little Ted (John Edward) broke out with scarlet fever, and it took us more than three weeks to leave. By that time, Francis had heard we were there and came up to meet up with a team and wagon to take us to our new home.

And that my dear children, is how I had to escape to Mexico because I chose to marry a man who already had a wife. I pray that this letter finds you well.

Your grandmother,

Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall

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The Falling Sickness of Ruby S. McComb

Note:Ruby Walker Smith did not actually write this letter, but I am presenting the information in a way that lends itself to storytelling.

My Dear Readers,

I wanted to take this precious time I have been given in my short life to tell you a little bit about what trials and tribulations I went through as a young woman. My name is Ruby Walker Smith, and I am the daughter of the Hyrum James Smith and Cornelia Elvira Walker — and the granddaughter of the great Samuel Smith, probate judge of Box Elder County and former mayor and postmaster of Brigham City.

Ruby McCombs
Ruby McCombs

My life started in Riverdale, Idaho where I was born in May of 1901. I was the second to last child of my parents, and sixth of seven children. This was a new dawn for the world and the beginning of the 20th century,  but my day wasn’t to last. I was quickly diagnosed with the falling sickness and it has affected me from a very young age and caused me to have such frail health throughout the years.


It saddens me because my dear son Armin was diagnosed with the same sickness as me. Did I somehow pass this defect of my health and body onto my dear son?

When I was only 36 years old, I was out and about and had a spell of the fainting sickness. When the shaking started, I fell into a rock-bottomed ditch, and because I was unable to control the spasms and seizures of my body, I couldn’t get up and drowned, leaving my children and husband alone.

After I passed, my husband left my son in an institution, something I didn’t do while I was still alive. Even with this afflicting disease, I bore three children (Zelda, Mamie, and Arnie) to my husband Archie Ezekiel McCombs. About 15 years after my own death,  my son died in the institution my husband placed him in and followed me into the grave with the same disease.

There isn’t much more to say, but this is my story and this was my life.



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The Statement of Hyrum James Smith by his daughter Ruby S. McCombs

The core of my genealogical research is transcription, and I’ve even built a business around it (Life Stories Transcription Services). So when I get to see images of original handwriting or journals my historian senses get to tingling and I just have to share with my readers.

Today’s images come from the statement of Hyrum James Smith as recorded by his daughter Ruby S. McCombs (née Smith). Hyrum was the son of a famous Mormon pioneer by the name of Samuel Smith. Samuel was the postmaster, probate judge and mayor of Brigham City, Utah — all at different times of course. But this story isn’t about Samuel, that’ll be for another time.

Hyrum James Smith
Hyrum James Smith

I’ll let Hyrum do the talking about the only transcription of his words that we have found do this date….

Hyrum James Smith 

Page 1:

“Riverdale. Oct 28. 1912

Statement by Hyrum Joseph Smith

I was born in Davis County Iowa, and am the second son of the late Judge Samuel Smith of Brigham City who was baptized Dec. 26, 1841 at London, England by Lorenzo Snow and sailed for America on Jan. 15, 1843. And from the time of his landing in the United States, he was closely connected with the prophet Joseph Smith. And was living four miles south of Nauvoo. At the time of the Prophets death, and with the rest of the Latter-day Saints he left Illinois and came to Iowa. He afterward and in 1850 came on to Winter Quarters and in 1850 crossed the Plains in Aaron Johnson’s company landing in Salt Lake City on the second day of September 1853.

He settled in Big Cottonwood that same fall, stayed there until the Spring of 1855 when he moved to what is now Brigham City. He with Lorenzo Snow and others being called to go there and build up that place.”

Page 2:

“Apostle Lorenzo Snow was President of Box Elder Stake and Johnathan C. Wright and my Father were his counselors. My father assisted Jessie W. Fox in laying out the city which was named for our Great Leader Brigham Young.  My father also acted as Post Master for 14 years at Brigham City and served two terms as Probate Judge and was Mayor of Brigham City. At the time of his death was President of the Box Elder Stake. Having been requested to State what I know concerning the Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will first state what my Parents have told me, concerning Brigham Young. They said they were present at the meeting when there was several claiming to be the one to lead the Church. But when they heard Brigham Young speak they knew that he was the man for they said if they had not seen him, they would…”

Page 3:

“…have thought it was the Prophet Joseph Smith himself speaking to them. I was well acquainted with President Brigham Young. I traveled with him considerab[ly] and as I grow older and the counsels that he gave us, I know as well as my parents did that he was the right man. I was also acquainted with President John Taylor, President Wilford Woodruff, President Lorenzo Snow, and I know that they were the men to do the work that they did. As for Joseph Smith, I am only slightly acquainted with him, but he is still with us and we can all see his work and hear his counsel and it does not my testimony or anyone else’s as his work is a living testimony of its truth.

H.J. Smith by Ruby S. McCombs.”

What transcriptions of family documents have you come across? Be sure to share with us below in the comments!

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The Sister Wives Saga: The Gardner Girls

Author’s Note: This information is as accurate as found in my current research. 

Some men had one wife, others 56. Elias Gardner (son of William and Ann Gardner of Massachusetts)  landed somewhere in the middle. He had nine wives — Harriet, Amy, Betsy, Diantha, Ruth, Ellen, Ann, Emily + Martha.  This is their story.

Wife #1: Harriet Snow Smith

Harriet Snow Smith was the first of Elias’s wives, only 17 when they married on the 1st of January 1826 in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. A few short years later, in 1830, at the age of 22, Harriet Snow Smith died, leaving Elias with two small children — a toddler son by the name of Walter Elias and a five-month-old baby daughter by the name of Harriet Elizabeth. There was no indicator of death and the only mention of the possible cause we have is ‘suddenly’ as indicated on Vital Record Transcripts (see below):

Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988
Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records

Harriet died before her husband became a Mormon polygamist with eight other wives. One would wonder what she would have thought or said about his actions after her death. Little else is known about Harriet except the words left on her tombstone by her husband which reads:

“In Memory of Harriet Gardner Wife of Elias Gardner Who died March 2, 1830, in her 22-year. Sleep, till death doth silence all, Nor wake again, till Jesus calls Then from the grave, in haste arise, And soar to worlds above the skies.”

Gravestone of Harriet Snow Smith Gardner
Gravestone of Harriet Snow Smith Gardner

Wife #2: Amy Pritchard

Amy was Elias’s second wife after his first died at a young age.  According to family lore, the two met at some sort of dancing event, and that between the two of them, they could clear the dance floor. The two were married the day before Valentines on the 13th of February in 1832.

In 1840, Amy, her husband Elias and her step-son Walter joined the Mormon Church where her husband began to learn about the secretive teachings of polygamy that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith taught and practiced.

The family began to move around and follow the Mormon migration patterns from Massachusetts to Ohio (Portage/Kirtland) to Illinois (Nauvoo) and lastly to Nebraska (Winter Quarters) where Amy Pritchard passed away on the 24th of November 1846 after taking sick with the chills — this mother of four (three daughters and one son) was buried in an unmarked and unnamed grave along with others that had died so quickly in the winter season that year.

Her children’s names were:

  • Nancy Maria
  • Mary Amelia
  • Henry Erastus
  • Permelia Frenette

Wife #3: Betsy Elizabeth Markham

Before Elias’s second wife, Amy passed away, Betsy and Elias met, but it wasn’t until a scant seventeen days after Amy died that Elias married Betsy Elizabeth Markham at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, she was thirty-two years old when she became his wife.

The two traveled across the plains with Harriet’s son Walter and Amy’s living children. Betsy bore two more children to Elias (bringing his total of children to eight at this point). A son named William Kimball (died in infancy) and a daughter named Vilate.


Betsy Elizabeth Markham Gardner
Betsy Elizabeth Markham Gardner

Betsy was the first wife to make it past the age of 45. In fact, Betsy didn’t die until she was 91 years of age in Payson, Utah from bronchitis, in 1906.

Betsy Elizabeth Markham Gardner Death Certificate
Betsy Elizabeth Markham Gardner Death Certificate

Wife #4: Diantha Hanchett

Less than a year after he married Betsy, Elias married a young 17-year old girl by the name of Diantha Hanchett, who at this time became Elias’s first polygamous marriage and his fourth wife.

Diantha Hanchett
Diantha Hanchett
from the BYU University Lee Library


To this union, seven children were born:

  • Sarah Diantha
  • Susan Locretia
  • Joseph
  • James
  • Marilla
  • Betsy Ann
  • Nathaniel

While living in Utah Territory, (which eventually became the state of Utah), this particular polygamous group of the Gardner family clashed with local indigenous tribes as they began to encroach upon their lands.

Diantha ended up being a queen-of-all-trades. She learned how to make candles as a teenager. She home-schooled each of her seven children and taught many neighbor children over the years. Not one to follow all the rules, Diantha enjoyed a good cuppa tea and even told her children and grandchildren on occasion, “Better a poor bellie burst than good tea waste.”

It did not take long until Diantha was no longer the newest sister-wife in the family. After only five years into her marriage to Elias, he added another wife to the family.

Wife #5: Ruth Markham Abbott 

Like many of Elias’ polygamous wives, Ruth Abbott (née Markham) was kin to his other wives. Ellen Elizabeth Abbott and Emily Ann Abbott were Ruth’s daughters from her first marriage to Joshua Chandler Abbott.

Ruth Markham
Ruth Markham

In this case, Elias married a mother and her two daughters — having 14  children in combination with those two daughters. Ruth became the grandmother to these particular children, twice over. In addition to being the mother of two of Elias’ wives, Ruth was also the biological sister of another of his wives, #3 Betsy Elizabeth Markham.

According to one family story, “Ruth finally agreed to marry him [Elias], but she would never live with him as a wife as long as he was married to her daughter. She couldn’t stand the thoughts of sleeping with her daughter’s husband.”

Ruth and Elias never had any children together.

Wife #6: Ellen Elizabeth Abbott

In February of 1852, Elias took a 6th wife and third in his polygamous series of wives. Her name was Ellen Elizabeth Abbott and she was only 14 years old.  Elias was 43 – a 29-year age gap. To this union, eleven children were born.

Ellen Elizabeth Abbott
Ellen Elizabeth Abbott

Why was she so young? It turns out the Ellen Elizabeth had traveled across the plains with Elias and her aunt Betsey Elizabeth Markham (wife #3) at the age of nine. Which gives question if she was being groomed for a position as one of Elias’s many wives. While official records state that Elias was ‘called’ into polygamy right before he married Ellen Elizabeth, it is clear that he already had two other wives before her. Their children were:

  • Elias Jr.
  • John
  • Ellen Elizabeth
  • Ruthette
  • Joshua Abbott
  • George
  • Orawell
  • Iris and Ira (twins)
  • Martha Jane

Wife #7: Ann Elizabeth English

Out of all Elias’s nine wives, Ann Elizabeth English was the only foreigner he married and there was a reason for that. Elias met Ann and her mother Martha while he was a missionary for the Mormon Church in England.

Ann was born in South Shields, County Durham, England and married Elias when she was only 18 years old and he was 47. She was his seventh wife and fifth polygamous marriage.

Ann Elizabeth English
Ann Elizabeth English

Ann Elizabeth arrived in the states in 1855, and in late November of 1855, she married Elias. About five years later, her mother Martha Todd English (Elias’s last wife) died when Ann was only 23-years of age. The union between Elias and Ann Elizabeth produced 12 children:

  • Eliza Roxanna
  • Verona
  • Elizabeth
  • Annie
  • Thomas Francis
  • Edna Mae
  • Lewis Edward
  • Emeline
  • Lorena Jane
  • Benjamin
  • Martha Ann
  • John William

When Ann and her mother first came to the states, it was thought (according to family lore) that through tradition she would marry one of Elias’s sons, possibly Walter or Henry, but Ann told her granddaughter years later, “I did not want to marry Walter or Henry, I wanted to marry your grandfather.”

Wife #8: Emily Ann Abbott

The last of his living wives, Emily Ann Abbott was the younger sister wife (number six) and daughter of wife number five.  The story goes that Emily Ann had spent most of her life growing up in Elias Gardner’s household and that because of her poor health, she was encouraged to marry a much older man in polygamous marriage.

Emily Ann Gravestone

When they married she was only 19, but Elias was 60, a 41-year difference in age. On the same day that Emily Ann was married to Elias, he was also “married” to the deceased mother of his seventh wife.

To the marriage of Emily Ann and Elias, four children were born:

  • Lois Ann
  • Harriet
  • Franklin
  • Emily

Due to what seems to be her poor health, Emily Ann passed away in 1880, at the young age of 31 years old, her husband was 72 years of age.

Wife #9: Martha Elizabeth Todd

Martha Elizabeth was Elias’s last wife, and also the mother of his sixth wife Ann Elizabeth. Martha’s marriage to Elias wasn’t one that you would commonly see in society other than in Mormon-run circles. Martha was never physically married to Elias in the flesh, but after she passed, using Mormon rites, she was ‘married’ to him for the afterlife.

This is a curious type of marriage as according to family stories, Martha declined to marry Elias while she was alive, even though Elias assure her that she would always be cared for.


From all accounts, it appears as if Elias wanted to keep his sister wives a literal family matter and married into two families — The Markhams and the Abbotts, which were in turn, related to each other. Now, much of this data has been retrieved from the Mormon Church and still is being verified, so if you have any additional documentation, please share with us below!

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Dear Diary: I Wasn’t Allowed in Canada

August 27, 1934

Dear Diary,

I am sixteen years old and I just made the road trip from Bellingham, Washington to Sumas to cross the border at the Port of Huntingdon in British Columbia.  I had never been across the border before and have been working as a domestic (housekeeper) before I decided to make this trip.

Thelma Bolin’s occupation on a border crossing record

The trip from Bellingham to Sumas is about 50 miles by road if you follow the old Everson-Goshen Road through the small communities of Dewey, Van Wyck, Everson, and Nooksack. The small town of Sumas was only 43 years old during the time that I passed through.

Sumas Washington, C. 1950
Sumas Washington, c. 1950

This road trip was made with my dear friend Edith Christianson from Everett, Washington who was four years older than me (20) and making the same trip to visit our friend Nick Samuelson at 751 Beatty Street in Vancouver, British Columbia — which was going to add another hour and a half onto our drive…but we never made it.

Canadian Border Crossing
Canadian Border Crossing, Aug. 1934

At the Sumas border, we were questioned on our comings and goings into the country of Canada with questions about our ages, country of residence, heritage, whether we had been in the country before, our religion, our occupations and who we were visiting.

And then do you know what they told us? We couldn’t come across! How rude. Edith and I had to turn around and make the passage back home and inform Nick later on that we couldn’t come and visit him because they denied us at the border.

The only clue to why? This code:

Action Taken for Border Crossee's
Action Taken for Border Crossers

That’s about it for now, but I’m hoping we can make another trip up to Canada soon, I owe Nick a visit!

Sincerely yours,

Thelma Bolin

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What is an unincorporated community?

As genealogists, there is plenty of terms we come across that we may have never heard before. While I had come across the term ‘unincorporated community’ while researching the area of Pyrmont, Indiana, I wasn’t quite sure what an unincorporated community was.

Pyrmont, Indiana
Pyrmont, Indiana

According to the definition, an unincorporated area or unincorporated community is a region of land that is not governed by a local municipal corporation but is administered as part of a larger division, such as a township, parish, county, city, etc.

This can vary from country to country, but in the United States, these places tend to fall outside of large cities in the rural areas with low populations. Some such communities are:

  • Hovland, Minnesota
  • Ceresco, Michigan
  • Nutbush, Tennessee
  • Yucca, Arizona

In the United States, due to the difference in state laws regarding the incorporation of communities, there is a great variation in the distribution and nature of unincorporated areas. In the seven Northeastern states, unincorporated regions are essentially nonexistent.

What other unincorporated communities have you come across?

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