Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Julie Desaules Desaules: Heart of Her Extended Family (Redux)

Julie Desaules Desaules: Heart of Her Extended Family (Redux)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 06, 2008

Thousands of French Protestants fled to Switzerland during the religious wars of the 16th century. One such family settled in the village of Saules, in Neuchatel. Serge Ballif, one of the greatest French-speaking LDS missionaries, visited their narrow, rocky valley in 1853. He found Francois and Julie Desaules prepared for the restored gospel. They were baptized and gathered to Zion the following year.

Aboard ship, Julie wrote a long letter to her family and friends who remained behind. She told them how she had twice fallen ill before leaving Europe, and how priesthood blessings had restored her health. She begged her family to follow. “We march toward Zion with a firm conviction that, if we are faithful, God’s promises will never fail.”

Julie and Francois settled in Salt Lake City’s 12th Ward. Francois died a few years later, as did Julie’s sister. The few relatives who had joined the Church and emigrated to Utah scattered north to Ogden and south to central Utah, leaving the 60-year-old widow alone. Her English was poor, and she had few opportunities to meet others who spoke French. She could have felt lonely and isolated.

Julie, however, was determined to maintain ties to her family, no matter how far away they might be. She wrote continuously to those left behind in Switzerland, and even though many of their replies were lost in the long ocean and overland crossings, she heard from relatives often enough to learn of their marriages and deaths.

Julie’s much older brother-in-law, who lived in Ogden with his ailing wife, was a cranky, irritable man, one of those people who can find a cloud in front of every silver lining. But he was family, after all, and Julie made the effort to travel to Ogden occasionally, to visit and to make life as comfortable as possible. Julie wrote when she could not visit, and carefully saved the letters she received in response, until the older couple died.

By the time Julie was in her late 60’s, her only family in Utah consisted of a young great-niece whom she did not know very well, and her nephew Ned, who had moved to southern Utah to join a United Order community. Ned was a lonely man, a bachelor in a community of much-married men, the only French speaker in town, and deaf enough that he had trouble conversing with his neighbors.

Ned poured out his heart to Julie in his letters. She read them sympathetically and encouraged Ned with her replies. Soon Ned stopped addressing his letters to “my dear aunt,” and began to address Julie as “my dear little mama.” Julie sent him small sums of money to buy writing paper and ink, items that were not included in the United Order budget. When Ned became dissatisfied with a watch he had bought from a Salt Lake jeweler, he asked Julie to exchange it – and he was delighted with the excellent quality of the replacement, never realizing that Julie had paid the difference out of her own purse.

After Ned helped to build the St. George Temple, Julie and Ned sometimes wrote about genealogy. Julie wrote down as much as she could remember about their ancestors, and sympathized with Ned when his pleas for information from relatives in Switzerland went unanswered. Between them they were able to do temple work for about a dozen relatives, although they very much wanted to do more.

Julie died in 1881, leaving most of her property to her bishop to care for the poor in her ward. Did her neighbors even know she had a family, and that she had worked so hard for so many years to stay in touch with them? Or did they see her only as a childless widow?

They could not know it then, but the letters Julie so carefully saved have moved others to do the work Julie and Ned could not do. Temple ordinances are now being performed for more than 8,000 of Julie’s extended family. The childless widow finds herself at the heart of a very large eternal family.

This appeared on Times and Seasons in February 2007.



  1. And it is because of you that the temple work is being done. Also because of you and Randy Dixon the letters were saved. I think that Julie and Ned are pleased that they have such a friend as you, Ardis

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — July 6, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

  2. This is beautiful, Ardis, and I second Jeff’s comment.

    Comment by Ray — July 7, 2008 @ 6:53 am

  3. An Institute group at the U just did another big batch of work less than two weeks ago. A student ward in Logan did more than 1,500 ordinances last year. My visiting teaching partner and her husband (both Swiss) each do an endowment every month. So a lot of people care about the Desaules and their cousins.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 7, 2008 @ 7:04 am

  4. hi. We met a few years ago. This is fascinating post/article. As a descendant of Desaules, I know our Applonie/ DeSaules family is so glad you are still organizing and work for these lines. I’m just now finding more detail on this family and trying to continue tmpl blessings for them. (..have current classes @ fm. hist lbry.)
    thanks again, Bruce (Grandson of both Adele DeSaules’)

    Comment by bruce day — June 12, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  5. Bruce, I’m glad to hear from you again! The temple work for this family (about 8,000 people) goes on and on. Whole wards — usually associated with Institutes — in Provo and Salt Lake and Logan have devoted themselves to taking these people to the temple. I have no idea any more how many times I’ve given talks telling living people who the Desaules are so that they can know something about all the families they have been helping.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 12, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  6. Thanks again Ardis. I’m Bruce Day (from deSaules, stratton lines). I met you abt. 9 years ago in s.l.c. at the church history office. I am direct descendant of Desaules and the two Adele DeSaules. I ask your permission to include some or all of this in the newere Family Tree stories from the church. P.s. i’m trying to talk my family into a donation for you and this work together. Would you please indicate what is the best way to support you or send help?? Also, do you have any other stories in the works we could share or help you complete. Thanks again, Bruce and much of the stratton/applonie family.

    Comment by Day — March 1, 2014 @ 12:36 am

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