Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: A Brief Guide to Mitt Romney’s Polygamous Heritage

Guest Post: A Brief Guide to Mitt Romney’s Polygamous Heritage

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - May 15, 2012

The stories of Mitt Romney’s polygamous ancestors are largely irrelevant to the 2012 presidential election and Romney’s possible service as President of the United States, but they have become a continuing source of fascination and confusion and attempts at humor. It therefore seems better to address the subject than to ignore it. What follows is a brief guide to Mitt Romney’s polygamous ancestors.

Romney Family Polygamy Facts

Neither of Mitt Romney’s grandfathers was a polygamist.

Two of his great-grandfathers were, as well as four of his great-great-grandfathers. Five of those ancestors were on his father’s side and one was on his mother’s side.

Mitt Romney had 28 ancestors who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and married to a member of the Church during the period that polygamy was practiced. Of those, twelve ancestors, men and women, were involved in polygamous marriages.

A Very Short History of Polygamy

Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, instituted the practice of polygamy in the early 1830s. Polygamy was practiced openly under the direction of Brigham Young after Church headquarters moved to the Salt Lake Valley.

In the second half of the 19th Century, Mormon polygamy came under intense scrutiny. The federal government passed laws criminalizing polygamy, and as a result many polygamous men served jail time or paid fines.

In 1890, Church president Wilford Woodruff issued The Manifesto, decreeing an end to plural marriage, but due to the entrenched nature of the institution, it took some time to entirely stop the practice. Thus the Church issued what is called the Second Manifesto Second Manifesto in 1904. Since then, anyone preaching polygamy or entering into a polygamous relationship has been subject to excommunication.

No polygamous group, even if self-identified as Mormon or Latter-day Saints, has had ties to the Church for over a century. In keeping with this historical and ecclesiastical distance, a Pew Forum survey recently found that 86 percent of Mormons find polygamy morally wrong. After a 2002 interview with Mitt Romney, which included discussion of his ancestors’ marriages, journalist Lawrence Wright noted, “Mormons who condemn the legacy of polygamy tend to speak openly and sympathetically about it as a practice that was part of their ancestors’ trials of faith and survival.”

The men and women mentioned here are held in deep respect by their descendants for their lives of devotion to their religion and their families, and their roles in settling the American West.

The Polygamous Romney Ancestors



Some of Mitt Romney’s ancestors joined the Church in its early days in New England; others were converts from Canada, England, and Germany. As faithful members of the church, some of them participated in plural marriages. Of fourteen ancestral couples that were members of the church and married during the polygamy period, five of them included polygamous marriages. In addition, two ancestors entered plural marriages after losing a spouse who was a Romney ancestor.

Here are their stories.

Miles Park Romney (1843-1904)

Miles Park Romney was born in Nauvoo, Illinois, the son of English immigrants. He married Hannah Hood Hill when he was 18 years old. A few weeks later, he left on a three-year mission to England.

Two years after he returned, Brigham Young asked him to take a second wife. His biographer noted, “Nothing short of a firm belief in the divine origin of the Revelation of plural marriage could have induced Miles P. Romney to take a second wife…” (Life Story of Miles Park Romney.)

Miles married Caroline Lambourne, but the marriage was not a success and she requested a divorce. Caroline died several years later and her two children returned to live with the Romney family.

Romney’s subsequent marriages to Catharine Cottam and Annie Woodbury were more successful. A published collection of Catharine’s letters gives a detailed and intimate portrait of the Romney family and their lives in St. George, Utah, St. Johns, Arizona, and the Mormon Colonies in Mexico.

Romney married again in 1897 to Emily Eyring Snow, a young mother who had lost her husband in an accident. They did not have any children.

When Romney died in 1904, Hannah, Catharine, and Annie sold the family farm in Mexico, divided the proceeds, and left Mexico before or during the Mexican Revolution. Some Romney descendants returned to Mexico after the Revolution, but many remained in the United States, including Mitt Romney’s grandfather, Gaskell Romney and his family.

Hannah Hood Hill Romney (1842-1929)

Hannah was born near Toronto, Canada, to Scottish parents. She moved with her family to Nauvoo, Illinois, and then westward with the Saints when they migrated to Utah. Her mother died at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, so her aunt Mary Hill Bullock (Spencer) took her to Utah.

Hannah married Miles Park Romney in 1862. Hannah was expecting a child when he left on a mission a few weeks later. When Miles returned, their daughter Isabell was three years old. Hannah had supported herself and Isabell while her husband was away.

When Miles married again, Hannah wrote, in a much-quoted passage from her autobiography:

I felt that was more than I could endure, to have him divide his time and affections. If anything will make a woman’s heart ache it is for her husband to take another wife, but I put my trust in my Heavenly Father and prayed and pled with him to give me strength to bear this trial; to give me a knowledge of the truth of the principle [of plural marriage] that I might be able to bear so great a trial; that I might be a support to my husband. So long as I had given my consent for him to enter into this principle I felt it was my duty to sustain him in it.

The Romney family went to help colonize St. George, Utah. Miles’s second wife could not stand polygamy and made the entire family’s life a constant misery. She finally asked for a divorce, which was a mercy for everyone, particularly Hannah. When Miles married again, Hannah was very anxious about the new wife, but Catharine Cottam, and a subsequent wife, Annie Woodbury, were considerate and gracious women, and they all got along.

The Romneys moved, next, to St. Johns, Arizona, to help the Udall family and others build up that settlement. When the Romneys moved again to help establish the Mormon Colonies in Mexico, Hannah had to take all of her children there in a wagon by herself through dangerous Apache territory with Geronimo on the warpath. She feared for their lives the entire time, but they arrived safely in Mexico.

After her husband died in 1904, Hannah lived with her children and other relatives until her death in 1929.

Helaman Pratt (1846-1909)

Helaman Pratt, the first child of Parley P. Pratt and Anna Wood, was born while his mother was crossing Iowa in a wagon in 1846.

His father died when he was young, and he was called upon to help support his mother and siblings. His daughter, Amy Pratt Romney, related:

It was the duty of this small boy in company with other boys of his age to herd the cattle…. These youngsters… [organized] themselves into squads, some looked after the cattle and rounded them up while others fished. When they were successful fishermen of course the fish gave a real addition to the family menu. Fisherman’s luck had been this Pratt lad’s one day. When it came time for him to take his turn in rounding up the cattle he had a lovely string of fish all strung on a stick. To keep his fish nice and fresh he stuck his fish in the … nearest pool… Imagine his dismay, upon returning to reclaim his catch, when he saw his fish prematurely cooked by the warm sulfur water, all but the heads floating out on the pond.

Helaman Pratt helped settle frontier towns in Nevada and Sevier County, Utah, before he was called as a missionary to Mexico. He and a missionary companion performed the first Mormon convert baptisms there. Pratt served as President of the Mexican Mission from 1884-1887. After he left his position as Mission President in Mexico City, he settled his families in the Mormon Colonies in northern Mexico.

Pratt married, first, Victoria Billingsly, second, Dora Wilcken, and third, Bertha Christine Wilcken. He had twenty children, ten boys and ten girls.

At the time of his death, Pratt was remembered as a colonizer, a peacemaker, and an associate of Mexican president Porfirio Díaz.

Anna Johanna Dorothea Wilcken Pratt (1854-1929)

Dora Wilcken was born in Germany in 1854. Her father left Germany when she was a small child. Dora and her brother and mother joined him in America several years later.

The Wilckens first lived in Salt Lake City, then in Heber City. Dora helped her mother provide for the family while her father was a missionary in England.

Dora attended school and taught for one year before she married Helaman Pratt as his second wife. Dora worked hard to support her family while her husband was away on his missions.

In 1887, after her husband finished his service as Mission President in Mexico, Dora sold the family property in Utah and helped the family move almost 1,000 miles south to the Mormon Colonies in Mexico.

Dora had nine children. Two died in infancy, and two died after they had married, including her daughter Anna, the wife of Gaskell Romney.

Her daughter Amy Pratt Romney wrote that her mother, “has been and is a mother to not only her own children but to the children of the other two families of her husband.… The grandchildren of the family, not her own, call her Grandma Dora.”

Dora died in 1929 in Colonia Dublán, Mexico.

Archibald Newell Hill (1816-1900)

Archibald Newell Hill was born in Renfrew, Scotland. His father, Alexander Hill, was a British sailor who had served at the Battle of the Nile and spent time as a prisoner of war in Peru. His mother, Elizabeth Currie Hill, took care of the family while her husband was away for years at a time. After the Napoleonic Wars ended, the Hills emigrated to Canada.

Shortly after Archibald married Isabella Hood, the Hill family heard the gospel preached by Samuel Lake and James Standing. The family left Canada to gather with the Saints in Illinois when their daughter Hannah Hood Hill was two months old.

When the Saints started west, Archibald’s wife, Isabell, died at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and was buried in the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery. Archibald left his three young children with his parents and sisters and went west. His children crossed the Plains with their aunts and grandparents.

After Archibald arrived in Utah he married Margaret Fotheringham, a Scottish immigrant, and later married Mary Milam, Caroline Graham, and Mary Howse.

Archibald had fourteen children. They all survived him except for a son who died at birth, a daughter who died as a child, and a son, Frank, who was shooting wild birds in the hills above Salt Lake City with a friend when one of them accidently shot into a commercial powder magazine. The shot set off a series of explosions which killed four people including Frank and his friend, blew out many of the windows in downtown Salt Lake City and caused widespread, massive damage.

Archibald served a mission to England and on his return headed a company of almost 500 Saints emigrating from Europe to America. He was in charge of the Church’s tithing office in Salt Lake City for 14 years and was remembered for his honesty. He died in Salt Lake City in 1906, and on his grave marker is engraved the words, “He kept the faith.”

Parley P. Pratt (1807-1857)

Pratt is remembered as an explorer, poet and author, missionary, and Apostle. His life and writings and missions had a great influence on the early history and religious thought of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A recent biography, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (Givens and Grow, 2011) traces Pratt’s experience including his early life in New York, his missions to England, Chile, and other places, his family life, and his Church service.

After his first wife died, Pratt married eleven more times. He had thirty or more children before the former husband of one of his wives killed him in 1857. The Jared Pratt Family Association has a large collection of materials relating to Parley P. Pratt and his family on its website.

Mary Wood Pratt (1818-1898)

Scottish-born Mary Wood joined the Church in Manchester, England, and emigrated to Nauvoo to be with the Church. There, she became the fourth wife of Parley P. Pratt.

Mary’s first son, Helaman, was born after the Saints left Nauvoo, and her first daughter, Cornelia, was born after the Pratt family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

Mary gave birth to two other children before her husband was murdered and she was left a widow after twelve and a half years of marriage. Although she had numerous proposals of marriage after she became a widow, she supported her children and herself as a seamstress and milliner and did not remarry.

Mary was described as a “prim person, always neatly dressed in black, with a white apron, a little bonnet, her hair parted in the middle and smoothly combed, with a little bob in the back. She went about her work quietly but quickly, with precision in every move. She was very thrifty and independent.”

Mary Wood Pratt died in 1898 in Salt Lake City.

Charles Henry Wilcken (1831-1915)

Carl Heinrich Wilcken was born in Eckhorst, Holstein. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his service in the First Schleswig War, a three years’ conflict over the German-Danish border.

When faced with the prospect of being drafted into the service of the Kaiser after the war, Wilcken left Germany to join his brother in South America. He ended up on the wrong ship and found himself in New York where he was recruited to fight the Mormons with Johnston’s Army. Partway to Utah he became disgusted with the lack of training in the expeditionary force, left the army, found a Mormon camp, and went with them to Utah, planning to go on to California.

Wilcken stayed in Salt Lake City and was baptized into the Church. His German wife and children joined him in Utah in 1860. He married three more times to Mary McOmie, Mary Jorgensen, and Haidee Carlisle. He worked as a miller, water-master, and farmer and served as an overseas missionary for the Church. Toward the end of his life he was a tourist guide at the Church’s Bureau of Information on Temple Square.

When Wilcken died in 1915, his obituary noted that he was survived by 13 children, 47 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren. He was also survived by his wife Haidee.

Eliza Reiche Wilcken (1830-1906)

Eliza Reiche was born in Neustadt, Holstein, in 1830. She married Carl (later Charles) Wilcken and they had two children before he left Germany to avoid having to serve as a bodyguard to the Kaiser. Eliza and her children lived with relatives until they left in 1860 to sail to America to join their husband and father in Utah. It was a difficult journey for her and she was very sick. Eliza and her children crossed the plains and were met by their husband and father as they approached the Salt Lake Valley. The children did not recognize him.

After arriving in Utah, Eliza was baptized into the Church. She had six more children including twins. Her husband married three more times and had a large family.

Eliza suffered for many years from rheumatism and other illnesses, but was noted to be very patient in her suffering. Three years before her death, her children threw Eliza and Charles a large party to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Lewis Robison (1816-1883)

Lewis Robison’s family traces its roots back to 1630 Massachusetts and the arrival of the Winthrop Fleet. His ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and moved west as the United States expanded. Lewis Robison was born in Ohio in 1816.

Robison married Clarissa Duzette, a member of the Church, and lived in the Mormon city of Nauvoo for several years before he was baptized a member of the Church.

When the Saints started west in 1847, Robison served as a Captain of Fifty in the Charles C. Rich Company. He was the first in the company to kill a buffalo, which fed the entire camp. He built the Platte River Ferry, ran a ferry at the Green River, was a missionary to the Shoshone tribe, and ran a store at Fort Bridger. He was a member of the first city council of Salt Lake City.

In 1855, Robison married a second wife, Mary Jane Waite. They had six children. The next year he married a widow, Achsah Melissa Allred, with two children. She and Robison did not have any children. He married, fourth, Louisa Gheen, and they had seven children.

Robison’s first wife Clarissa lived with her children in Salt Lake City. The other three families lived in separate homes in Pleasant Grove and ran the family farm. They were industrious and pragmatic people: “These three wives did all they could to grow gardens, berries and canning of fruit to send to Aunt Clarissa who lived in Salt Lake City. Grandpa would take many a load of produce to his family there, that his wives in Pleasant Grove had worked to raise. Then when it was time for school, Aunt Clarissa would take the boys and girls of all the family and keep them so they could attend the University in Salt Lake City.”

His daughter May Robison Driggs remembered Robison as:

a most kind and loving parent…. He never was too busy to help us solve our problems.

He was very industrious and I never saw him discouraged. When he arrived in Battle Creek [Pleasant Grove], Utah, he planted and re-planted his orchard several times before all the trees decided to grow. We had all varieties of fruit and all kinds of berries… He had a sawmill in the canyon and sold lumber to everybody.

He was really too kind and considerate. His advice, “Never turn anyone away hungry,” and I well remember we had plenty to feed. I am sure tramps found where to stop. There were no hotels, and everyone was welcome at the Lewis Robison Ranch.

Lewis Robison died in 1883 at age 67. He was survived by his four wives, 16 of his 23 children, and two stepchildren. One of his widows, Louisa, remarried a widower with a large family.

Clarissa Duzette Robison (1822-1891)

Clarissa Duzette was born in Wayne County, Ohio, in 1823. Her parents were early converts to the Church, and her father was a member of Zion’s Camp.

After the Duzette family moved with the Church to Illinois, Clarissa married Lewis Robison. Her husband was baptized several years later and the two of them took their young sons, including Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather Charles Robison, to help establish a new community in the West.

Clarissa’s husband married three more times. The other wives eventually settled in Pleasant Grove, Utah, while Clarissa remained in the family home in Salt Lake City.

When it was time for the Pleasant Grove children to attend the university, they lived with Clarissa and her children in Salt Lake City. A granddaughter of Louisa Robison, Vida Driggs Brinton, remembered, “Mother always said if there was any preference shown among the children, that Aunt Clarissa favored the ones who were not her own. My Mother stayed with Aunt Clarissa all the time until she was graduated from the U[niversity] of U[tah].”

Clarissa lived almost eight years after the death of her husband and died at age 68 in Salt Lake City.

Elnora Warner Berry Dalton (1822-1865)

Elnora Warner was born in New York, the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War soldier from Massachusetts. In the late 1830s, her family moved to Michigan, where she married Robert Berry. Her family joined the Church and moved to Illinois.

The family tells the story that Elnora’s husband, Robert Berry, left Illinois to find work in Michigan. He wrote faithfully and sent money home to his family, but the mailman, Simon Dalton, pilfered the letters and then convinced Elnora that she had been abandoned and married her. It is not clear from the family story whether Elnora knew during her lifetime about the deception that led to her second marriage. Due to some discrepancies with dates and places, it is also not clear which of the details of the story are accurate.

Simon already had one wife when he married Elnora. After Simon married Elnora, he also married two other women including Elnora’s sister, Laura. Shortly after Elnora died in childbirth in 1865, Dalton married a fifth wife.

When Elnora died, she was survived by the two children from her first marriage and six children from her second marriage. She lost three children in childhood as well as a baby who died when she did.

Mitt Romney is descended from Elnora’s oldest daughter, Rosetta Berry Robison, who crossed the plains as a young child with her mother and stepfather.

Miles Romney: Not a Polygamist

Fox News recently repeated a common error due to a misunderstanding about the content of the records of the Church: “Mormon genealogical records, among the most detailed and complete of any religion, show that two of Mitt Romney’s great-great grandfathers, Miles Romney and Parley Pratt, had 12 wives each…[Todd] Compton, the polygamy scholar, disputes that. He believes Miles Romney only had one wife…”

The Fox News story mentions Compton’s dispute but does not explain why the records list additional wives.

Miles Romney was the father of Miles Park Romney. He joined the Church in England and crossed the ocean to America in 1850. He had one wife, Elizabeth Gaskell. Miles was sealed to almost a dozen women in 1872, but these were proxy ordinances and the women were deceased relatives for whom he was providing the blessings of the temple. They were not marriages and these women would not be considered wives.

Many men who were members of the Church during the pioneer era may show a number of these proxy sealings in their family records. This is different from the current Church policy, which allows proxy sealings for men and women who were married, or had children together in a committed relationship.



  1. The George Romney who was Miles’ grandfather was not the painter. They were both from Dalton and were apparently first cousins, but the painter lived between 1734 and 1802 and was married to Mary Abbot. Miles’ grandfather lived between 1738 and 1793 and was married to Eleanor Park.

    Comment by Last Lemming — May 15, 2012 @ 7:45 am

  2. This is a very concise and beautiful post on the practicing of polygamy within the Church.

    Thank you for writing it Amy.

    Comment by Stan — May 15, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  3. Thanks, Amy. Solid.

    On my to-do list is to write about the practice of sealing deceased women before the 1894 revelation on adoption.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 15, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  4. I thought about sending you a note, J., with a question about those sealings but never got around to it. If you’re planning on working on the subject, I’ll keep my eyes open for examples and send them along.

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 9:15 am

  5. Thank you, LL. I’ve removed that line from the post. I went back to the Life Story of Miles Park Romney to see why I made the error, and the first chapter is rather confusing on that point. That’s no excuse, but it is an explanation. : )

    It should go without saying that I welcome almost all questions and corrections, referring back, of course, to Ardis’s post last week and the guidelines she set for this series on polygamy:

    Also, if you’re descended from any of these people, is there additional information that would be helpful to know about their lives? What are some of the things you’d like to share about these ancestors and the heritage they’ve left you?

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  6. Enjoyed reading this.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 15, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  7. Great work, Amy! I’ll confess, though, that your “Miles Romney: Not a Polygamist” made me think of the line from Adam Sandler’s Hannukah Song: “O.J. Simpson–not a Jew.”

    It was interesting to read about how grandchildren of Dora Wilcken Pratt’s sister wives called her “Grandma Dora.” My grandfather was not a polygamist, but he did have three wives, the latter two of whom we called Grandma Eleanor and Grandma Thalia. My father and his siblings were well into adulthood before those two women came into the family, so they didn’t do much mothering of the first generation, but they were wonderful grandmothers to the second.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 15, 2012 @ 10:05 am

  8. I think what I enjoy the most about this post is the way Amy lets us see, in just a couple of paragraphs each, that these people were real, living people with personalities and lives. Of course that should be obvious, but when the media talks about polygamists, or when some lame-brain governor refers to “polygamous compounds in Mexico,” all the humanity of the individuals is lost, and they become an ugly, amorphous mass. Amy puts names and faces and words and feelings and pulls these people out of that fog.

    Thanks, Amy!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 15, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  9. There were people who entered into polygamy after the Second Manifesto who were known and never experienced Church Discipline over it. The best example is Rudger Clawson, an Apostle and later Predident of the Quorum of the 12, married a polygamous wife some 8 or 9 months after the Second manifesto. Joseph F Smith knew of the marriage, if not at the time than he knew later. The marriage was dissolved about a dozen years later neither Clawson or the young woman ever faced any Church Discipline. This is covered pretty well in “The Making of a Mormon Apostle: The Story of Rudger Clawson” which was written by his grandsons. If I remember correctly Hardy also covers it in “Solemn Covenant.”

    Comment by andrew h — May 15, 2012 @ 10:50 am

  10. Excellent work, Amy. Informative and interesting. Thank you.

    I agree with the comment that this post humanizes those mysterious, cryptic references in the media to Mitt Romney’s polygamous ancestry. (I think this post would be a good resource for the media, by the way.)

    Comment by David Y. — May 15, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  11. Andrew, I like to think of systems like this in terms of the concept of stochastic resonance. (Here’s an explanation.) In a nonlinear system, random noise helps provide a check to the system and provides proof that it’s operating correctly. Too much order in the system and you lose efficiency. Too much noise, and the system is overwhelmed. (I try and run my household along those lines.)

    If you consider the case of Rudger Clawson as a bit of noise (“an undesirable disturbance or fluctuation in the system”), you see it as proof that the system is working. There were not zero cases of non-excommunicated post-Second Manifesto polygamy: that would mean the system was too orderly and would lose efficiency (creativity, inspiration). On the other hand, there were not dozens of cases like Clawson’s; they could have overwhelmed the system.

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  12. Funny you’d mention the media, David. That’s how this whole post started.

    A few weeks ago I was listening to BBC World Service. Reporter Owen Bennett-Jones was in Philadelphia, discussing patriotism, religion, and politics. (Link.)

    The program started with a visit to Independence Hall and a discussion of Philadelphia’s place in United States history.

    The second section of the program, starting at 0:03:20, included former Philadelphia mayor, Rev. Wilson Goode, Sarah (Sally) Gordon, professor at UPenn and author of The Mormon Question, and Dave Davies, WHYY political reporter. After introducing the three guests, Bennett-Jones began talking about Mitt Romney and turned to Dave Davies and said, “Can you just tell us a bit about the things that are now becoming apparent about [Romney] as he comes under ever greater and greater scrutiny. The Mexican connection. Talk us through that.”

    Davies: “Right. Well, it’s misunderstood a bit. He — his father, George Romney, was a governor of Michigan in the 1960s. He was born in Mexico, so that means that Mitt Romney’s grandfather, um, his father was born in Mexico. There’s also a, it’s been misreported that his grandfather was a polygamist. Romney says that’s not the case. His great-grandfather may have been. So, Romney’s grandfather was born in Mexico, um, sorry, his father was born in Mexico, his grandfather lived in a Mormon community there.”

    [Microphones cease working. When the connection is reestablished, they discuss Romney but no more about Mexico or polygamy.]

    (I typed up that bit for my sources for this post.)

    I was left wondering why poor Dave Davies had to answer that question and what information someone like Davies would be able to find if he looked online. I looked at a few news reports and found many of them severely lacking in accurate genealogical and historical detail — and let’s not even mention the comments!

    Now, given the sheer amount of noise (ha) created about Mitt Romney’s (gasp) polygamous ancestors (who should be almost entirely irrelevant to the election, just like Obama’s polygamous ancestors should be) this post is probably not findable in Google, which is just fine. It is for the benefit of Keepa’s readers who deserve to know this stuff. : )

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  13. Well, that was long. If you can’t tell, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot the past two or three weeks. : )

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

  14. Wait, what? Obama had polygamous ancestors too? I never knew, but I guess it’s Not Relevant.

    I have an ancestor who took a plural wife after the second manifesto. As far as I know, he was never officially disciplined, but he was released from his priesthood leadership calling and was never called to serve again. The fallout in the family resulted in a rift, and none of his children ever married polygamously.

    This was beautifully written, thanks for all the effort.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — May 15, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

  15. This is a great post. Thanks.

    Also: what software did you use for the pedigree graphic?

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 15, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

  16. Reunion for Macintosh.

    Comment by Amy T — May 15, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

  17. Amy,
    Well done! Thanks for doing this analysis and saving us so much pick and shovel work. Essential reading for those wanting the facts on and a context for a very topical subject.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — May 16, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  18. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words.

    I forgot to mention I got a note yesterday that the Wilckens had been added to the Pioneer Overland Travel Database. Eliza Reiche Wilcken and her two children weren’t listed, so I sent a note and Sister Wood added them to the list of 1860 immigrants in unidentified companies.

    The Overland Travel database is such an amazing historical resource.

    Comment by Amy T — May 16, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  19. Beyond the scope of this survey, I’ll admit, but the meeting and marriage of Carl Heinrich Wilcken and Eliza Reiche raises a question: How did they meet? Eckhorst is a village in Holstein, just a few kilometers west of Lubeck (which is on the Baltic) and Neustadt is in Hesse, nearly 500 km to the south. In the 1850s, when Carl and Eliza met and married, 500 km was a time-consuming journey and Holstein and Hesse were separate countries–both leftovers from the final dissolution of the empire that was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire was but called that anyway.

    I suspect that the answer is lying (not a hen, だから) just beyond the fingertips of someone who reads this blog, so I’ll save the time of looking it up.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 16, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  20. Mark — I went back and looked, but I can’t see that any of the histories I saw address that point. The possibilities would include his military service taking him there, her family moving north before their marriage, or that her birthplace was listed incorrectly in the sources I consulted. (Someone listed the wrong Neustadt, for example.)

    Comment by Amy T — May 17, 2012 @ 6:33 am

  21. It looks like Mark was correct about Hesse being a suspect location, and it looks like she was born in Neustadt in Holstein, and her family remained in the Lübeck area. That makes much more sense. I will correct that in the post.

    Comment by Amy T — May 17, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  22. Great post, Amy. All the material on the LaFount side was new to me, and I’ll cite you in my ongoing research on this subject.(I’ve recently thoroughly reworked and expanded my website paper.) I also thoroughly enjoyed your Big Table post, and your genealogical blog is really superb, also (, for those of you who haven’t seen it). I especially liked the green tea canister of Isabella Hood Hill, on your blog. It shows how artifacts can help fill out the historical picture, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has emphasized.

    Do you have solid data on the ordinance in which Miles was sealed to a dozen women in 1872? I wonder if he was sealed to them as wives, or as ancestors. I haven’t spent a lot of time on those 12 names, but they look like family names.

    Comment by Todd Compton — June 1, 2012 @ 12:55 am

  23. Thanks, Todd! I didn’t see your write-up until this was almost ready to post, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered with all this research. : ) (Although it was fascinating.) I was tracking down some loose ends in my documentation last night and saw your new website and write-up. (Plural Lives.) Very interesting!

    When you ask about Miles Romney’s sealings, what kind of data do you mean? Family records do not list him as having entered any plural marriages, and the sealings as shown in NFS all took place on two days in 1872 to women who do not otherwise show up in the genealogical records. I haven’t seen the actual temple records. I just looked again and do not see anything that would indicate any additional sealings besides the nine on May 6 and two on May 8. The two on May 8 were Ann King, who may have been a sister of Miles Romney’s mother, and a woman named Margaret with no last name listed. Typical of the proxy sealings of that era. In addition, Miles doesn’t show up in the vital records with additional wives. So although I cannot swear that he never entered a polygamous marriage, I haven’t seen any indication that he did.

    Comment by Amy T — June 1, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

  24. Amy: I came to about the same conclusion on those sealings. A reporter contacted me about Miles’s 12 “marriages” recently (and she may contact you).

    I’m glad you did your research and writing, because it has certainly helped me!

    Comment by Todd Compton — June 1, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  25. Amy, you write about Charles Henry Wilcken’s travel to Utah. He did not come by wagon train–he rode there with Johnston’s Army. So I would not list him as being a Mormon pioneer in the usual sense!

    Also, since he had been an outstanding soldier in the army in Prussia (and was awarded the Iron Cross), he ended up being useful to the top leadership of the LDS Church. He helped their hide polygamous families, was a go-between when husbands were in prison, and apparently knew when and how to bribe federal marshals so that he could help some of these men avoid arrest.

    Comment by Karen Fox — July 26, 2012 @ 12:58 am

  26. Thanks for your comment, Karen! A few notes.

    First, if you follow the link in Wilcken’s section, it leads to a very interesting post from Ardis about Wilcken’s experience. Ardis is the historian who hosts this blog and undoubtedly knows as much about the history of Johnston’s Army as any living person. (If not more.) You may enjoy reading her post and the comments.

    About Wilcken’s history, I’ve never seen any proof that the family history has been adequately researched. I’ve rarely seen Wilcken’s birthplace correctly written in any family source, and I’ve never seen a picture of his Iron Cross besides the one on his portrait. Does the Iron Cross still exist in the family or at a museum? Is he on a list of recipients somewhere? Has anyone done actual research on his early military career?

    I have no reason to suspect that Wilcken didn’t receive the Iron Cross, and I realize tracking down actual historical evidence involves a very specialized type of research (19th century German-language court and military records and histories and newspapers), but I think when the old stories continue to be repeated as they are here, people don’t realize what is actually known, and what is not known about a pioneer’s history.

    Next, a note about the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database. What a marvelous resource! Although he was not a member of the Church at the time, Wilcken is listed in the database, as is one of my ancestors who also traveled to Utah before he joined the Church. The database is inclusive enough to list the Australian converts to the Church including my Stapley-Bryant-Parkinson ancestors who traveled to Utah from the West, but I see that it is not inclusive enough to list Utah’s territorial governors who crossed the Plains but did not join the Church.

    If you have pioneer ancestry and would like an interesting project sometime, look up all your pioneer ancestors who traveled to Utah before 1868 and make sure they’re in the database. If they aren’t, all you need is supporting evidence such as the 1850 or 1860 census or ordinances performed in Utah before 1868 to have them included.

    Comment by Amy T — July 26, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  27. A Wikipedia article about the Iron Cross says that Prussian military archives were destroyed in World War II, so it’s unlikely that any proof of Wilcken’s receipt of the award exists, unless it was kept in the family. But that makes it impossible to know how many of the medals were awarded. So many were given during World War I (over 5,000,000 Iron Cross 2nd Class and 218,000 Iron Cross 1st Class) that it lost the status it had earlier enjoyed. No telling whether that kind of “medal inflation” was a problem in the Prussian Army sixty years earlier.

    One cautionary tale (and I’d suspect there are many others, although perhaps not in such numbers) about military medals arose in the U.S. Civil War. The Medal of Honor, which now is reserved for the most extraordinary acts of heroism, was promised by the Secretary of War to an entire regiment (the 27th Maine) if they stayed a few days past the end of their enlistments to defend Washington from Jubal Early’s raid (in 1864). In a bit of housekeeping a generation later, the army purged 874 members of that regiment from the roster of Medal of Honor winners.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 26, 2012 @ 9:32 am