Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » A Historical Mystery: Thomas Bullock and the Utah County Census

A Historical Mystery: Thomas Bullock and the Utah County Census

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - April 30, 2013

In 1851 Thomas Bullock created a federal census mortality schedule for Utah County using forms hand-drawn in Utah Territory. The mortality schedule was supposed to document the people who died in the year before the census. Thomas Bullock wrote four names on the schedule with information provided by families passing through Utah County at the time: Mormon Pratt, John Tanner, James Flake, and Mary Finley. Although the form says they died in Utah County, at least three of them died elsewhere.

The four entries written on this paper in Bullock’s small, deliberate handwriting represent people whose lives include stories of polygamy, the first Mormon mission to Chile, great sacrifices, slavery in Utah Territory, the settlement of San Bernardino, and a mystery.


Mormon Pratt

Mormon was the infant son of Parley P. Pratt’s seventh wife Sarah Huston Pratt.1 Baby Mormon died of consumption in Salt Lake City in November 1850. Sarah Pratt must have reported his death to the census taker in Salt Lake City since he shows up in the Salt Lake County Census Mortality Schedule where he belongs. Why does he also show up in the Utah County Mortality Schedule? It’s likely that his father, Parley P. Pratt, mentioned the death to Thomas Bullock since he was in Utah County, traveling south, headed to Chile on a mission.2


John Tanner
Wealthy New York convert John Tanner helped finance the Kirtland Temple. He was badly injured by mobs in Missouri, sent sons with Zion’s Camp and the Mormon Battalion, and is the subject of a recent T.C Christensen film.3 After crossing the plains, he died in South Cottonwood, south of Salt Lake City. He does not show up in the Salt Lake County Mortality Schedule since his widow and most of his family were in Utah County on their way to settle in San Bernardino when the census was taken.4


James Flake
North Carolina native James Madison Flake and his family joined the church in Mississippi. James Flake was the owner of Green Flake, a slave he sent ahead to Utah Territory with Brigham Young’s 1847 pioneer company. In 1850 James Flake was traveling in the San Joaquin Valley, California, when he was thrown off a mule. He died the same day, leaving his young family in poverty. His widow, Agnes, and her sons and slave Liz were in Utah County on their way to the San Bernardino settlement when James Flake’s death was recorded on the Utah County Mortality Schedule.5


Mary Finley
Mary is the mystery in this record.

The Mortality Schedule notes that Englishwoman Mary Finley was 34 years old and died of childbed fever.6 Mary does not show up in FamilySearch Family Tree, the Mormon Overland Pioneer Travel database, or any Utah burial databases. Variations of the Scottish family name include Findlay, Finlay, and Fendley, so she might be the “Mary Fendley” listed in Mormon Migration.

Mary Finley should be added to the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database, but we know so little about her. Was she related to the Alexander Findlay/Finley family of Salt Lake City and later Kanab? Did she die in March 1850 or 1851? Was she part of the large group traveling to San Bernardino, or was her widowed husband part of that group? Did she die outside of Utah County like the other people on the schedule? Did her baby survive? Who is this unknown woman captured in Thomas Bullock’s curious Utah County Census Mortality Schedule?



  1. Many of Parley P. Pratt’s children had Book of Mormon names: Moroni, Abish, Helaman, Mathoni, Alma, Nephi, Abinadi, Lehi, Mormon, Teancum, Mosiah, Omner, Ether, and another Moroni. []
  2. Pratt, recently returned from his Southern Exploring Expedition, was traveling south again with the San Bernardino pioneers. He and his traveling companions took a ship to Chile from the California coast. Listed with Parley P. Pratt in the Utah County Census was his third wife, Elizabeth Brotherton Pratt, and also listed was a five-year-old named Phebe, born in New York. There was no child of that name and age in the family, so the age may be an error, and this may be Parley’s eighth wife, 27-year-old Long Island native Phoebe Soper Pratt, who accompanied him on his mission to Chile. []
  3. The film is historical fiction but is largely faithful to the family accounts. []
  4. The San Bernardino settlement was established in 1851 by Charles C. Rich and Amasa M. Lyman, John Tanner’s son-in-law. In 1857 with the federal army threatening the main Mormon settlements, the pioneers were pulled back to Utah Territory, and about two-thirds of the pioneers returned to Utah, including most of the Tanner family. For a history of the San Bernardino settlement see Edward Lyman’s book, San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a California Community in the Signature Books Library or a short article in the Ensign. For a brief history of the John Tanner family, see an Ensign article by Leonard Arrington, “The John Tanner Family.” []
  5. Agnes Flake shows up in the Utah County Census Slave Schedule in 1851 as the owner of two slaves, a male age 23 (Green) and a female age 17 (Liz). Green did not go to California; he remained in Salt Lake County where he was eventually freed. Liz went with Agnes to California where she was freed. Liz married Charles Rowan and was the mother of Alice Rowan Johnson, often noted as the first black schoolteacher in California. []
  6. Childbed (puerperal) fever was a bacterial infection caused by unsanitary conditions during childbirth, often the medical attendant’s unwashed hands. It was usually fatal and was a horrible way to die. Childbed fever is now largely unknown in Western societies due to sanitary advances (washing hands) and if contracted, can be treated by antibiotics. For more detailed information, see “The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever.” []


  1. Interesting. I love how a slice of life, just an instant, or in this case a single document, can cover so many topics. AND a mystery. I know nothing about Bullock. Was he working for the government, or was creating and filling out census forms a hobby?

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 30, 2013 @ 8:14 am

  2. I’ll butt in and respond to part of Bruce’s comment. Bullock was a clerk in Brigham Young’s office and was acting for BY as governor of the territory, in completing the duty to take the 1850 federal census. The printed forms from Washington had not arrived in Utah in 1850 … or 1851 … so the clerks drew up handwritten forms (the printed instructions for taking the census had arrived, so they knew what data was to be gathered; they just had no official forms to use) and took the census early in the summer of 1851. The first outside federal appointees (the ones who would soon be known as the “runaway judges”) reached Utah at the end of the summer in 1851, and the appointed secretary for the Territory had his nose royally out of joint because the governor had gone ahead and taken the census without waiting for the secretary to arrive.

    But short answer is that Bullock was carrying out the governor’s instructions, filling a Constitutional duty, when he recorded these deaths.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  3. I just searched the public trees and found no Mary Finley/Findley/Findlay/Fendley that died in Utah in 1850 or 1851. No help there. But then, as your post shows, she could have died elsewhere, and Bullock for some reason recorded it in this record.

    Too many dead ends in doing this kind of research, and so much depends on spelling, married vs maiden names, and other issues. Interesting artifact, though, of the handwritten form, and the stories behind the names. Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by kevinf — April 30, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  4. With their handwritten forms, they didn’t do everything quite according to the procedures of the national census. In at least one instance, the census taker’s error created a truly valuable record.

    The Census Slave Schedule for Utah County doesn’t just list the number of slaves as it should have; except for the two Flake slaves (Green and Liz), the census taker wrote the name of each slave: Vilate, Toby, Grief, Oscar, Nelson, Mary, Henderson, Rose, Nancy, George, Philemon, Tennessee, Hannah, Biddy, Ellen, Ann, Harriet, Ann, Lawrence, Nelson, Jane, Charley, Hark, and Harriett. In some cases, just like Mary Finley’s name on the Mortality Schedule, this Slave Schedule is one of the very few records we have of the life of some of these men and women.

    I do have a question. The whole census, taken April-May [-June?] 1851 seems to be in the same handwriting. Did Thomas Bullock take the whole census, which would have consisted of a lot of travel in primitive conditions? Or did he compile a master copy of the work of his assistants?

    I’ve seen Thomas Bullock’s name two places on the census, here and on the first page of Sanpete County, and the handwriting on this mortality schedule looks slightly different than the rest of the census. (I know the question of who took the census back in 1851 is pretty technical!)

    Comment by Amy T — April 30, 2013 @ 9:54 am

  5. Thank you for looking, Kevin. Doing multiple searches on variations of a name can sometimes turn up new information, even from one day to the next. I actually haven’t done an exhaustive search for this woman, just what I mentioned above.

    Comment by Amy T — April 30, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  6. What we’re seeing at and on the National Archives film is a final copy produced chiefly by Thomas Bullock (with the assistance of Robert Campbell — not the noted clerk Robert L. Campbell, but another man of similar name) from the enumeration work of others (enumerators Thomas Bullock, Ensign D. Rich, Reuben McBride, and Brigham H.Young); this final copy was forwarded to Washington back in the day.

    The Church History Library has at least two other copies of the schedules (the original enumerators’ work, and another.)

    And no, I didn’t know any of that until five minutes ago.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2013 @ 10:28 am

  7. Looks like CHL has even more versions of this census — one that lists only heads of households and tallies the number of males and females (possibly made to apportion the territorial legislature), and another (at least partial) version copied onto the printed census forms. Maybe more.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  8. Cool details. I just pulled up the Salt Lake County Mortality Schedule on FamilySearch — the database was giving me errors for awhile — and it’s signed by Reuben McBride. There are a variety of instructions out there such as here and here. It looks like there was a marshall and his assistant marshalls. I wonder how the census takers were paid in Utah. Did the federal government reimburse the expenses? The census is actually included in the number crunching data that the Census Bureau provides online about population trends, so they should have.

    Comment by Amy T — April 30, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  9. I’m doing some work in the Salt Lake County death records and found the identity of “Mary Finley.”

    She is Mary Clift (1815-1850), a Nauvoo-era plural wife of Theodore Turley, Sr. (1801-1871), and “Finley” was an understandable but incorrect recording of “Turley.”

    FamilySearch notes that Mary had three children who died at or after birth, and she died after the birth of her fourth child, a daughter, Frances Kimberly Turley Parsons McIntosh (1850-1914).

    For some reason, Mary’s account is locked in FamilySearch Family Tree, so I can’t add this record.

    Finding Mary was a relief, since this has been nagging at me, since except for slaves or Native Americans, it’s unusual to have entirely unidentifiable people in Utah Territory.

    Comment by Amy T — December 18, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  10. You’re just going to slip the solution to the mystery into a comment like this?? We need a follow-up post that draws attention to the solution and which reports how you figured this one out!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 18, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

  11. Ha. No, no post, since that would mean I would have to learn more about the Turley family and I don’t have time for that.

    How did I figure this out? I was reading through the death records compiled later from whatever the original records were and saw that John Tanner was listed as John “Tamer.” I realized “Finley” might be wrong and looked through all the 1850 deaths, saw that Turley looked like Finley as it was written, and saw that all her other identifying information was the same. Pretty straightforward. Here’s her FindAGrave entry:

    Mary Clift Turley

    Comment by Amy T — December 18, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

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