Reflections on Mormon Families

This article originally appeared in the Jul/Aug 1983 edition of Pioneer Magazine
by Richard Horsley , Researcher for Pioneer Books & Research Center

For a number of years now it has been my privilege to gather information on the early prominent families which came to Utah as pioneers. My own lineage traces six Utah families that predate the railroad and others which came after the close of the “pioneer period.” So my own roots are firmly entrenched in the pioneer tradition, and because of this I sought to learn more of the families I come from by making some comparative analysis with other Mormon families.

One of my more famous progenitors was John Brown, a bishop, patriarch, legislator, mayor of Pleasant Grove, colonel in the militia and an excellent family man. He married three lovely women in plural marriage in his lifetime and had 25 children by them. Nine of these children died in childhood leaving 16 to raise and educate. Three of his children obtained outstanding scholastic and religious honors: Amy Brown Lyman, first secretary and then general president of the Relief Society, Dr. John Zimmerman Brown, head of the Department of Physiology of the University of Utah Medical School and James Lehi Brown, head of the School of Education at B. Y. Academy.

Today, ’s descendants number approximately 2,000 with most of them remaining strong in the Church.

How John Brown’s family compared with other Mormon families both in terms of family size and in their tenacity in living gospel principles was a source of interest to me. I started by making lists of all the early Mormon families that I could get information upon from such published works as Andrew Jenson’s L.D.S. Biographical Encyclopedia, and Frank Esshom’s Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. I realized that these two reference works would give me the names of the various pioneer families but not much more, and in no way did they have a means of comparison to judge the relative faithfulness of each family.

Six years ago, Michel Call, a professional pioneer genealogist, hired several individuals to write down the names of all pioneer families which had ten sheets or more with the male head of the family being born before 1850. He recorded six thousand families, half of them being large polygamous families.

Approximately two-thirds of the polygamous men were converts from other faiths, most joining in the 1830s or early 1840s. Only one-third of the plural wives were converts; most were born in the Church and in many cases to plural families.

The old cry that missionaries were sent into the world to make plural wives of women converts doesn’t fit.

I found a positive correlation between families which had larger posterities and had more genealogical sheets in the library. The Lord made good His promise that their offspring would not reject the gospel but form the nucleus for the latter-day leadership of the Church.

Thomas Allred’s posterity is the largest, closely followed by Phineas Howe, which includes the Brigham Young and Willard Richards families.

Heber C. Kimball, with 65 sons and daughters, fathered the largest number of children. The Jesse Nathaniel Smith family has submitted the largest number of family group sheets. Julia Hills, who married Ezekiel Johnson, is the woman convert with the largest posterity.

Copies of the complete lists are available through Pioneer Books, 723 Columbia Lane, Provo, Utah.

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