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DY: In Just a Few Words (#49)

The more you know...


Not long ago, I wrote a blog about my great-grandfather, Joseph Young, and his birth in 1835 in our neighboring community of Kirtland, Ohio. Today’s blog continues that story.


Everyone has famous ancestors. We’re all descended from Adam and Eve, and they’re certainly well-known. Next to them, the most famous person in my family is Brigham Young, Joseph’s father. He has been gone now for 144 years, but his influence and accomplishments will live on forever - not only as a major figure in the development of the American West but also as leader of the Mormon faith (the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints or LDS).


Brigham Young led the first major migration to what is today Utah, taking 1,200 Mormons west under very difficult conditions. He is often referred to as the American Moses for leading his people to the new Jerusalem - what is today Salt Lake City. Among other accomplishments, he would plan the layout of SLC, serve as Utah’s Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Utah Militia, and become founder of what are today both Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. As an interesting aside, he was a major supporter of the arts and was also the inspiration behind the founding of the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir.


How am I descended from Brigham Young? I am the second son of his first son’s first son’s first son. Did you follow that? You won’t find a more direct lineage (except in the case of my older brother, Peter).


Today, Brigham Young is widely credited with colonizing as many as 300 towns and cities in the West. Primarily because of his ongoing efforts, there are large LDS populations not only in Utah, but also in California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming.


Any balanced look at Brigham Young must include his - shall we say - active role in polygamy. Estimates of the number of Brigham’s wives vary, but seem to be generally in the mid-50s. Some were wives in the traditional sense. Others were the widows of friends whom Brigham had promised to care for. The author of the book Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, refers to Brigham as probably the most oft-married man in the 1900s in America. The LDS church banned polygamy late in the 19th century. Which is a good thing. Personally, I have always felt one wife is enough.


Brigham’s marriages produced something on the order of 56 children by 16 different wives. Nobody knows, but the estimate of Brigham’s descendants today is at least 10,000 and maybe as many as 30,000. That’s a very large footprint. And a LOT of cousins for me to find on ancestry.com.


So, why am I not Mormon? My grandfather, Walter S. Young, left Salt Lake City as a teenager, eventually ending up in New Jersey, where he was a voice teacher, choir director and music critic for New York newspapers, but no longer a Mormon. There are a number of family stories about what caused his break with the Church, but no one who knows any side of the actual truth is still here to set the record straight. Regardless of what happened, that broke our branch of the family’s relationship with the Mormon faith. But not our relationship with Utah family members. Walter S. stayed in close touch with siblings and they shared visits back and forth through the years. And Karen and I - and Denny and Tracy and other family members - have visited Salt Lake City, getting to know our heritage and many of the family members still living there and still active in the LDS faith. (More on that in the near future.)


In the meantime, if a friend asks if you know somebody with famous ancestors, tell them you have a friend who is descended from Adam and Eve - plus Brigham Young.


Thanks for letting me share this story of my family.

DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.


This blog is a product of DY Author & Speaker LLC. Feel free to quote content with attribution. Respond. Agree. Disagree. Share the content with your friends. Heck - even invite him as a speaker for your group! Enjoy!



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