When I began researching my family history, I was already aware that we had Mormons in our family. I hadn't given it much thought -- we also have Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, atheists, and followers of various traditional religions. It was just another small detail, a little tidbit, and nothing more. The further I delved into our history, however, the more relevant it became. It was the conversion to Mormonism that brought many of my ancestors from Europe to North America, and it was their devotion and various battles that led to many of the settlements we see today in Utah and Alberta. In short, to truly understand our family history, we must also have an understanding of Mormon history.
Founding of Mormonism
In the late 1820s, Joseph Smith Jr., founder of Mormonism, began drawing people to his ideas of Christian primitivism -- Smith believed that Christianity had lost its way, and should be restored to its early, apostolic state. He claimed that, after praying to God, asking for guidance on what Christian sect he should join, and being told that all were corrupt, he was visited by an angel, Moroni, who led him to golden tablets buried nearby. These tablets were allegedly the writings of prophets that had God had sent from Israel to the Americas hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, and, once translated by Smith, became the foundations of the Book of Mormon. His stories and ideas drew immediate converts, and by 1830, he had formally founded the Church of Christ (later renamed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
In 1837, seven LDS missionaries arrived in England, and conversion spread through the British Isles rapidly. By 1850, there were an estimated 55,000 English, Scottish, Irish, and, in particular, Welsh Mormons. Among those first converts were several of our ancestors.
George, born in Flintshire, Wales, and raised in England, was among the earliest. It is unknown how the Mormon gospel reached him, but he had already converted by the time he married his first wife in the mid 1830s. They lived in the United States until her death in 1845, when George returned to England and remarried our ancestor Hannah Gibbs in 1847. The couple moved to Missouri, where they had their first daughter, then travelled to Utah in 1850, having a second daughter on their journey. They were faithful workers for the church, and had three more daughters there, before Hannah died in 1858. According to a compilation biography
:"A short while after this, President Brigham Young called for volunteers to settle Franklin, Idaho, the oldest permanent town to be settled in Idaho - but which, at this time, was thought to be in Utah. So, George Foster and his five little girls, the oldest only eleven years, started for Idaho behind an ox team, and were the third wagon to reach Franklin. There he farmed and raised cattle." "On the 19th day of March, George Foster and his family reached Franklin. That night there came up a terrible blizzard, and it was all but impossible to keep the children from freezing in the covered wagon; so the men who had arrived there fell to work and made them a dug-out home. This dug-out was the first home in Franklin and these were the first children to arrive in this locality."
George and Hannah's daughter Ellen Foster is both our connection to the Foster's, and our connection to another prominent Mormon pioneer: Alexander Stalker. Ellen was Alexander's third wife, and their first son, George Foster Stalker, is our ancestor.
Born in England in 1832, Charles was perhaps our youngest Mormon convert. Family legend has it that, when just 16, Charles and a couple of friends attended a Mormon meeting with the intentions of causing a little havoc and possibly breaking up the crowd. Instead, all three left with a new faith and a scheduled baptism. Not long after, Charles set off for America, staying with his also recently converted uncle, Christopher Layton
. He arrived at the peak of the cholera outbreak afflicting the region, and took a job hauling bodies for burial, amazingly never catching it himself.
In 1852, Charles set out with the Horton Heights Company, 52 wagons destined for Utah to settle under Brigham Young. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Bowler. Their first son, Samuel, is our ancestor.
was born in Scotland in 1829. At the age of 18, he converted to Mormonism, and moved to the United States. In 1850, he set off for Utah, and there worked under Brigham Young's first counselor, Dr. Richards, in a sawmill, then later as a cabinet maker and carpenter. Alexander fought against the Natives in wars over territory -- many were not happy with the new-found Mormon settlements, and fights were frequent. It was around this same time that Alexander married his first wife, Ortencia Smith; daughter of Warren Smith, who was killed in Missouri by an angry mob.
Alexander and Ortencia were, like George and Hannah, among the first families to settle in Franklin, Idaho at Brigham Young's request. Their story is well known by Mormons and historians alike, but oft (okay, always
) overlooked is that Alexander engaged in plural marriage, at the time a common practice among Mormons. Most records of the Stalker family speak of Alexander, Ortencia, and their many children. Alexander's gravestone, as well as many legal documents, however, tell a different story.
In 1865, Alexander married Emily Lovett, with whom he had five children, and in 1868, he married our ancestor, the aforementioned Ellen Foster. With Ellen he had three more children, including our ancestor, George Foster Stalker. While no one can say for sure, one family rumour has it that, when plural marriage was outlawed by the LDS, Alexander abandoned these two latter families, keeping Ortencia and her children as his only legitimate family. Another rumour claims that it was the outlawing of plural marriage that pushed him to leave the LDS church, and that he continued to care for all three families, while a third source, the Illustrated History of Idaho
, says nothing of the other two families at all, and claims that Alexander left the LDS church due to political turmoil.