On 18th November the speaker at North and South Wheatley Local History Society’s meeting was Dave Valentine, who had received ‘A Tip from FamilySearch’ just over 12 months ago. That snippet of information, just a single name, was the basis for his talk. He started with an explanation of FamilySearch, probably the oldest genealogical society in the world, as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
The name was William Stewart, a cousin of his great grandmother. In c1840 he had joined the Mormon Church, which at the time was a clandestine group meeting secretly in member’s house. With his wife, Mary Ann, two young daughters and William’s sister, they became part of a migration of almost 100,000 to establish new settlements in virgin territories of America. Their journey included sailing across the Atlantic, being almost shipwrecked off Florida, being towed into New Orleans and then journeying up the Mississippi to St Louis. Times were so hard he had to sell his watch to pay for the last part of that journey. After overwintering in St Louis and plying his trade as a shoemaker, he earned enough to survive and then undertake the next part of their migration. They became part of a small waggon train and whilst crossing the great plains encountered everything from native Indians, and stampeding buffalo, to fording across the Rio Grande and near starvation. After 17 weeks and more than 1,000 miles of dust and mountain passes they arrived in Salt Lake to join other strugging Mormon migrants. William’s sister Elizabeth had stayed behind for a time in St Louis and married Mary Ann’s brother John Marriott. They too made the same journey across the plains and set up home in Utah.
Many of the towns are now named after those early settlers, Brigham City, Layton, Ogden and even Marriott bear testament to the early Mormons. The story went on to include the building of their first homes, some as log cabins, some cut into of rock caves and others built of turf sods. In 1853 they even dismantled their cabin and moved it into a fort as protection from armsed forces. They were friendly with the Shoshoni Indians and learnt many survival skills from them.
The Mormons practiced polygamy openly from the early arrivals until around 1890. William had just two wives and a total of 12 children. John Marriott took five wives, Elizabeth being the second, and between them all, they produced 15 sons and 20 daughters. All were listed in Dave’s talk, but he followed the line of just one son, Hyrum Willard. He in turn produced eight children including John Willard Marriott, who with his wife Alice set up a small ‘Root Beer’ bar with just 10 stools and six tables in 1927. Their business prospered and over the years became the Marriott Hotel Group which now has 1.3 million rooms in 131 countries — but Dave, although a fourth cousin, has yet to introduce himself or get a ‘freebie’!
Make a note in your new diary of the next society meeting on Monday 20th January at 10.00am, at the Village Hall in South Wheatley when they welcome back Mr Harry Foxley, the well-known Retford historian and raconteur. His subject this time will be ‘The Majestic’ (and the history of theatre and cinema). His last visit and talk was one of the best of the year — so don’t miss this one! As always new members and guests are very welcome. For more information please contact Dave on 01427 880934 or Alan on 01427 884147.