About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

Finding Relatives

RelativeFinder.org is an amazing website for determining relationships between people. With the updated interface, you can use it to determine relationships between any two people who have records in FamilySearch.org.

Hey, Cousin!

It has been amazing to me to see how I’m related to people I would never think had any kinship to me at all. For example, the current mission president in my area comes from a Jewish family. Yet he’s my 10th cousin. His wife is also a 10th cousin, though along a different line.

One of the fun things Relative Finder does is tell you if/how you are related to various famous people. Want to know if you have actors or athletes or scientists in the family tree? Relative Finder can do that for you.

The image above is from the Rapelje home circa 1800. Joris Rapelje (19) and his bride, Catalynje Trico (18) were amongst the first settlers of New Amsterdam (now New York City). Catalynje is my 11th Great Grandmother. Her daughter (also my direct-line ancestor) was the first European child born in New Amsterdam (a settlement on the southern tip of Manhatten).

Curious whether two people you are researching might be related? Just grab the Person ID (PID) number (XXXX-XXX format) for the two folks in Family Search and go to “Connect: Connect two deceased people” or use “Relatives: Masquerade” to search out famous relatives of a deceased person.

Turns out Emma Hale [Smith] is my 4th cousin (a few times removed). Her Relief Society officers are also cousins or direct ancestors (for example, Eliza Snow is a 6th cousin).

Not everyone who has fascinated me is a cousin.

I adore Catherine Laur [Fuller Warren], but she is not my cousin. Her husband, who died at Haun’s Mill, is a cousin, however. For a moment, I thought maybe I could reserve ordinance work for her children, one of whom (John Fuller) I entered into Family Search after finding his records in 2016. Alas, someone else enjoyed the privilege of performing his proxy ordinances, less than two weeks after I added him to Family Search.

Another person I adore is Marie Boulen [du Four], an early Walloon protestant who died around 1650. I tumbled across Marie when a daughter was doing proxy baptisms a few years ago. Marie’s husband and son emigrated to New Amsterdam with the new Mme du Four after Marie’s death. Even though the island of Manhatten used to be a tiny place, which Marie’s son shared with my Walloon ancestors, I do not appear to be related to Marie Boulen.

No More Strangers

Though we might not all be traceable cousins, our congregations are filled with people who are in turn kin to much of the world. The ancestors and cousins of your friends undoubtedly include individuals from every political stripe and nation in the world. The other night I learned that a friend’s grandfather was a key adviser to General Franco of Spain.

I myself am grand-daughter of a former General who served Chiang Kai-shek. Through that lineage, I am undoubtedly related to millions of Chinese in Fujian province and Taiwan.

Our family is currently reading the portion of Alma that talks of the missionary labors of Ammon and Aaron. They chose to minister to a nation with whom their ancestors had been at war for centuries, even though lore told them the two nations arose from a common parentage. This willingness to sacrifice on behalf of former enemies is a tale we don’t see in the Bible, other than in the sacrifice of Christ himself. And Christ himself never directly ministered to those outside the family of Israel. The closest the Bible comes to the inclusive love of Ammon and Aaron is the story of how Jonah, under duress, was eventually willing to preach to the people of Nineveh.

The entire Book of Mormon is a love letter from a doomed people to us, people to whom they were not known kin. Throughout the Book of Mormon, we learn of God’s desire to unite us all with our best hope of heaven, God’s commitment to the covenant He made with us from before the foundation of the world.

I encourage you to reach out to learn more about your relatives, the struggles they endured, the cultures they embraced, and the good they did. In today’s polarized world, we can find unity and perspective through understanding our relatives in the complex human past. We can push past labels and xenophobia to find commonality and shared history.

Of Salome and Snow White

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Jan Adam Kruseman (1804-1862)

The death of John the Baptist is rather distinct. In the gospel according to Mark, John’s preaching angered the wife of Herod Antipas, who had John beheaded. 1 Mark says Herod’s wife schemed to achieve this death by using her daughter, who Josephus identifies as Salome.

Because this tale is so unique, I was struck by the similarity between the Salome narrative and the tale in Ether 8 & 9 in the Book of Mormon. Ether 8 tells us of King Omer and his traitorous son, Jared. When Omer is able to regain the kingdom from Jared, the daughter of Jared schemes, telling her father to:

… send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king.

Ether 8:10

The dancing and the desire of a young woman to be gifted the head of a parent’s rival seemed a bit too similar to the account of the death of John the Baptist. And this gnawed at me for a while. Then I reasoned it out a bit more.

Most of us are familiar with the tale of Snow White, whose jealous step-mother plots to murder the beautiful girl. The Queen orders the huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill the child, bringing the child’s organs (variously lungs, liver, or heart) back in a box as proof.

Upon mature reflection, however, the Wicked Queen’s plan is stupid. Hearts (and other organs) are fungible. In other words, there is nothing that identifies one heart as belonging to a hated foe and another heart as belonging to a wild boar. The Brothers Grimm wrote the Queen engaging in stupidity because it allowed their young heroine to escape.

A Wicked Queen that wasn’t so stupid would have demanded that the huntsman return with some uniquely identifiable piece of the hated child, a portable piece which ensured the hated child was no longer alive. Like a severed head.

Throughout history the heads of foes have been used to prove that a victor has succeeded. But relatively few of these heads are documented as having been demanded by a dancing maiden.

The similarity of the stories of Herod’s step-daughter and Jared’s daughter irritated me for a bit. But upon reflection and study, I found that the stories of Salome and the daughter of Jared are not actually unusually similar. Ultimately the dancing treachery of Jared’s daughter ends up costing Jared his head, and the man who married Jared’s daughter kills their son out of fear. Eventually all those with whom the daughter conspired destroy one another, and an ancient Omer returns to rule over the land Jared had usurped.

Another factor is that women tend to be under-documented. We see this with Salome, who is not mentioned by name in the Bible. The Luke account does not mention the daughter’s dancing in the series of events leading to John’s death. Scholars consider the Mark account as source material for the Matthew account, so it is not clear if Matthew is a corroboration or merely a restatement of the Mark account.

Why do I tell you this tale of my passing discontent? Perhaps it is because when one has worn patterns of inquiry and cynicism into one’s soul over a period of time (as I did in my younger years), there are moments when even a repentant and staunch believer might trip on an unexpected mole hill.

When this happens, the believer will right themselves, examine the mole hill, and figure out how to avoid allowing this mole hill to have crippling power. A believer will certainly avoid building the mole hill into a mountain. A believer will also avoid intentionally tripping on other mole hills.

Along the lines of moles and inquiry, I highly recommend you watch the comments Elder and Sister Renlund gave at BYU Hawaii this past Sunday (available at lds.org).

P.S. – There’s a new interface for authoring posts on M*. I haven’t mastered it yet, so I apologize up front if there are elements of this post that seem irritatingly different.

Notes:

  1. Mark 6:17-28

The Star in the East

In the spring of 5 BC, Chinese astronomers noted the presence of a bright “broom star” which could be seen in the same location for at least 70 days. Because the bright light had a tail, it was thought to be a comet, but because it did not move in the sky, it was obviously a supernova. 1

My friend who told me about the 5 BC Chinese “broom star” suggests that it was in the space between Capricorn and Aquila, since the Chinese constellation combines these two. That would make sense if there had been a star between the two constellations prior to 5 BC to suggest a connection between them. Such a star would rise in the west in the night sky relative to Persia (Parthia), leading anyone following such a star across ~1500 miles to the kingdom of Judah. 2

A supernova would also explain the phenomenon described in the Book of Mormon, where there was a night that appeared to be as bright as day. This is potentially consistent with the observation in modern translations of Matthew that the bright star appeared to rise with the dawn. If the supernova occurred during the Persian day, but was obscured by weather that evening, the first awareness in Persia of the celestial light would have been in the morning within 24 hours of the supernova’s appearance, where the star would have been seen in the eastern sky right before dawn.

While we may live our entire lives without seeing such a sight, it is known that several stars are primed to supernova in the relatively near future (within several thousand years). Astronomers estimate that Betelgeuse, the red giant in the constellation Orion, will light the sky as day for several weeks when it supernovas.

Notes:

  1. There are numerous online resources discussing the 5 BC Chinese broom star, including “Some Notes on the Visibility of the 5BC Chinese Star.”
  2. It appears that camel caravans can travel about 50 miles per day, so the trip would have taken roughly 30 days.

Focusing on the Temple


This Sunday I gained an interesting insight from comments made by the Bishop of Nauvoo First Ward. He described in great detail the accommodations Nauvoo will make as part of the new two-hour schedule, then mentioned that we are moving from a chapel-focused people to a temple-focused people.

I had blogged in September about the way a shift to a 2-hour format would reduce the pressure to build new chapel facilities in expensive urban areas where the Church is growing. But just as I didn’t anticipate the luminous nature of the change when announced in General Conference, I didn’t make the logical leap to wonder what the newly-available funds would be used for.

Funds that previously would have been required for chapels to support a 3-hour worship format will (obviously) now be available to build and maintain temples.

Along that line, I received a cryptic e-mail from a relative yesterday, with the subject “Go to the Temple“. I had no idea what my relative was talking about, but in describing their experience performing proxy endowment and initiatory ordinances, they wrote:

WOW

Talking with my husband’s family last night, I gained some insight to the cryptic e-mail from my family. I also heard about friends of his family where the wife was a sister to Elder McConkie. Several years ago the Endowment ceremony changed, and these family friends happened to be having dinner with members of the First Presidency of the day. Reportedly, the First Presidency of that day was shocked at how quickly news of the changes to the temple ceremony had spread by word of mouth outside the temple.

I am so sad that my local temple is closed for renovation…. I feel a bit like a child who wakes on Christmas morning to find they are a long ride from the festooned tree under which presents have been placed.

In other news I’ve only heard from relatives, sister missionaries are now allowed to wear slacks while proselyting. This was a particularly welcome shift for my daughter, who is serving as a biking missionary on the high plains of Nevada. She’s also really glad she has a missionary companion who has a conventional sense of style, who can help guide her regarding purchase of appropriate slacks. (Not that my daughter didn’t wear pants in the past, but they tended towards the kind designed for dudes, often with capacious pockets fitted with zippers.)

I now return you to your study of the Come, Follow Me material for the week.

Awake! Rejoice!

Merry, blessed Christmas! Here is a Christmas hymn written by my husband, Bryan.

King Benjamin 1

Awake! Awake!
. . The joyous tidings are revealed
. . The world’s creator come to earth
. . That sinners might be healed.
Then rise!
. . Declare in every tongue the Savior’s birth. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Mosiah 3:-8, 20