A Fish in Salt Lake City
For several years I have been trying to find the connection between the Stevenson family and a family called Fish. On my husband’s paternal grandmother’s side I eventually discovered that a great-great-great aunt, Mary Ann Webb, had married a man called Edwin Fish. They were both from Suffolk. Yet every subsequent descendant of Mary Ann and Edwin had died in, or close to Salt Lake City, Utah.
So why did an English couple in the 1880s move to Utah and how did they get there?
The Mormon connection to Utah
The Mormon church was started in 1830 by Joseph Smith in New York. Smith based the teachings of his new church on a series of visions. Smith was murdered in 1844 after angering the city council in Nauvoo, Illinois with his revelations and practice of polygamy. Despite this, he had already built up a following of over ten thousand converts.
The church had sent missionaries to the UK as early as 1837. Brigham Young, an enthusiastic missionary who would later lead the persecuted Mormons into Utah, made sure that a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon was presented to Queen Victoria. Young was declared the new leader of the Mormon church in 1847. He led the first Mormon group to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah in April 1847. There, in this remote and sparsely-populated area, they hoped they could live peacefully and practice their faith free of persecution.
The Mormon missionaries in the UK were extraordinarily successful in their proselytization. On arrival in Britain they encountered wretched poverty and squalid housing. Their religious teachings became popular, as well as their claims that the faithful could come to Utah and live far more comfortably than they currently did. Large numbers of people converted to Mormonism:
“The Britain of those days was ripe for a message of hope, and the preaching of a restored gospel of Jesus Christ was timely. By June 1842 there were 8,245 members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Six years later there were 18,000, and by the end of 1851 England had 24,199 Latter-day Saints, Wales had 5,244, Scotland had 3,291, and Ireland had 160-a total of almost 33,000-and an additional 11,000 had already emigrated to America. In 1851 there were more members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland than there were in Utah (12,000).”
(from The Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
It seems that the Fish family from Suffolk became enthusiasts of and converts to the Mormon faith. Edwin Fish, born in Suffolk on 26 April 1847, was a coach maker by trade. Here he is in the 1881 UK census with his wife Annie (born Mary Ann Webb, 24 January 1853 in Norfolk) and their 2 children, Mary Ann, age 5, and Frederick age 2. Edwin’s brother (also called Frederick) was living with them too – he is the coach smith at the bottom of this entry. Their first-born son, Edwin Walter Fish, was spending some time with his paternal grandparents when this census was taken:
In 1881 Edwin senior’s parents and his brother Frederick sailed to New York aboard the SS Wyoming to make the trek to Utah to join the faithful. In 1882 Edwin boarded the SS Nevada to travel to New York and then on to Utah. The passenger list shows he paid “15/, 2s, 4d” in old money for his passage (15 pounds, 2 shillings and fourpence). He traveled with his eldest son, Edwin, although Edwin is recorded as Edmund in the passenger list.
All of these ships had been chartered specifically for Mormon groups – next to each passenger’s name the location of their membership was recorded. In Edwin and Edwin Jr’s case, they were members of the Latter Day Saints Norwich branch in Norfolk. The Mormon-chartered ships had a reputation for orderly crossings and great camaraderie, with a level of comfort and security that was not found on other ships. The church even had a financial aid programme to help pay for passage. Charles Dickens famously visited the ship Amazon in 1863, a Mormon-chartered vessel that was one of the first to sail from London taking Mormons across the Atlantic. He was suitably impressed:
“Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June. And these people are so strikingly different from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, “What would a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!”
The vigilant bright face of the weather-browned captain of the Amazon is at my shoulder, and he says, “What, indeed! The most of these came aboard yesterday evening. They came from various parts of England in small parties that had never seen one another before. Yet they had not been a couple of hours on board, when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o’clock, the ship was as orderly and as quiet as a man-of-war.”
(From “The Uncommerical Traveller: Bound for the Great Salt Lake.”)
On 2nd September 1882 Mary Ann Fish and her 2 children boarded the SS Wyoming and sailed to join her husband in Utah. Although she was sailing on an LDS ship, with all of its organisational security, there was another issue at hand. She was pregnant with her 4th child, Louis. It can’t have been an easy journey for Mary Ann, even though there had been many improvements in travel since the 1850s and 1860s. In those decades it would have taken up to 6 months to get from Liverpool to Utah. Much of the journey had to be undertaken in covered wagons. By the 1880s the trip took around 3 weeks – steamship to New York and then railroad into Utah.
Her son Louis was born in Utah on 9 November 1882, so around 5 weeks after she probably arrived. He may have been premature or sickly but he died less than a year later. Despite that, Mary Ann and Edwin went on to have another 5 children. In 1900 they were living in Ward 5 of Salt Lake City with 4 of their children; Leonard (16), Francis (13), Mary Ann (9) and Raymond (1, although his birth year is recorded incorrectly as 1889);
Their son Edwin, already 12 years old when they had arrived in Utah, had gone on to marry into a prominent Mormon family. His wife, Isabelle Cooley had been born in 1874 in Weber, Utah. Her father, Andrew Wood Cooley, was an active Mormon who eventually went to prison not once but twice for failing to discontinue the practice of plural marriage (he had 4 wives, including Isabelle’s mother Rachel. Rachel and her friend Mary Jane Jenkins had been married to Andrew on the same day as sister wives – 22 February 1868.) Rachel had 9 children with Andrew Cooley including Isabelle.
(1880 census showed Andrew Cooley living with 2 of his wives and some of their children, including Rachel C and her daughter Isabelle who later married Edwin Fish. The other wives and children probably lived nearby. Rachel and Ann are clearly marked as “wife”.)
Edwin and Isabelle were married 9 March 1895 (place unknown) and their marriage was later solemnized in the Salt Lake Temple. They had 11 children. Edwin was a member of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir and the Salt Lake Opera Company. Later he became a contractor and builder. Isabelle was reportedly a good seamstress and cook. They subsequently became grandparents to at least 28 grandchildren and great-grandparents to at least 47.
(Undated photograph of Edwin Walter Fish, Isabelle Cooley and family).
Edwin senior died in 1919 and Mary Ann died in 1930. Edwin died in Oregon where he had been living with his married daughter Mary, wife Mary Ann and 2 of their other children. Mary Ann subsequently moved back to Salt Lake City as her death was recorded there in 1930. Edwin Jr. died in 1939 and Isabelle in 1956. Many of the Fish descendants have remained in Salt Lake City and Utah.
In January I visited Salt Lake City for a course. I was unaware that some of my distant in-laws had been among early Mormon settlers in Utah. I took in the stark splendour of the Salt Lake Temple (from the outside – only members of the Latter Day Saints church may enter). I photographed it without knowing that many of the Fish marriages had taken place or been solemnised there and that a second cousin twice removed had been ordained as a high priest in the church.
(Photo – the Salt Lake Temple as it looked in 1905).
Utah today has a Mormon population of over 60% on average, with some counties as high as 80% Mormon. As well as housing the Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City has several other historic buildings connected to the establishment of the church in Utah, as well as every genealogist’s Mecca – the Family History Library, housing the largest collection of genealogical material in the world.
(The Salt Lake Temple from a different angle today. Little has changed on the outside of the building. The surrounding area is now considered “downtown” Salt Lake City” and it is full of shops, restaurants and office buildings. The original Mormon plan of building city streets twice as wide as other cities means that the downtown area does not feel as hectic as some other cities).
The author outside the Family History Library in January 2017.