Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who is N. L. Brown and why do I care?

I can't tell you why you would care, I'll leave that to you to decide after you read about who he is. Below is a snippet from the Elders Journal of the Southern States Mission, Volume 4 on page 316.

N. L. Brown's Opinion of the Latter Day Saints
     The following is a copy of an affidavit voluntarily made and circulated by a former Tennesseean. The JOURNAL has received several copies of this declaration and since the author has lived in the South. the publication of his opinion of the Mormon people as he found them will no doubt be interesting.
Garland Utah February 28 1907

     This is to certify that I have lived in Utah among the people called Mormons nearly four years and can truthfully say that they are truthful honest upright and virtuous that they live their religion and practice what they teach.
     Had I found them different instead of being in these Valleys of the Mountains I would be breathing the atmosphere in the Blue Hills of Eastern Tennessee
Formerly of Evensville, Rhea Co Tenn

Such statements were meant to counter the horrid stories coming out against the Mormons in the newspapers at the time. Of course I can't help myself. I just had to figure who this person could be. The brevity of the record just begs to be fleshed out. Just how many N. L. Browns could there be? [you don't want to know]. But I did have some clues to go on. I know he was living in Garland, Utah in 1907, and that he lived in Rhea County, Tennessee prior to 1903.

My new favorite starting point for searches like this is the Census. I start in 1910. Sometimes I find if I narrow my search I don't have to filter through a lot of distracting material. I can easily get distracted. In 1910 I find a 49 year old (born in Feb 1861) Nathaniel L Brown, living in Ogden with his 42 year old wife Maggie (born Jun 1867) and four children: Leonard C. (20), Lester L.(16), Fletcher B. (13), and Soren E. (9). He and his children were born in Tennessee. His wife was born in Georgia. Surprizingly enough, he is my only hit. So I start to widen my search. But still just one hit. This may be easier than I thought.

After finding no other N. Browns who lived in Utah and Tennessee, I decide to see if I could verify that this might be him. So I start looking for Nathaniel Brown born in Tennessee in 1861. I see him still in Utah in 1920, but that is really no surprise, and brings me no closer to my goal.

In 1900, I see a Nathaniel L Brown in Rhea County, Tennessee. But are they the same person? This Nathaniel is married to Lydia M. Brown. But don't let the name fool you. She was born in Georgia too and is the right age (32). They have 5 childen Hulda L. (14), Curtain H. (10), Joseph B. (8), Hester L. (6), and Fletcher B. (3). OK there are a couple of matches. But there are some parts I can't explain.  Hulda and Joseph could have moved out or even passed away, but Curtain H. only matches Leonard C. by age. If I could just find a second document to verify this is who I a looking for.

Having seen enough Census records to know that name are not always consistent between the decades I figure I could still go back another 10 years to see what I would find....except that the 1890 census is unavailable [mild profanity].

The 1880 census doesn't really tell me much about Nathaniel. It was 5 years before he would marry Lydia. But I do see that his father, Joseph, is a carpenter which matches Nathaniel's profession in Utah. Interesting, but not really proof.

Family Search turns up two Nathaniel L Browns and one Nathaniel LaFayette Brown all born in February 1861 in Rhea County Tennessee. Honestly they are probably all the same person. I don't generally like to use Family Search as a reliable original document. But the leads can be very useful in tracking down the original documents. The first was based on LDS Church membership records and shows a baptismal date of 29 October 1899. But nothing else useful. The second shows the same sources with only a slightly different birth date 10 Feb 1861 versus 16 Feb 1861.

The third however is a gold mine. Full names for each of the children, including a set of twins, a boy and a girl with very similar names, who were born and then died before they would ever have appeared on any census. Curtain H. is listed as Howard Curten, which explains Leonard C, especially when I go back to the census and understand how the nearly illegible Howard could have been mistaken for Leonard.

Beyond that I now have phone numbers, email addresses and other ways of contacting people who are probably descendents. To tell you the truth though, I have never had anyone return my phone call or email.

From there I checked other sources. In a handwritten copy of the Early Tennesse Baptims I find these entries. Nathaniel L Brown was baptized on October 29th, 1899 by Cristo Hyldahl and confirmed the same day by L. R. Anderson. His wife, Maggie L. Brown was baptized and confirmed a month later on November 26th, 1899 by F. B Hammond. Their daughter Hulda Brown was baptized and confirmed on April 15th, 1900 by L. E. Jordan.

From The LDS Southern Star I find that Brother Brown was ordained a priest and set apart as the superintendent of the Oak Hill Branch Sunday School. The branch had been organized by Elder David H Elton. I also found this letter.

Editor Southern Star

Please allow me a little space in your welcome weekly visitor to tell to its many readers what the Lord has done for us through the humble Elders. I will never forget the rainy evening three years ago that Elder Soren Peterson and E. R. Needham came to my house. We granted them shelter from the depths of our hearts. I will never forget the words spoken by them when they promised if we would be humble and prayerful we would never regret the day the Elders visited us. Since that good day we have had the pleasure of entertaining thirty four Elders and have heard 400 sermons preached and have had many Gospel conversations I have read my Bible and compared its teachings with those of the Latter day Saints and found them to be in harmony. My wife and myself were baptized the latter part of last year and since that time much joy has filled our hearts I bless the day that the Elders found their way to our door. Best wishes we send to the readers of the Star. Your brother and sister in the Gospel.


So they named their last child Soren Elton Brown, after one of the Missionaries who broguht them the gospel, Soren Peterson, and another missionary David H Elton, who had formed the Oak Hill Branch. I think I have enough to be confident these are the same people. So why do you care? If you have to ask......


Amy said...

Lovely piece of work, Bruce.

I've had mixed results contacting descendants of people I look up in New Family Search. Some of them never reply. And unfortunately, when they do reply, it seems like they've usually been making date and name corrections to nFS based on old Ancestral File records rather than original documents.

And the census records. Howard -> Leonard! That's great! I guess things like that add to the thrill of the chase. :-)

Thanks for writing this up. If they're anything like my family, I'm sure that this is information that the Brown family doesn't have...

Ardis Parshall said...

Hurrah! I love a detective story, and you've told a great one. No, it might not be filmed for TV unless you replace "census" with "murder weapon" and "baptism" with "ran away with the minister's wife" -- but it's every bit a step-by-step episode of sleuthing as any movie! I'm especially impressed that you were able to solve a mystery involving someone named "Brown." It would be hard enough with a Magillicuddy or a Ratzenfratzenburgendorfowicz, but BROWN?

BruceCrow said...

Thanks to both of you. I have been so busy with my day job I couldn't find the time last week to write anything let alone do any research. It was refreshing to dig into the historical record once again.

I hope this might be of interest to someone in the Brown family one day.

The "Brown" name scared me at first. What chance could I possibly have at finding him?

Eric Boysen said...

The statistical aspect of how many N.L. Browns there might be reminds me of the identification of the ossuary of James the brother of Jesus. Was it THE Jesus? suprisingly, even with common names there is a good probability that the field will narrow rather quickly if you can add a few dates and places.

Good finds and nice presentation!

Anonymous said...

I was looking for information about this family. Thank you for posting this! I am one of Nathaniel's great-great grandsons. That was a joy to read! I would love any other information about the early church in the area.

Linwood Estes


BruceCrow said...

I'll look in my notes to see if I have anything I didn't already post.

Polly Flinders said...

Hulda Brown (Flinders) was my grandmother. Which makes Nathaniel my Great-grandfather. I was thrilled to find this information, today. While we know all kinds history about the Flinders family -- virtually nothing is known to us about my grandmother's family of origin,(The Browns) other than that she came from Tennessee. The account you've uncovered here has helped to start fill in those important blanks. Now I'm even more curious to know more about Joseph LaFayette Brown (N.L.s father) and Maggie Gates Brown (N.L.'s wife).

From a grateful granddaughter, Thank you! Polly Flinders

BruceCrow said...

Polly, you just made my day. Glad you could find something you need. AND that you took a moment to comment.

Did you see this post on N. L. Brown's sister?


Polly Flinders said...

Just read it over, thank you for the link. After following some of the clues I gleaned from your detective work, I finally had names and dates to go on - and was able to track down other existing records for my grandmother's FOO. For the first time, just this week I experienced photographs of my grandmother as a youngster in Tennessee, her parents and siblings, and even Joseph - her grandfather. And then - the wedding photo. My grandparents at the tender ages of 20 and 24 - along with the rest of the Brown family in a beautiful portrait. I'm still breathless. Thank you again for your dedication and dogged detective work!

Tri-Mom said...

Thank you so much for posting this. My husband mentioned that it would be neat to make a book for our 7 young children showing their LDS conversion lineage-- stories of when their ancestors joined the church. I knew several of the stories, but not the Browns. I looked in Family Search but didn't see any memories. I looked up Nathanial's name on google, and your blog entry showed up. Nathanial Brown is my great-great grandfather (through Hulda Brown). I appreciate so much your research. You posted the link to his sister, and I also read her story. I looked in family search and her family's work hadn't been done! I turned the task over to my mom, and last week she found 52 names with ordinances that needed to be done. Thank you again for your work. You've blessed my family.

BruceCrow said...

Glad you found it useful. I have thought I might do something similar, with a family Tre back to when each of my ancestors joined the church. Adding a conversion story from each is such s cool idea.