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Last week I stumbled on a couple of Ask Me Anything threads that Lindsay Hansen Park did on Reddit last year and back in 2015. Lindsay is the executive director of Sunstone, a sometime poster at Feminist Mormon Housewives and the creator of the Year of Polygamy podcast. The AMA threads (here and here, in case you’re curious) were really fascinating. Reading what Lindsay had to say about expanding the definition of what it means to be Mormon and claiming a Mormon identity on her own terms really resonated with me, especially in light of the things I have been thinking and writing about for the past couple of weeks. Really compelling stuff that hit me in an unexpectedly close way.

So I decided to give the Year of Polygamy podcast a try. One of the facets about claiming a Mormon identity for me is taking ownership of all of what Mormonism means, including the ugly, dark and strange parts. For me, Mormonism isn’t just like a club I belonged to that I can walk out of and wash my hands of it. I was born into a Mormon family, was raised in the church, graduated seminary, served a mission, and married in the temple. Mormonism formed me in a deep way that I can’t just minimize or ignore. I decided that meant finding out more about Mormonism’s relationship (past and present) with polygamy.

In an one of the early podcast episodes, Lindsay encourages her (mostly Mormon or Mormon-adjacent) audience to look into their family history and see how much polygamy is there. That sounded interesting to me, so when I got home from work that night, I hopped onto the internet and started poking around on FamilySearch to see what I could find. Turns out it’s not actually that hard to figure out–there’s not a big scarlet P on the polygamists, but if you look for male ancestors in the second half of the 19th century and pay attention to how many marriages they had, the timing of those marriages, and the timing of children from those marriages, you can read the story between the lines. And, as it turns out, HOLY SHIT MY FAMILY TREE TURNS OUT TO BE JUST RIDDLED WITH POLYGAMISTS.

Virtually every ancestor on my maternal grandfather’s line since 1840 has been a polygamist or a descendant of polygamists. That’s crazy.

I mean, this should not have been a revelation for me. I know I have pioneer ancestors, which means I have plenty of ancestors in the right time, place and religion. But it’s not like my family brags about (or even ever talks about) their polygamist history. So for me, growing up, polygamy was a weird, embarrassing thing my church used to do a long time ago but stopped doing a long time ago and it’s tricky because it’s hard to understand why but it’s all sort of abstract and hypothetical or dry and historical.

But nope. It’s not really like that at all, is it? These people were my flesh and blood. Their DNA is swimming in mine. The experiences of these people (men, women, their children) living in and surviving polygamy shaped and formed my family and ultimately shaped and formed me in ways that are not obvious but are nevertheless there.

I’m not 100% sure how to unpack this all, but it just struck a nerve pretty deeply in a really raw, visceral way. Polygamy isn’t just some weird thing that the church I used to go to did back in the 1800’s. Polygamy turns out to be part of who I am–I am the descendant of sister wives and their children. It’s not someone else’s history; it’s mine. It’s pretty heavy.

Also, for the record, the Year of Polygamy podcast is pretty great and you should listen to it, especially if you are Mormon or Mormon-adjacent.

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“Here stranger, this’s none of your mix,” began Tull. “Don’t try any interference. You’ve been asked to drink and eat. That’s more than you’d have got in any other village of the Utah border. Water your horse and be on your way.”

“Easy—easy—I ain’t interferin’ yet,” replied the rider. The tone of his voice had undergone a change. A different man had spoken. Where, in addressing Jane, he had been mild and gentle, now, with his first speech to Tull, he was dry, cool, biting. “I’ve jest stumbled onto a queer deal. Seven Mormons all packin’ guns, an’ a Gentile tied with a rope, an’ a woman who swears by his honesty! Queer, ain’t that?”

“Queer or not, it’s none of your business,” retorted Tull.

“Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.”

Tull fumed between amaze and anger.

“Meddler, we have a law here something different from woman’s whim—Mormon law!… Take care you don’t transgress it.”

“To hell with your Mormon law!”

-Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

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