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February 26, 2015

Do you know your ancestors?

I recently learned that my tenth great grandfather Stephen Hopkins, who came to America on the Mayflower, is famous enough to have at least three books published about his life. He was the only passenger who had already been to the New World. His first voyage was interrupted by a ship wreck on an uninhabited island in Bermuda where he was involved in planning a mutiny and was nearly hanged. After ten months the survivors made their way to Jamestown on makeshift boats that they had constructed. Needless to say, his story is fascinating.

Another tenth great grandfather is the Reverend Thomas Hooker who left
Boston because he disagreed with the limited suffrage there and helped found a new colony in the wilderness. He is credited with inspiring the first written constitution in America “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” . In his book Faith and Freedom, Benjamin Hart attests: “Thomas Hooker is considered by many to have played the role of John the Baptist for Thomas Jefferson in the sense that he laid the foundation for American republican democracy”

However the ancestor of whom I am the most proud is not famous at all. He is my fourth great grandfather, John Neff, the descendent of devout Swiss Mennonites. When he was forty seven years old Mormon missionaries came to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and he and his family were converted. It is estimated that his holdings would have made him the equivalent of a multi-millionaire today. He sold everything for about a fifth of its value in order to join the Latter-day Saints who were then being driven from their homes and moving west. He donated the money and the millstones and built a flour mill at Winter Quarters, which was a stop over on the Missouri River where approximately 10,000 Latter-day Saints wintered. From the Discourses of Brigham Young, we read: “Do you want to know how many of you survived in Winter Quarters? Well I’ll tell you so you won’t forget. It was the money that John Neff brought from Pennsylvania which saved the lives of thousands of men, women and children.” In Salt Lake City the Neff’s were just as generous. At one time flour became a precious commodity and California bound gold-seekers offered John one dollar a pound for all he had. He refused and instead sold his flour to the needy at six cents per pound. A great example for all of his descendants!

With all of the technology available today it is relatively easy to develop your personal family tree. An easy and free place to start is the Mormon (LDS) Church’s site “”. If you are a novice and could use a little help the church has 4,600 family history centers staffed with knowledgeable volunteers who are there to assist both members and nonmembers with their research. You can locate the center nearest you by searching for “family history centers” on

By: Nola Smith a Mormon Great Grandma

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