My cousin Lucky and I were looking for four leaf clovers in the
grass. The early blue summer sun warmed our backs, not too hot,
just right. This weekend visit with my cousins was a perfect end
to the school year. Soon Lucky's sister, Julie, joined our lazy
search for the magic clovers.
Many a summer passed and Lucky, Julie and I all grew up to marry
and start families of our own. Then, while still a young man, Lucky
died of nephritis, the fatal family inheritance. Each family member
in their own way carried the burden of Lucky's failing kidneys.
His father donated one of his own healthy kidneys, thus prolonging
Lucky's short adulthood with his wife and small children. Fear began
to overwhelm me, for the future, and for my own son. Lucky was the
first to die in my generation.
I remembered the studies conducted on my brother and I as children
at the University of Utah (U of U) when doctors pronounced us, a
special and important family. In the 1950's, research doctors thought
we were one of the few families in the world with this form of nephritis,
known as Alport's syndrome.1
By 1980, this theory changed dramatically as many other Utah families
accepted the diagnosis. Our ancestral destiny meant we might give
birth to sons who would die at maturity or daughters who would carry
the trait to the next generation of sons. These defects could be
life threatening like nephritis and spinal bifida, or merely debilitating
like asthma. Childbirth would be fraught with despair and guilt
for me and for many family members. We participated in the study
but never received counseling regarding the results of this research.
I never knew if I carried this deadly disease or if any preventative
measures would halt its insidious march. This lack of information
upset me as a child when to my fervent, "Why?" the tightlipped adult
answer, "We don't know", seemed woefully inadequate. I promised
myself to find out the truth when I grew up.
When Lucky died my childish vow surfaced and I began to look into
my family history for some answers. My great grandfather, like scores
of English immigrants eager to escape a life of poverty, listened
when Mormon missionaries offered passage to America in exchange
for Mormon baptism. Soon he joined the Mormons in Zion, the new
Promised Land, trading a life of mining for religious hope.
A few years later Lucky's sister, Julie, died of multiple sclerosis,
also leaving a family of small children behind. Same family, second
child, same period of life, a different fatal disease; was there
a connection? My aunt and uncle outlived two of their five children
and two more may have nephritis. What was going on in my Utah pioneer
family? Surely, there were too many deaths. Could my childish intuition
that, 'the adults and doctors lips were sealed', against my
questions, involve family secrets; secrets relatives took to their
graves rather than betray? Or was it true no one knew the answers,
because they could not be known, because no one wanted to know?
For the first time, the faith promoting stories about my great
grandfather's heroism for defying the federal government when they
outlawed polygamy interested me. Family lore indicates he was a
courageous fighter for religious freedom and found himself unjustly
incarcerated for continuing his polygamy lifestyle after its outlaw
by federal and state statute. Previously I paid little attention
to Mormon history, rejecting that belief system primarily because
of political differences with the Mormon leadership over civil rights
and peace issues in the 1960's. This great-grandfather married two
sisters which meant the twenty-two known children were double cousins
or as genetically similar as brother and sister. I began to think
polygamy might be a genetically unsound marriage practice. Not only
were there possibly too few fathers making it easier for defects
to clump in the large interrelated kindred but succeeding generations
of children from these isolated rural Mormon towns married within
a few kindred as well. Throughout the world, most polygamy is exogamous,
or breeding outside the group. Breeding within, as Mormons did,
endogamous polygamy, is virtually never practiced. Had these defects
clumped in my own family as it seemingly appeared to me?
While discussing health problems at a family gathering with some
of my cousins' wives, we discovered astonishingly that three out
of four of us, all polygamy descendants, had borne a son with a
clubfoot. Fortunately, this genetic deformity is correctable with
proper care, is also a common defect, but not that common. One outspoken
Mormon matriarch who attended the same Sunday meeting for fifty
years commented about the health of the polygamous descendants versus
the monogamous descendants, "You see it in the obituaries. So many
Another woman revealed how frustrated and angry she was over her
brother's death, a brother who died because of undiagnosed epilepsy,
possibly needlessly. "My parents would never face it. First, he
had a car accident during a seizure, yet they could not admit he
was not perfect. While swimming he had another seizure and drowned.
We are hierarchy children. The tendency is not to admit it if anything
is wrong, since we are supposedly perfect."3
The 'hierarchy children' are from the 'elite' first families of
Mormonism and these families started polygamy in America. Nearly
all the Mormon founding families were relatives, so the first polygamists
enjoyed relations to different degrees when the divine experiment
began. The Twelve Apostles of Mormonism then acted to increase this
familial relationship by marrying other relatives until in 1877,
at the end of Brigham Young's reign as Mormon Prophet and King,
the polygamous hierarchy became l00% interrelated.4
D. Michael Quinn, former Brigham Young University Professor, states
"The Mormon practice of polygamy enabled men to marry daughters,
nieces, cousins, granddaughters and former wives of other General
Authorities".5 Did this practice affect my family
and other Mormon pioneer families adversely, possibly even in other
momentous ways? Mormon folklore claims otherwise.
Genetics is the study of how traits pass from parents to offspring.
Epidemiology is the study of the spread, prevention and control
of disease in a community or group of persons. Some people mistakenly
think genetic disease encompasses only birth defects and this is
far from the truth. Genetic disease can occur at any age including
birth, onset of puberty, early adulthood, or middle age. Inherited
diseases are extremely varied from protein metabolism to connective
tissue problems to vital organ failure, and among the most expensive
to manage financially both for the public and for the individual
family. These diseases endure as the most difficult, time consuming,
and emotionally traumatizing for everyone involved in the care of
someone who will not improve, but worsen and die.
The Mormons, well known for genealogical record keeping, maintain
birth, marriage and death information at church libraries and now
on the Internet.6 Since polygamy remained a hidden
and illegal practice, disguised family records occurred. The records
of the marriages sealed at the Nauvoo Temple before the general
exodus to Utah in the 1840's, may be the most important ones of
all; yet, these are stored in a vault, unavailable to researchers.
During this early period, polygamy was practiced secretly by the
Mormon leadership, men who covertly preached and expanded polygamy
while publicly deceiving the general Mormon population about the
practice. These wives sometimes became known, sometimes not. For
instance, Quinn writes, "over twenty General Authorities were married
to such lesser known wives".7
'Lesser known children' hidden in families sympathetic to polygamists
might remain ignorant of their genetic kinship. And the Genealogy
Department advises genealogists to follow only their direct line;
in this instance meaning only the wife who is their mother, not
other wives of their father.8 This is inadequate
information for purposes of establishing the true incidence of consanguinity
within a family or community.
Genealogists and especially epidemiologists must be scrupulous
in identifying all the wives and children of any polygamist man.
Branches of the polygamist man's family left out of the genealogy
will change the incidence of common ancestors and potentially mask
the true disease risk and incidence in the community. Gradually,
I realized the practice of polygamy, especially in Mormondom, might
be a prescription for genetic disease. People most at risk likely
lived and married within the same small communities their ancestors
founded. This seemed to apply in my own kindred because those of
us who left Mormonism and married outsiders are less riddled with
the deleterious genetic legacy than relatives who married within
the ancestral Mormon gene pool.
Parents who share a common ancestor are consanguineous. Consanguinity
causes aggregate clusters of deleterious genes to collect in families,
which then express themselves as rare recessive disorders like nephritis,
cystic fibrosis, biliary artesia, albinism, short stature and many
others. Consanguinity also causes rare recessive disorders to mask
as dominant. Consanguinity is a reason why families bear children
of only one sex - all sons, or all daughters.
Mormon Prophet Hebrew J. Grant determined to keep marrying until
he found a woman to bear him living sons. He did not consider this
lack of sons might be his genetic inheritance, not his multiple
wives. Current scientific knowledge indicates Grant's lack of sons
resulted from his own genetic defect, since only men carry the male
Y chromosome to make a son.9
Another problem in polygamy is a man's breeding years are expanded
sometimes into his eighties by the taking of new wives. As people
age the chances of children inheriting mutant genes increases. Readily
accepted as a problem among mothers past the age of thirty-five,
it is rarely discussed as a problem when fathers are over thirty-five,
let alone eighty.
Sterility is another consequence of consanguinity and the evidence
of many sterile polygamous wives is overwhelming. The adoption of
children among family members sometimes disguised sterility. This
is a humane coping strategy devised to deal with a dilemma that
devastated a woman taught from birth her only value was in the number
of children she bore for the Kingdom of God. Yet, this practice
may hide the actual genetic kinship and can further exacerbate genetic
Recently, another cousin fathered a child born with spinal bifida,
inherited paralysis, an anomaly related to nephritis. He also married
a woman descended from polygamy. This child belongs to a family
branch that used to be in the U of U nephritis study. This branch,
now living in Arizona, is no longer a part of the ongoing familial
studies. Dropping a branch of this family from the studies may result
in a reported disease incidence which is lower than family experience
indicates. It appears my kinship group is suffering from clusters
of rare recessive genes. Not one defect, but many.
This gene cluster effect happens when people with common ancestors
marry and bear children. Polygamy today is comprised of early Mormon
polygamy descendants and these families are now interrelated by
a factor impossible in monogamy. Evidence exists that this gene
pool foments a genetic and human catastrophe. Mormons can now see
why American citizens passed laws intended to stop polygamy, a relic
of unwise prophecy, laws continuously disregarded in Utah, a state
controlled by the Mormon Church, if they will only look. In addition,
the Mormon Church touts itself as the quintessential traditional
family values church, advertising via expensive television campaigns.
They are quick to point out to reporters that they no longer practice
polygamy and excommunicate members who continue to do so. This denial
is hollow considering the record. They offer no support, no exit
route, and no programs for the people trapped inside polygamy endeavoring
to escape these closed polygamous communities, or compounds.10
The discoveries and research within my own kindred so alarmed
me that I studied other descendants of polygamy to see if their
families also suffered from crippling illnesses. I am convinced
they do. As bad as this past is, the mounting evidence is far worse.
In 1991, I first became aware of the Latter Day Church of Christ
(a.k.a. Kingston's and The Davis County Cooperative Society), a
Mormon polygamist offshoot and determined to interview within this
virtually impenetrable closed polygamist group. One 1980's leader,
John Ortell Kingston, married thirteen wives and sired over sixty-five
children, many of them deformed. His wives included five nieces.
One disillusioned former member claims "babies are born as blobs
of protoplasm", and "brothers marry sisters in an effort to
build up a royal priesthood."11 I endeavored to
publish this information. Editors suggested it was unbelievable.
If only that were true.
Then in 1998, a 16 year-old girl limped seven miles to a pay phone
and called police. Bruised, welts covering her body, and a broken
nose, at first she was reluctant to speak with authorities. She
told investigators her father took her to a remote area and belt
whipped her for running away from a forced marriage to her uncle,
her father's brother, as his 15th wife. Removed from school like
so many polygamy children, she told social workers she wanted to
finish high school.12
Finally exposed in the news, the facts of life inside this religious/cult
compound are stunning Mormons, Utahns, the nation, and the world.
Half and full siblings are 'marrying' in religious ceremonies. Escaped
members report some patriarchs believe it is their duty to give
a daughter her first marriage lessons. This is the equivalent of
a religious rationalization for the practice of incest.13
Buried quietly on family farms, without notice of birth or death,
child death often remains undocumented in polygamy clans. Utah officials
fall all over themselves in an effort to explain why they have done
nothing before and what they now propose to do.14
Unfortunately, the answer is clear as they embarrass themselves
inventing new ways to say they will continue to do nothing and wait
for the media to change the focus.
Alongside the medical tragedy, other social and legal problems
emerge. Currently, thousands of children are born into these closed
authoritarian patriarchies. Indoctrinated from birth that they are
better than others, exalted, and lacking outside education, understanding
nothing about democracy; they not only believe government is corrupt,
but then frequently use that rationalization to engage in fraud
schemes that bilk the public. As early as 1985, John Ortell Kingston,
in an out of court settlement agreed to pay $250,000 to the Utah
Department of Recovery Services for child support. Four wives and
at least 29 children collected hundreds of thousands of dollars
in public assistance. Judgments entered for more than $100,000 against
ten other Kingston clan members made on behalf of over 40 children.
Recovery Services thinks this is a fraction of the money involved.15
The Kingston clan is a fraud masquerading as a religion. A fraud
scheme organized to promote the wealth of the Kingston men at the
expense of all men, women and children who are not blood. There
is no reason why law enforcement cannot dismantle this group by
enforcing existing laws.
Until quite recently, the Kingston leaders did not even pay wages
to their captive members but paid them in script for working in
the cult businesses. Members then used the script to purchase goods
at clan owned stores. Reputedly, this cults net worth is over $300
million. It is certainly difficult to leave a cult that holds all
the money, property and takes the children if you attempt to leave.
Utah courts and social service agencies threaten or remove parental
rights from women who want to leave polygamy and then give the children
to other polygamous households.16 What emerges
from this record is a system that protects men and violates the
rights of women to live in liberty, all supported by the Mormon
Throughout 1998 and 1999, the Salt Lake Tribune lifted the covers
on the many crimes committed in polygamy. Using resources for a
major expose; thus marking the first time news media reported this
human and civil rights nightmare accurately since the 1850's. News
articles describing the incest within modern polygamy suggests these
communities of forgotten people suffer horrifically.17
This article focuses primarily on the genetic impact of polygamy;
however, the reasons behind polygamy are frightening and misunderstood.
These groups are white supremacists, and inbreeding is an essential
doctrine in keeping the bloodline pure.18 Convinced
they are breeding a pure white master race; they blame the mother
if a deformed baby is born, then preach she was unrighteous or unclean.
It is these discredited ideas that foster this genetic legacy. Early
polygamy was rife with incestuous and eugenic ideas and practices
as well. Brigham Young, the second Mormon leader, preached, "The
time is coming when the Lord is going to raise a holy nation.a royal
priesthood upon the earth, and he has introduced a plurality of
wives for that express purpose."19
Every person carries some lethal genes. Most populations outbreed
and so these lethal genes rarely match to cause any serious diseases.
When a group inbreeds, as polygamists have, more and more lethal
gene matches occur. Children inherit disabling illnesses. Child
life is destroyed.
Some family members and Utah geneticists disagree with these conclusions.
I think I owe my children and all children who risk becoming the
next unwitting victims of this tragic genetic legacy, the best information
regarding the prevention of this lethal family inheritance that
I can find. Thus, over the first fifty years of Mormonism, a highly
inbred hierarchy became even more inbred through their illegal marriage
and childbirth practices. At the time this inbreeding took place
these prophets preached and practiced modern 'eugenic science',
the science of controlling the traits of future populations through
selective breeding for idealized traits like blond hair, blue eyes,
and tall stature. One hundred years later, eugenics is a discredited
science, yet some followers still believe. Historian B. H.
Roberts, notes an eugenic attitude regarding polygamy:
It was in the name of a divinely ordered species of eugenics
that Latter Day Saints accepted the revelation which included a
plurality of wives. Polygamy would have afforded the opportunity
of producing from that consecrated fatherhood and motherhood the
improved type of man the world needs to reveal the highest possibilities
of the race, that the day of the super man might come, and with
him come also the redemption and betterment of the race.20
It is important that Mormons fight the tendency to discount history
and the actions of their leaders in favor of a faith promoting history
while neglecting important facts. It is important the American public
recognize that polygamy was outlawed for valid reasons; and not
as apologists claim because of outmoded Victorian moral ideas. It
is difficult to assess less than perfect family background when
men are revered as 'prophets,' 'apostles,' and 'kings.' If descendants
of polygamy do not look critically at the ideas of their ancestors,
Utah children may be increasingly at risk. If two descendants of
hierarchical polygamy marry, the chances for genetic defects increase
if the families were ever interrelated. This means it may be genetically
unwise for children of the early leaders to marry other children
of early leaders, even now; yet, this tendency still exists in Mormonism.
One pediatrician at the U of U, stated he asks only, "Were your
parents related?" This is not enough genetic background information
to ascertain the facts regarding health risk and may be a reason
why health statistics in Utah have significant errors. One newspaper
article describes a baby with a disorder previously unseen, ulnar
mammary syndrome.21 Now a new disease classification
enters the medical literature and a certainty that even more health
care dollars will be allocated towards high tech solutions to preventable
problems. These new disease classifications belong at the door of
the Mormon Church leadership. They are coming out of polygamous
communities proliferating in Utah because Mormons are unable to
face their history or follow sound marriage and childbirth practices.
Within Mormonism, large families are coveted and honored. Often
these families do not have the resources to prosper. In polygamy
this is exacerbated. Women do not have the freedom to consider how
often she can give birth and maintain her health. Men make all decisions
affecting her health. One nurse confided, "We see too many trisome
l3 and l8 babies."22 This is a rare disorder and
medical descriptions of trisome infants are too dreadful to describe
here. These babies usually do not leave the hospital and die as
This nurse has a polygamous background, so does her husband. Three
of their children suffer from serious inherited disorders. One child
born with an incomplete liver died. If both parents are descendants
of polygamy, the children may be at even greater risk. These disturbing
accounts offer a look inside the lives of some early Mormon descendants.
They can be dismissed as merely anecdotal. It takes maturity to
face the truth, especially if the truth is painful and challenges
the family tradition and religious belief structure.
Utah news articles often feature geneticists' and the LDS Church
furthering science by applying modern genetic analysis to the vast
genealogical database. It is likely flawed. These same articles
suggest the Utah population is healthier than similar non-Mormon
populations. Mormon descendants of monogamy are probably healthier
than a similar non-Mormon population because of their good health
habits. I doubt Mormon descendants of polygamy are healthier than
non-Mormons. Many of these articles read more like public relations
than news. The news may be that descendants of polygamy are at greater
genetic risk than the average population, especially if any direct
relative was a member of the Mormon hierarchy.
In early 1990, the incidence of nephritis in the general population
was revised from an l in l0, 000 incidence to l in 5,000. There
are a limited number of health care dollars. The allocation of those
dollars is a public issue. Prevention is a more humane and cost
effective way to manage these catastrophic illnesses, than the current
medical emphasis on technological cure. I am not against curative
measures, just the current emphasis. One nephrologist at the U of
U admitted to me, "You may be right." With medical grants, careers,
and tenure to be lost, few doctors will risk raising the most difficult
questions. When ancestors are revered as prophets and kings, it
is difficult to admit or examine the possibility of this legacy.
For us parents the future health and happiness of ourselves, our
children and grandchildren are at stake. We cannot afford to neglect
the possibility our ancestors practiced a form of marriage that
was unhealthy and debilitating to our children, to us, and to society.
The Salt Lake Tribune focused on one polygamist group, The Latter
Day Church of Christ, a.k.a. Kingston's, this past year. The information
about this group is outrageous and shocking. It would be nice to
think this is the only incidence of a polygamist group practicing
incest as a religious rite. Unfortunately, that is not so. There
are many similar outlaw groups in Utah and surrounding states. This
is why the state and federal government enacted legislation against
polygamy. This is why those laws need to be enforced. To date Mormons
have only paid lip service to stopping polygamy.
Linda Walker started Child Protection Project, a web site
dedicated to exposing this institutionalized incest and child abuse.
Linda works as a legal consultant on civil cases involving child
abuse and the church. This essay was written in the fall of 1991
and updated summer of 1999.
- McKusick, Victor A., Mendelian Inheritance
in Man, Seventh Edition, the John Hopkins University Press,
Baltimore and London, 1986. This is Kindred P listed under classification
10420 and 30105.
- Interview, Fall 1991.
- Personal communication, Fall 1991.
- Quinn, D. Michael, Organizational Development
and Social Origins of The Mormon Hierarchy, 1832-1932, Master
Thesis, Department of History, University of Utah, August 1973,
Table 8, page 69.
file frame 7762167 at familysearch.org
- Quinn, op cit., page 63.
- For an idea of just how married these self designated
prophets were go to: familysearch.org
and use the Ancestral File Number Search (AFN) to view Joseph
Smith Jr. (AFN:9KGL-W2) founder and prophet with 24 wives listed;
other researchers count as many as 84; Brigham Young, 2nd Prophet,
(AFN: 3ZD8-KC) lists 38 wives; Heber Chase Kimball (AFN: 41K9-D8)
lists 47 wives.
click custom search tab, click ancestral file, then Heber Jeddy
Grant (AFN: 2F6Z-DM)
- Salladay, Robert, "Mormons
now target California", San Francisco Examiner 04/07/1999,
page L1. The
LDS Church is urging members in California to support financially
and politically a ballot initiative banning gay marriages, following
the Church's donation of $1.1 million to anti-gay-marriage ballot
measures in Alaska and Hawaii. Claiming it is a moral duty to
support monogamous heterosexual marriage, why then do they not
spend one dollar to help their relatives trapped in polygamy?
- Tanner, Gerald and Sandra, private letter
written by a defector from the Kingston cult, Fall 1991.
- Burton, Greg, "Father Is arrested for Beating
Daughter Who Fled Marriage; 16-year-old says she was 15th
wife of father's polygamous brother; Father Charged With Beating
Daughter, 16", Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 06/03/1998,
- Interviews with survivors of polygamy and incest.
- Fahys, Judy, "Prosecuting Polygamists Not
a Priority; But Leavitt says the state will not tolerate civil-rights
abuses; Leavitt Says Polygamy Might Be Constitutional", 07/24/1998,
Page, A1. Rivera, Ray, "Hatch Joins Leavitt In Game of Twister
Over Polygamy Issue; Polygamy Issue Has Politicians In Verbal
Tangles", 08/29/1998, Page, A1.
- Wells, Ken, "A Utah Polygamy Clan is Rich,
but Women Draw Welfare Benefits", Wall Street Journal, 02/12/85,
- Jorgensen, Chris, "Polygamists Can Adopt Children,
Rules Split Court", Salt Lake Tribune, 03/27/91, page, B1. The
Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a Utah polygamist family cannot
be excluded from adopting children because they practice plural
- Rivera, Ray, "Church Makes Incest Doctrinal
-Inbreeding key to doctrine of keeping bloodline pure", Salt Lake
Tribune, Sunday, April 25, 1999.
- Faux, Steven, "Genetic Self Interest and Mormon
Polygyny", Sunstone, Salt Lake City, Utah, July-August, page 38.
- Roberts, B. H., A Comprehensive History
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Century 1,
6 volumes, Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1930, 5:297.
- Siegel, Lee, "U. Researchers Home In on Gene
Defect ", The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 10/12/95,
Page, A6. And "Utah Team Finds Gene for Rare Birth Defect; Discovery
Provides Insight on Genesis of Limb Malformation", The Salt Lake
Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 06/27/97, Page, A18.
- Interview with a polygamy descendant who is
a registered nurse and mother, Spring 1991.