By Mary Ann Clements

Over the years, Theodore Turley’s descendants have disagreed about various details of his life1, but one item has rarely been disputed, his death date of 12 August 18712. Now, historical evidence has come to light that indicates Theodore likely died a few days later, Friday, 18 August 1871.

Whoops. This isn’t good.

Where did we get the August 12th death date?

The August 12th date appears on two different old handwritten family group sheets. These “Family Memorials” were Theodore’s own personal records, documenting birth and death dates of his wives and children. We only know of three family memorials kept by Theodore, one for his family with Frances Amelia Kimberley, one for his family with Sarah Ellen Clift Selwyn, and one for his family with Mary Clift. (We are not aware of any family memorials for his families with Eliza Clift or Ruth Jane Giles.) On two of these family memorials, someone later added that Theodore Turley died on August 12, 1871 in Beaver.

Here’s Theodore’s death information written on the family memorial for Frances Amelia Kimberley:

Died in beaver city August 12) (1871) (1871) with a cancer

And here’s Theodore’s death information written on the family memorial for Sarah Ellen Clift Selwyn:

Theodore Turley Died in Beaver City August 12 1871
come to his death by a cancer in the throat and Mouth

We don’t know who added Theodore’s death info on each memorial, but the handwriting looks similar.

What’s the evidence for an August 18th death date?

The first piece of evidence came to light several years ago, but I didn’t take it seriously. It was in Theodore’s 1872 probate record, found on an old microfilm in the Salt Lake Family History Library.

Whereas Theodore Turley lately to wit on the Eighteenth
day of August died intestate…

The probate documents are from from 3 August 1872, a year after Theodore died. “Maybe people mixed up the death date,” I thought.

Then a month or so ago, I came across a transcript of Amasa Mason Lyman’s journals in the book Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877, edited by Scott H. Partridge (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2016). Amasa Lyman was an early Latter-day Saint apostle who also happened to be Theodore’s son-in-law. (Theodore’s daughter, Priscilla, was one of Amasa’s plural wives.) Theodore and Amasa were close. They settled San Bernardino together and moved back to Utah together. They both got involved in the same spiritualism movement towards the end of Theodore’s life, which is what got both of them excommunicated in 1870 (Amasa in May, Theodore in June). In his journal entry for Tuesday, 22 August 18713, Amasa wrote:

Passed the day in reading in the afternoon received a letter from Beaver announcing the death of Father Theodore Turley by cancer on Friday 18th at 10 oclock A.M. In the evening held seance at which Father Turley gave us kindly greeting.

August 18th. Just like the probate record. (Yes, Amasa said séance. Theodore did them, too. That was part of the spiritualism stuff.)

But August 12th is literally set in stone!

That’s because we put it there. In the 1990s, members of the Theodore Turley Family Organization raised funds to put a headstone on Theodore Turley’s unmarked grave. Since neither burial nor death records existed for Theodore, they used a combination of spiritual promptings and logical deduction to figure out the most likely plot in the Beaver cemetery.4 But of course we didn’t need to verify the death date, because we already knew it.

And because we put 12 August 1871 on the headstone, that death date is now on the Findagrave.com website as well as the Utah Cemeteries and Burials database.

What about Church records?

Since Theodore was excommunicated shortly before he died, it doesn’t appear that we have a death date recorded on a church membership record (if anyone can find one, please let us know!). There are various databases of early Latter-day Saint members that list Theodore’s death date as 12 August 1871, but it appears they use family records and the above-noted family memorial documents as sources just like we did.5

What now?

We’ll continue to investigate Theodore’s death date in historical documents, but we could use your help! Do you have any information that could help clear this up? Are you aware of any diaries or other historical sources we may have missed?

This will definitely be a topic of discussion for our October 12th TTFO semi-annual meeting. Please consider joining us then, or leave your input in a comment below!

Do We Have Theodore’s Death Date Wrong?
  1. Was he born in 1800 or 1801?
  2. The only other death date I’ve seen for Theodore was in the 1913 book Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah by Frank Esshom (Utah pioneers book publishing company: Salt Lake City, Utah). On p. 1218, Theodore’s death date is given as 22 August 1872, but this source is easily dismissed because it contains several glaring mistakes. They include, first, one of Theodore’s wives is listed as Sarah Greenwood, who was his daughter-in-law. Second, the bio omits marriages to his plural wives (Mary Clift, Eliza Clift, and Sarah Ellen Clift) and Ruth Jane Giles. Finally, the bio misspells the surname of a different daughter-in-law, Clara Dalton instead of the correct Clara Tolton.
  3. Scott H. Partridge, ed., Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2016), 666.
  4. See the following Theodore Turley Family Organization newsletters for more information on selecting the location for Theodore’s headstone: March 2017 (p. 12) and May 1997 (p. 16). See the September 1997 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter for coverage and photos of the August family reunion in Beaver, Utah, when the headstone was placed and dedicated.
  5. See, for example, Theodore’s entry at the Nauvoo Community Project database.

3 thoughts on “Do We Have Theodore’s Death Date Wrong?

  • September 20, 2019 at 9:56 pm
    Permalink

    I guess I must have missed it, or never read, that Theodore Turley was excommunicated. I didn’t know anything about the Spiritualism either. When I look at Family Search there is nothing listed there. If someone is excommunicated is there anything that appears on Family Search or Temple Ordinances?

    Reply
  • September 21, 2019 at 10:29 am
    Permalink

    Theodore was rebaptized and his blessings were restored decades ago, so you don’t see anything different in his temple ordinance data. In fact, if you go into the “Memories” section on FamilySearch for Theodore, you can actually see the 2-page letter that Lawrence Turley received from Church leaders in 1977 confirming that Theodore’s blessings had been restored. David Turley (Lawrence’s son) posted it just earlier this year. (David gave me permission to post it on this website, so I’m planning to put it up.)

    Theodore Turley was involved in the Godbeite movement, which included spiritualism (direct communication with spirits via seances or other means). Amasa Lyman (Theodore’s son-in-law) was a prominent leader in that movement. You can learn about the Godbeite movement here: https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/g/GODBEITES.shtml

    The movement also opposed some of Brigham Young’s economic policies. They didn’t like Brigham Young’s opposition to mining (something Theodore would’ve identified with). They also weren’t happy with Church leaders disciplining members for shopping at Gentile (non-Mormon) stores. (In reaction to the movement, church leaders eventually let up on these widely unpopular policies.)

    Even though Theodore had issues with Brigham Young, he was fiercely loyal to Joseph Smith throughout his life. Theodore also had some family tension with Brigham – Theodore’s daughter, Mary Ann, had been one of Brigham’s plural wives. She divorced him in January 1851, shortly before the Turleys left to go help settle San Bernardino.

    Some family members uncomfortable with Theodore’s involvement with spiritualism and the Godbeites argue that Theodore’s judgment was likely impaired later in life because of his frequent exposure to mercury. For me, I tend to see it as part of his personality – stubbornness, not easily intimidated, fierce loyalty to friends and family members, and yes, sometimes putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. I guess I tend to identify with it. LOL.

    Reply
    • September 22, 2019 at 1:55 pm
      Permalink

      Thank you for your response. It makes me feel a lot better to know the circumstances surrounding his decision making. As I was recently reading an article that explained the fact that there has been only one perfect person on this earth and it was Jesus Christ. All the rest of us are imperfect and make bad decisions on occasion. That is why there is repentance. When I read your article about the death date for Theodore and his excommunication I was crushed. It broke my heart. Reading your response put things in perspective and it helped heal my heart.
      Thank you for the insight.
      Laron

      Reply

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