Lynne Cheney's ancestors

Wife of v.p. finds her roots deeply entrenched in the LDS migration

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Lynne Cheney and Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledge the audience at a Utah luncheon that honored the vice president on Aug. 4, 2003.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

For decades, Lynne Vincent Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, has pursued a quest to interest Americans in history. Lately she has turned to some unexpected allies for help: her five generations of Utah and Mormon ancestors.

She talks in speeches about how she knew their names, dates and places. But that alone was dull. As she researched their times, stories and struggles, they became vibrant and intriguing. She wants Americans to do the same with their family trees: find and tell ancestors' stories, and learn who they really were.

"I think when children think of history as dull, they do so because it's been taught to them as nothing more than names and dates. When you flesh out the stories and tell about the people and what they went through, it becomes fascinating," she told the Deseret Morning News.

Many Utahns likely do not realize Cheney's ancestral ties to Utah or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially because she was born and reared in Wyoming as a Presbyterian. She became a Methodist when she married.

But her father was born in Salt Lake City, and members of five generations of her ancestors migrated to Utah or lived in the state, including some distant ancestors who came as Mormon pioneers from Wales, England, Australia and Massachusetts.

"I started this project (of researching ancestors) as a way of giving gifts to my family," Cheney said.

She wanted to give her daughters a hand-prepared Christmas gift a few years ago, but she doesn't knit well and is a self-described abysmal cook. But she is a writer and historian, who headed the National Endowment for the Arts from 1986 to 1993.

So she decided to research the life of her great-great-grandmother, Katurah Vaughan, and write it as a gift for her daughters. The research was a challenge because Cheney assumes Katurah was illiterate and probably never wrote a word about herself. But Cheney found she could learn much about Katurah from the writings of others.

In a speech at a White House Forum on American History, Cheney said she began a journey where, "I learned about 19th century Wales, and about what the Napoleonic Wars meant to tenant farmers such as her father. I Iearned about the early days of the 'Mormon Church,' when missionaries were being sent to places like Wales, even as persecution in this country threatened the very existence of the Latter-day Saints. And I learned about bravery and endurance."

Instead of just listing the date and place of Katurah's birth in Carmarthanshire, Wales, Cheney told the Morning News that she researched books to help describe what life was like there for tenant farmers "and why it was hard to support a family." That difficulty led Katurah's father to work in the copper mills, and Cheney researched how hard that was.

Cheney said she found Katurah's life changed in 1848, when she was 21. "She went to a meeting . . . where missionaries from the church spoke to her and a group, and talked about Joseph Smith and the gathering in America. She was subsequently baptized, and married another convert," despite strong family objections.

In 1849, the couple traveled to Liverpool and crossed the ocean on a ship named the Buena Vista. In New Orleans, Katurah, then pregnant, boarded a steamer to St. Louis. There they boarded a second ship, the Highland Mary, for Council Bluffs, Iowa, a staging area for Mormon pioneers crossing the Plains.

"Cholera struck and killed many people, including her husband," Cheney said. "The captain of the steamship didn't want these sick people. He was trying to get rid of all the Mormons on the ship. The people in St. Joseph wouldn't receive them.

"When they first got to Council Bluffs, even the Mormon community wouldn't help them until one of the apostles came and said that what the Lord wanted was to extend help to those suffering, so they were helped. Katurah had a baby at Council Bluffs, but he died. So, she lost her husband and a son in a short period," Cheney said.

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