RLDS Church in Lamoni, Decatur County, Iowa

A letter written by Ella Clements to Wanda Myers

In a letter dated March 5, 1985, Mrs. Ella Clements wrote this as follows. I may have to send it in two or maybe three e-mails. She certainly did a very good job of informing me about a lot of the things. These people are all my ancestors except for Mrs. Clements.

Dear Mrs. Myers:

Our pastor passed your letter on to me. I am the historian of our congregation and I have also had some experience with membership records. I am not sure how much specific help I can give you, but I can give some general information. I too am interested in family genealogy. I can not use my typewriter right now so this must be handwritten. For several years Fannie June Post Gordon Wickens was my neighbor. She was a direct descendant of Moses McHarness. I believe she was the youngest child of the large family of Fannie Post and husband. I do not know the maiden name of Mrs. Post. She lived in Davis City in her later years. I have heard June talk about her grandfather McHarness but the only specific item that I recall is that he was the first mayor of Lamoni. June died a very few years ago. In a 1929 booklet about Lamini, a paragraph says "the settlement was a village from 1879 to December 1885, when by vote of the citizens it became an independent town....after the vote for in-corporation was taken, temporary officers were elected and town government began. The first regular election was held March 1, 1886, with the following results: M. McHarness , mayor...." (Other town officers also elected.) A list of mayors up to 1929 shows that he served only the one year.

The first members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settled in Fayette township of Decatur County, Iowa in 1871. Several of them settled in a southwesterly direction from the present town of Lamoni. They called their settlement "The Colony". There was no town, but they had a blacksmith shop and, I believe a small store. They built a small church in 1876. There was also a cemetery which they named Sweet Home. After Rose Hill cemetery was established in the town of Lamoni a few bodies were transferred there from Sweet Home. When I first moved to Lamoni in the late 1930s Sweet Home had been neglected--fences were poor, livestock had gotten into it and it was more or less overgrown with brush. However, for a number of years now, it has been cared for. Of course, in old cemeteries some graves never had permanent markers, some markers have been broken and lost, and some stones have become almost over-grown with grass. There are some other sma! ll cemeteries within a few miles of Lamoni, but I am not familiar with them . I am a senior citizen widow with no means of conveyance of my own. A branch(congregation) of church people was organized in 1859 not far from the present town of Pleasanton. It was called Little River because of the stream in the area. There were several quite small settlements near one another. In November 1871, fifteen members of Little River Branch and four other people organized a branch in the Colony and named it Lamoni. In the next few years other small branches were organized in the surrounding area. With the proposed coming of the railroad through Decatur County, leading church men of the Colony and railroad officials worked out plans whereby the railroad obtained necessary land. A town, with depot, was plotted in 1879. The only post office in the area was called Sedgewick and was located in someone's home two or three miles south of where Graceland College now is. The residents of the new town wished to call it Lamoni. A petition to Washington, D.C. asking that the post office name be changed to Lamoni was received favorably, and so the town, the post office, and the church group were all called Lamoni. The post office was moved to a home about one and one-fourth miles north and west. In addition to the little country church, beginning in 1880 the Saints also used in town a small church built and rented to them by Mrs. Rosalia Dancer. Both small churches were used by the branch until the basement of the Brick Church was finished sufficiently to be used for services and other gatherings. Mrs. Dancer then converted the building(her plan from the beginning) into a dwelling house and the little country building was sold. I used to have a neighbor, Mattie Mayhew Merritt, who told me that her mother's funeral was held in the unfinished basement of the Brick Church.

The Brick Church to which you referred was built in the period from late 1882(ground breaking) to early 1893. It was free of debt and dedicated in April 1893. The large basement room was used occasionally for gatherings in 1885 and 1886, and for regular services from about 1887. However, the upper floor--the sanctuary--was not finished until during the year 1892. Even after that, additional work was done on it. I have no idea whether any weddings were held in the two small churches or in the basement of the Brick Church before it was finished. I do know from my own reading, as well as from family history, that in years past many many weddings were held in family homes or were performed by local justices of the peace or by county ministers or officer. The Brick Church burned the evening of January 29, 1931. I was told by one who knew the facts that all of the interior was of flammable material and there was only one layer of brick on the outside of the walls. The fire fighters were very hampered in their efforts. Very little of the contents were saved. In 1881, a building was built in Lamoni to house the General Church's Herald Publishing House which was then moved to Plano, Illinois. The President of the church, and other leading personalities moved with their families to Lamoni. General Church headquarters was here for some twenty-five years before moving to Independence, MO. Besides the publishing business the building also contained offices of the General Church and, I presume, local church records and offices. The Herald Office, as it was commonly called, burned early in January 1907. Many valuable records, many scripts, etc.. were lost in that fire. I can not speak for all old membership records but the one with which I have been most familiar (that of the Allendale, MO. Branch, 1870-1918) contained the name, date of birth and where, and date of baptism, where and by whom. Sometimes the lower half of the page gave: a date and office if a man had been ordained; the fact and sometimes the date, if the member moved away; occasionally, the date when a person was "received" if he or she had not been baptized in the branch; death dates of some who died while members of the branch; and an occasional expulsion. A separate page gave the names od some of the couples who had been married there and the date and who officiated if known. For many years, in all branches of the church, if members came from another branch they must bring "letters of removal" certifying that they were " "members in good standing". Lacking "letters" they were sometimes vouched for by a minister who knew them. Then, they were "voted in" by local members in a business meeting. One can easily see how complicated record keeping could become. When moving from place to place, quite a few did not bother to change their membership. Pretty soon, a popular branch like Lamoni had on the rolls a number of people who did not live here. Many times the new addresses were not known. As Lamoni Branch grew, there came a time when there were several hundred "non-residence" on the rolls. We do not have in Lamoni Congregation any real old record books. Besides the before-mentioned fires, some local records were lost from water damage, but I don't know whether any membership records were in the group. Have you tried county and state records? The latest edition of The Handy Book For Genealogists, copyright 1981 by the Everton Publishers, Inc., Logan , Utah, which has this information for Decatur County, Iowa: Courthouse burned 1874; County Clerk has birth, death, divorce, probate, civil court records from 1880; marriage records from 1874. County Recorder has land records.

I do not know if they do research by mail at Leon. A few years ago, when we thought my daughter had lost her birth certificate, we went into the office and recieved a copy of what they had there(there was a charge). I saw there was a mistake in her name. I then wrote to the The Division of Vital Records, Iowa Department of Health, Lucas State Office Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. The name was correct on their record. I do not remember the cost. When I first lived in Lamoni, I knew Alma Doxtator by sight. Sometimes he helped in the kitchen at our church camps in South Woods. I think I knew two of his daughters, also. It seems to me that Mrs. Wanda Sullivan, who lived a few blocks from me, was his daughter. Because of your name, I wonder whether you are a descendant of hers. Right now, I can not recall the name of the other woman I knew.(My maiden name was Neal. My brother and I lived on S. Cherry Street)

I hope this account will be of interest--and I hope, some help-to you, because I have spent considerable time and effort on it!


Ella Clements

Contributed by Wanda Myers