Monday, April 4, 2011

My Family's Big Love: I'm Descended From Polygamists


I got sick.  I caught a virus that rendered my throat incapable of doing anything a throat is made to do (pass breath, handle the food, the drink and the other body-stuffs we pretend doesn't happen, like food that burps back up but we swallow back down--I mean, what?).  

I'm trying to look on the positive side, though.  Right after my throat burned itself into a no-entry zone I found out that I do not have Herpes, HPV, or HIV/AIDS.  It was a win/sorta lose kind of moment.

Anyway, in getting so sick I deliberately separated myself as much as possible from my friends.  Being quarantined, I can say now from experience, is not fun.  I get antsy enough as it is when Downton Abbey episodes have run dry on Netflix.  So, in a vague attempt to avoid stir-craziness I started up my latest Campaign of Learning and began researching the people I could socialize with and avoid infecting:  my ancestors. 

You Know When You Kind of Know About Something But Don't Really Know It Until You Actually Start Researching What It Really Means And Then You Wish You Hadn't?

When I was a kid I had heard about my family on one side having more than one family.  Or that two sisters had the same husband.  Or that my grandpa had left a church.  I had asked questions about it in the past, but for some reason even after repetitive explanations from my mom and dad, it didn't quite sink in what it all really meant.

I started off with the photo that had confused me for a long, long time.  It had been sitting on the family mantel surrounded by a pretty antique metal frame.  One day, while hacking up my lung (and lunch), I decided to take a closer look inside and break out the photos to see what they said on the backs.  

This is how I destroy antiques.
Meet Charles Henry Haderlie:

Or, as he was fondly called back in Switzerland, Karl Heinrich Häderli. Yea, that last name was hard for me to pronounce first time I saw it.  Think "Hey!-D.A.R.E.-lie" Sounds kind of like an anti-drug abstinence program.

Karl--or as I like to think of him, Crazy Charley--was a polygamist.  No, that doesn't mean he was an avid gamer, as I had foolishly hoped. Charles had more than one wife.

To make matters even more intriguing, his wives were also sisters.

Meet The Schiesses.

Btws, Schiess is pronounced "sheess"not "shies," as I had again foolishly thought; that would have meant that they were the Shit family in Swiss.   
Mr and Mrs. Schiess and their children, Anna Barbara, Bertha (at age 5)  Jacob and John.
Around 1876 Johannes Ulrich Schiess, or as I like to think of him, Mr. I'm The Only One Whose Beliefs Matter, uprooted his entire family from their gorgeous little farm in Appenzell Switzerland to go Manifest Destiny with Joseph Smith and join the Church of Latter Day Saints.  

Big Love Just Got Very Real.

As hard as it may be to comprehend in the Post-3rd Wave Feminism world of the Bay Area, as hard as it is for me to see this as anything but some form of voodoo cult culture, the two daughters of Ulrich pictured above ended up being married to the same man, Crazy Charles Henry.  

Bertha (now age 17) with new hubby Charles Henry, who at the time was already married to her sister.
It gets better.

Meet The Haderlies.

Gotta love those 1940s up-doos and wide-lapel suits.  Pictured above are the thirteen--yes, thirteen--children of Bertha Schiess and Charles Henry Haderlie.  Just for kicks, here they are again as children in 1905, when Bertha had only had nine by that point:

The Haderlie 9; the baby is Mabel, little girl is Ina, top right is Clifford.

Déjà vu-Doo Cult?

Ok.  I really should stop passing judgment on polygamists.  I mean, without them and their crazy-breeding techniques, I would not exist.  Flat out that is the truth.


Charles Henry didn't just marry two women.  He didn't marry just two sisters and have an exorbitant amount of kids with his second wife.  

He also was simultaneously making thirteen other children with Anna Barbara, Bertha's sister, bringing that up to 26 children total. 

Wait.  What?  

26 children.  From three can get 26?  Don't women's uteruses fall out after their fifth child?    Don't men's penises fall off after the 10th?  I don't understand.

Apparently Charles Henry Haderlie did.  Like a crazed scientist, trying to force a "solution" to his original crack-pot idea, he placed the two sets of children and wife on either side of the Idaho and Wyoming state border, both along Tin Cup Creek. 

That's right.  That was the dude's solution.  

Got two families?  No prob.  Put them in different states.  That way, no one will know and no one will have the awkward family reunion moment of wearing the same genes to the same party.  

That was a bad pun.

I apologize. 

According to what we have from record accounts, the families did not consort with one another, but merely shared resources (one owned a ranch, the other a lumber mill).   And, apparently tensions ran particularly high after one incident where one of the boys from the mill got fresh with one of the girls from the ranch and he and his siblings were politely met with gunpoint by their half-brothers upon a return visit.

When Did Mormons Become a Fad?

If you're interested to know how I'm related to all of this, it's quite simple.  I'm the great-grand-daughter of one of those thirteen kids pictured above:  Clifford Moroni Haderlie, to be exact.  His eldest son, Eugene, is the very same Eugene who just celebrated his 90th birthday a week and a half ago, aka my grandpa.

Eugene politely declined to be a part of the Church of Latter Day Saints as a young man, and was excommunicated.  Our relatives who still belonged to the Church kept trying to get him to come back for a while afterwards but they stopped when my grandma (a British war bride who had survived the London Blitz) said she'd haunt them forever as a ghost even after she died if they kept it up.

They stopped calling after that.

Anyway, it seemed fitting to "come out" to everyone about my family's somewhat sordid history.  The Book of Mormon, written by South Park's creators, has become the latest broadway smash musical.  Also, Big Love, the HBO series on a fictional Utah polygamist family, just concluded with its last episode only a few weeks ago.  I find it oddly coincidental that the two head writers of Big Love, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer are a gay male couple, as I now find myself in a slightly intriguing position:  

It's 2011 and here I am.  I am the great-grand-daughter of a devout Mormon family (among many others) and I am an out, lesbian atheist.  My existence is somewhat of the exact opposite of what Charles Henry Haderlie had intended in producing so many heirs; his religion was forgotten with my mom and standard procreation could easily stop with me and with that, his line of genes.

I find that fantastically sweet as a form of revenge, in the name of all and any women who were badgered into being second wives.  But, I don't like to end blogs on a vengeful note.  So, let's go back to genealogy.


This is Woo with HER extended family.  Here are her half siblings from the same mother.

Can you see the resemblance?

Woo, Blue and Roxy
Also, this is Woo's late mother, McKinley.

I like to think Woo got her mom's eyes.  Something about that bulginess and confused glassy stare...


  1. watched a few episodes of "sister wives" while visiting NY. 4 wives to 1 husband. they all have their own living spaces (bedrooms/bathrooms/living room/kitchen), but it's all connected in one big house.


  2. Yea, I am a little intimidated to say the least about these sorts of family dynamics because you can see how it would be great for raising kids--tons of parents and all. But.........gah. WHY?!

  3. Beryl! When you said that you were were like...SICK. :( :( I'm sorry. (Actually I had my own bout of medical drama a month ago. I've never had so much blood drawn out of me in that short amount of time.)

    Yea...I watched a couple episodes of Big Love and I think I would alternate between jealousness and disgust. Jealous cuz dude is with another gal; disgust cuz DUDE he's WITH ANOTHER GAL why am I friggin' JEALOUS? sadness. And when I think about having 13 children, I feel rather pained. I lol'd at your uterus and penis comment.

    Ah...the interesting side effects of being sick and stuck at home.

  4. Also the genes one. lol'd at that one. That was good too. ^____^

  5. 26 KIDS? Did he WORK for a living?

  6. Dude that is a crazy sickness, glad you are not STDed...although were they looking for throat HPV? That's interesting. (says the microbiology inclined one)

    I also loled at the genes.

    When I am all depressed in grad school can you send me extra woo updates? Woo is great.

  7. Dude, that's why you turned out as a homo. My parents come from HUGE families too. It was kind of like God's way of saying, "Hey you motherfuckers, I only put a limited amount of resources and space on this planet because it was fashionable at the time. I mean, look at how badly I failed with the 7/8 other planets out there and the fifty billion planets/rocks in your very own galaxy - yeah, that's right, stop having children because your home can't sustain it. Oh I know, I'll fix it so y'all won't want to procreate! Then I'll make people have a cultural aversion to you based upon my book of beliefs! Yeah! That's in case we get too many of you. I still haven't gotten the correct mathematical proportions to this mixing cup here but I got a magical mixing stick. I think it's about 10% right now, but really, I'll tell ya, I accidentally spilled a little more in when I was smokin' some of that ganja, soooo I guess that's how over half of you are slightly like that?"

  8. Now you need a t-shirt that says, "God poured a little too much gay in me." And a line drawing of a magical mixing stick and cup.

  9. Moon - Yes, I really was sick. I think I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to pain/illness, but this was also definitely bad, and I don't remember being this freaked out/sick in a long time. Woohoo for being healthy!

    I think the idea of 13 other human beings coming out of my vagina is what makes this so unbelievable, especially in the context that I can barely handle a virus. Oi vey, women back in the day were strong.

    SnapeShakes - Yea...

    *sings* He worked hard for the money!

    I think it's safe to say my great-grand-daddy was a manwhore.

    Jen - You know, it's funny you say that because I realized after writing it, this makes it sound like I was in danger of getting an oral std, which really is not at all the case, and also makes me uncomfortable that I've put that image into anyone else's mind. Ah.

    I think what I meant to say was that I serendipitously had a OB-GYN appointment right before the virus hit me so I had a wonderful experience of going "Everything on one end is fine, but the other end...not doing so good."

    Whether you are in grad school and beyond I plan to be posting weekly, no doubt using Woo as she is basically my muse. She's my Woose.

    Crystal - You know, I've heard studies that once you start having more than 5-6 kids, the likelihood of having a gay child shoots up dramatically; like the youngest kids out of five or more are more likely to be gay than the first borns. If this is true, this is yet another example of Nature being like "Uh... procreation...stop...please...stop!" But, I can see this being twisted in another crappy cultural way; can't you just SEE more people being like "Ah ah ah! First Borns *are* better and here's yet another reason why!"

    Rickey said something interesting about the "Gay Gene" theory the other night:

    "I hope they don't find out what gene it is, if there is one because knowing the crazies out there they'd try to genetically modify all future babies so that they wouldn't be who they were meant to be."

    And it's true. Therefore your t-shirt is necessary to explain away the pre-emptive fear for all present straight parents who are prone to freaking out.

    Can you please please please PLEASE make the image for that t-shirt?

    I will gladly post it everywhere, including here.