This will make more sense if a) you happen to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and b) you're familiar with the series of books titled "The Work and the Glory" by Gerald N. Lund.
I've just started re-reading the books. There are 9 volumes altogether, and I'm sure it's going to take me awhile, particularly because I now have this Family History Syndrome that has afflicted me since just a few months after Dad passed away. FHS compels the sufferer to look at history with a new perspective, because chances are we are looking for someone who lived at some historical moment in time, and we find ourselves wondering what it must have been like to be that person.
I'm nearing the end of volume 2 of the series. This volume tells of the beginning of the Church migrations west, beginning with Ohio, and then into Missouri. It also, of course, tells of the depravities through which the Saints in Missouri (and Ohio, for that matter) suffered on account of their beliefs.
As I read one story, however, something jumped out at me. It was the story of a girl named Mary Elizabeth Rollins. Mary and her sister Caroline were famous for their bravery in saving a copy of the Book of Commandments as the press in Independence was being destroyed by crazed mobsters early in the Church's persecutions in that area. This story is mentioned from time to time in our studies of Church history in Sunday School and Seminary, among others. Less well known (at least to me) is a story that takes place some time later, as the Saints are being driven from Jackson county by the mobs late in 1833. In the book, Bro. Lund uses one of his fictional characters, Jessica Roundy Steed, as a device to introduce the story, but the story itself comes from Mary Rollins' own autobiography.
In the story, three families are stranded on the wrong side of the Big Blue river. The ferryman has flatly refused to take anyone across who doesn't have the 50 cent fee, and these families are destitute. That evening, Jessica steps outside in the rain for a moment's reflection, when she sees Mary Rollins taking a stick to the river, obviously intending to go fishing. Jessica makes a small joke about fishing, but Mary solemnly declares that Bro. Higbee had suggested that if they caught some catfish, the ferryman might accept that as payment.
The next morning, Mary races over to Jessica and begs her to follow. Jessica thinks it a miracle that they have caught a nice, large catfish with which to ply the ferryman. Mary, however, declares that catching the fish wasn't the miracle. Finding three shiny 50 cent pieces in the belly of the fish, which Bro. Higbee was cleaning at that moment, was the real miracle. Thus the three families were able to cross the river and avoid the wrath of the Jackson county mobocrats.
As I read the account this time, the name Higbee triggered something in my brain.
Turns out that my Dad's birth family are descended from a daughter (or perhaps niece) of the Higbee mentioned in this tale. Isaac and Elias Higbee were brothers who, along with their parents, had joined the Church in Ohio in 1832. Isaac was ordained an elder fairly quickly, and was privileged to ordain his brother. Isaac and Elias were both known to live in the area where this story occurs at this precise time. In fact, both evacuated with the Saints following the Big Blue battle. Isaac specifically mentions in his own autobiography (found in the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia) that the night of their evacuation was rainy, as depicted in Bro. Lund's story. Either Isaac or Elias could have been the "Bro. Higbee" mentioned in this tale, and that makes the incident all the more significant to me.
The Higbees eventually end up in Nauvoo. A younger brother, John, is ordained bishop of the Nauvoo First Ward, and Isaac becomes bishop of the Second Ward. Elias becomes Church Recorder in 1838 along with John Corrill, and serves until his untimely death in 1843 while helping to build the temple. At some point, Elias and John Taylor are appointed by Joseph Smith to go to Washington D.C. and petition Congress for a redress of the wrongs the Saints had suffered.
Isaac survived to make the trek west, but not before taking out his endowment in the Nauvoo Temple in December of 1845, being sealed vicariously to his first wife in January of 1846, and being sealed to his second wife, Charlotte Woods that same day. It is through Isaac and Charlotte that Dad's birth family descend.
Isaac remained a firm and valiant member of the Church after the exodus. He became Utah Valley's (now Provo) first Stake President, and (someone believes, anyway) also it's third. He probably enjoyed the company of many of the early apostles and prophets of the Church, and appears to have been a good leader for the Saints.
Stories like this, of course, only serve to remind me what a wimp I can often be. Spiritually I know that everything the Church teaches is true. I have no questions or doubts of any kind. But knowing something to be true, and actively following counsel are two different things. I can often be spiritually lazy, and I am absolutely certain that this displeases the Lord. Admittedly, I often go along without ever thinking in those terms. But since Dad's death, my attitudes have changed ever so slightly. Now, along with wondering how the Lord views my activity, I wonder how good men like my Dad, or even Isaac Higbee would look upon his great-great-grandson.
I'd probably have gotten quite a few talkings-to along the way. If I'm smart, I'll do everything I can so I won't have to get them in the Hereafter.
[Note to those who happen to be my mother: I haven't given up on William Howe. I have redoubled my efforts as I know I have more notes on previous research than I can find right now. Census records are pretty clear going backwards from 1880 to 1850, but that connection with New York is still elusive. More as I find my old notes.]