Early Mormon Marriages:
A Study in Socially Constructed Kinship
Kathleen Flake, Richard Lyman Bushman Professor in Mormon Studies
Christianity has historically invested the idea of kinship with strong religious meanings. The faithful have been imagined as an idealized family of brothers and sisters and, collectively, as the bride-wife of a divine husband. Few, if any Christians, however, have gone to the lengths or the literalism of Mormonism in comprehending salvation within kinship and investing kin with priestly saving powers. Among first generation of Latter-day Saints especially, marital "sealings" and spiritual adoption rites created large families that became a pervasive, if not permanent, feature of social interaction.
Using computational techniques, this project analyzes early Mormonism's construction of extended kinship ties through temple marriage and adoption practices. The goal of the project is to represent digitally the inner logic of early Mormon polygamy, its familial order and gendered meanings. The resulting database will be publicly accessible for scholarly research. Ultimately, our hope is that providing the means to analyze the social facts of early Mormon "plural marriages," as well as the tribe-like families they created, will contribute to a better understanding of American marital and domestic norms. Specifically, it is hoped that these same computational techniques will encourage the representation and analysis of the variety of alternative marriage practices sponsored by radical religious and utopian economic communities in ante-bellum America.