In February 1846, Patty Sessions left her home in Nauvoo along with her fellow Latter-day Saints. Patty was a midwife who, as a BYU Studies article puts it, “entered the lives of people at their most vulnerable points and sensed, perhaps more than many leaders, the pulse of the community. This might well explain her compulsion to note the names of everyone whose life touched hers.” She recorded these names in her journals, which she wrote in from the time of her departure from Nauvoo in February 1846 until May 1888, four years before her death.
Sessions is remembered as “an astute business woman and careful accountant” and “from her industry and frugality, she was able to give extensively to various church programs, to the poor, and to her family.”
Brittany Jepsen, the creative behind the website The House That Lars Built, counts herself lucky to be among the posterity of Patty Sessions and spoke this week on the All In podcast about how she has felt Patty’s influence in her life.
“She was born in Maine and was converted and then lived in Nauvoo and then trekked over and delivered hundreds of babies along the way,” Jepsen says. “And she was really instrumental for a lot of reasons. But also she ... wrote in her journal every single day. And so the journals that Patty Sessions [kept] have been so valuable because they talked about the daily life of what it was like to cross the plains and deliver babies.”
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: Brittany, one thing that I noticed as I was going through your Instagram is that this is not the first time that it seems like your ancestors have mattered to you. And this is not a new revelation ... [this has] been consistently important to you over time. Why do you think that focus on where you come from and who you come from has always been important to you?
Brittany Jepsen: I mentioned my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, and they shared with me stories about their grandparents, etc. They had this family history book that was like four to five inches tall—like family tree style. I remember sharing it; they gave my family our own copy. I remember, maybe I was a huge nerd, but I just would go through each page like, “Oh my goodness, this person's from Prussia, what's Prussia?” Or, “Oh, this person is from Norway!” So I was very intrigued [about] family history from a young age and I think it was instilled in me. I saw pictures and I heard stories. I heard about Patty Sessions when I was a kid. And so I thought that I had the coolest family because I had this great-great-great-grandmother who delivered babies. And I cannot imagine, first of all, giving birth along that type of path, let alone delivering all these babies. And Patty Sessions, let me tell you, because now I've been able to read her journal—there's a published journal of all of her journals—she was an incredible woman. She kept immaculate notes about her finances, she was an incredible businesswoman, which I totally relate to, not the incredible part, but just her mind was [that of] a business woman. She even made weavings and different types of crafts that she would sell throughout her life. But if somebody owed her money, she kept immaculate notes and knew exactly when they were going to give her money, including her family. She opened up a school, The Patty Sessions Academy in Bountiful, when she got here. Women were so empowered back then., and I want to see more of that.
I think learning about who our ancestors are totally empowers me and empowers the way I want to teach my children to view women and to view each other—we owe it to ourselves to learn about them, because what they did, and what they accomplished, was incredible. I mean, I can't imagine that physical exertion that I will never have to go through. Our problems are different. But I gained so much strength by learning about my ancestors, especially my great-grandfather, Harvey Sessions, who loved roses, and I love flowers. It's such a big part of my life. And there's such a magic that comes when we learn who we are and where we come from.
Morgan Jones Pearson: I love that you know that about your grandfather. ... I resonated with what you said about the booklet of your family tree. I remember having similar things in our home. And I think, you know, if things like that aren't kept, there's no chance that a kid is going to open it up and want to know more about where they come from. And maybe they won't ever open it, but they might and it should be there just in case. From a gospel perspective, Brittany, we talk a lot about turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. And I wondered, How has this experience turned your heart even more to those that have come before you and also on your husband's side of the family? How has trying to incorporate [your husband's] family history as well helped turn your heart to your family's fathers?
Brittany Jepsen: This is one part of the gospel that I absolutely resonate with. I have always loved our emphasis on family history and learning who we are. And so this turning of the fathers, I see it in action all the time. And I'm trying to mentally verbalize it, “Oh, this is ... a spirit of Elijah moment.” Because once we realize that the scriptures are real, then we can see it in our own lives. I will admit that I'm not the best family history representative because I haven't been able to do it so much as an adult. I work, I have children, I want to, but I think it's maybe not my season of life. But I think the foundation I set as a kid has really been helpful and has instilled this love in me. But I think there's a way to do it where like, I see my parents as the keepers of generations before me. My mom knows stories that if I don't write them down, my kids may not know it. And so I'm trying to, when I talk with my mom, ask her questions that I need to know the answers of. We cannot rely on anybody else because who's [going to] do it? It has to be us.
So, there [are] even times where I feel like I need to take a recorder and just start recording our conversations, like in a casual way, because she knows so many stories that I just don't remember. Or in pictures, [asking] who's this person? And writing names down. We've got some incredible family history stories that I want to capture. And that is the spirit of Elijah. The spirit of Elijah continues when we do the work, but we can't do the work unless we have a testimony about it. I [felt] the Spirit so much when I learned about these people and I realized my tie to them, and [when] I feel like I can identify the characteristics that come from Patty Sessions, or that come from my heavenly angel grandmother, Dorothy Sessions, and her husband, Carl (my grandfather). They were the most angelic people on earth. They were heaven on earth. They were temple workers in Los Angeles, they lived right [by] it. .... And I feel this pull to the area and to their home and to the temple there because that is my history. And I feel like it's in my DNA.