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Searching for Stella


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The Mystery

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Stella, age 3
My great grandmother, Estella ("Stella") Jensen Weech, was born in Utah two years before it became a state. She records her birth date as 14 Jun 1894, but there is no birth certificate because no records of that nature were kept in Utah until 1905. That's made more unfortunate by the fact that she was adopted, apparently in an "under the table" fashion as there don't seem to be any records documenting the event. A record of her LDS blessing from 2 Aug 1894 (Murray, Utah) states that she was born in Taylorsville (next to Murray), but did her parents really know?
  • Taylorsville, Utah Territory
  • 14 Jun 1894

The Clues

There isn't much to go on. I have personally searched the territory adoption and probate records for several years on either side of 1894, but there are no records that look like they belong to this case. All we have is the following:

1) The adoption was facilitated by a friend of the family from neighboring West Jordan, Utah named "Mrs. Steadman".

2) Stella's parents brought her home in late July, about 6 weeks after the reported birth date.

3) Mrs. Steadman and Stella's parents called her "weak and sickly" and didn't expect her to live.

4) The prevailing opinion was that she was illegitimate.

5) Stella's adoptive mother, Nicolene Rolfsen Jensen, never told anyone about the circumstances surrounding the adoption, but she may not have known the whole truth herself. A descendent of Stella's father (through a different wife) says she thought Nicolene "had an idea" on Stella's origins. 

Who is Mrs. Steadman?

Discovering her identity may be a key piece of this puzzle. After finding Niels and Nicolene Jensen (Stella's parents) in a local directory from 1893, I decided next to look up "Steadman" in the same directory. I found a Hyrum and Martha Steadman listed there, and Hyrum and Niels both worked for the same company, Bennion & Bennion. This Martha Steadman, Hyrum's wife, is likely our Mrs. Steadman.

Next I went to a genealogical database to find Martha's maiden name and found that it was Wardle, so her full name was Martha Wardle Steadman.

  • West Jordan, Utah


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Taken shortly after the birth of her first child

So where do we go from there? I started to wonder how an adoption could go undocumented, and I supposed that it was probably because somebody knew somebody else. In other words, this Mrs. Steadman may have known the mother of the baby. Maybe it was even a member of her own extended family.

After thinking about that, I went to and looked up the Wardle family. I found that Martha (born 1864) had five sisters:

  • Eliza, born 1856
  • Mary Elizabeth, born 1861
  • Fannie Maria, born 1871
  • Emily Jane, born 1876
  • Catherine Louisa, born 1878

Eliza died in 1859 at age 3. Mary Elizabeth married John Berkin Smith in 1878, so she had been married for 16 years by the time Stella was born. She was not a likely candidate. Fannie Maria married Charles Steadman in 1889, so she was also married. Emily Jane also died young in 1886 at the age of 12.

That leaves Catherine Louisa, who in 1894 would have been 16 years old. Could she have been Stella's mother? Could she have become pregnant out of wedlock and been pressured to give up her baby? I have no evidence to conclude that, but she seems the most likely candidate I have found so far.

I wish I knew more about her. I wish she had descendants who I could contact, but she died in 1905. Interestingly, she had married someone named Nephi Jensen only two years earlier.


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Stella Weech and her daughter Janet. Taken abt 1927.
Can you add to this story? If so, please contact me at darrin at lythgoes dot net. I would love to hear from you.

Contributor: darrin
Created: December 7, 2006 · Modified: May 19, 2014

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