The Mary McCracken Mystery Explained

On page 124 of her book “James McDonald Sarah Ferguson” Ila Maughan included one brief paragraph that mentioned a Mary McCracken.


“It is interesting to note that while the children of James and Sarah were at the Manti Temple (Dec 13, 1888) John again acted for his father and Jane McDonald Clyde acted for Mary McCracken when they sealed her to their father as a second wife.”


Ila Maughan concluded that she was sealed as a second wife and that she was a family friend from County Down Ireland.  That was a logical conclusion since the Temple record listed the relationship of the proxy (Jane McDonald Clyde) to Mary McCracken as “friend”.  Ila Maughan explained that she had received these pages of temple work from a cousin of hers who she referred to as “Bishop John McDonald”(my Uncle John).  Ironically, I only recently received these copies from my 2nd cousin Rex McDonald and his wife Mary Ann with a request that I post them on this website so other family members could see them, and see why Ila Maughan was so delighted to receive them.  It is ironic that a descendant of Joseph Smith McDonald possessed photocopies of documents handed down to him that I, a descendant of John McDonald, had only read about in Ila Maughan’s book!  It is sad that so many of the descendants of James McDonald and Sarah Ferguson didn’t have access to these records until now.   Thank you, Rex & Mary Ann McDonald for making them available so they can be shared with the whole family.  Mary Ann has verified that these records are available to view in the Special Collections Section of the Salt Lake LDS Family History Library.



“Bishop John McDonald’s” mother (my grandmother) was Elizabeth Ann Thatcher McDonald who served eight years as Heber First Ward Relief Society President.  Her father-in-law, John McDonald served on the High Council and was ordained the Stake Patriarch in 1901.  He had crossed the plains as a teenager where his father, James McDonald, died of cholera and was buried on the north bank of the Platte river.  These papers belonged to John McDonald and were his record of the temple work that he and his sister’s family had completed the first year the Manti temple opened.  Years after he passed away Elizabeth Thatcher McDonald found the records in the home he had built on Heber Main Street. These records do not qualify as a primary source since they (like an obituary) convey information concerning the grandparents, uncles, and aunts as John McDonald and Jane McDonald Clyde knew them, but they are a valuable resource to establish the relationships of several generations of our family. They are not quite as valid as a christening, death, or marriage record because they are based upon information provided by the closest living relatives rather than the people themselves.  The dates of birth are approximated (i.e. abt 1825).  We have since found accurate dates from primary sources.  John and Jane assumed that James McDonald’s siblings were born in County Down Ireland because they had heard their parents say they were born there and both John and Jane were born in Co. Down Ireland.  Although that was a logical conclusion for them it reveals that they were either unaware or possibly hesitant to talk about their grandfather’s tragic end in Greenock, Scotland.

Records of Temple Ordinances Done by James & Sarah’s Children

During the “Mormon Reformation” LDS Church leaders encouraged members to recommit to the Gospel by being “re-baptized”. Sarah Ferguson and her children showed their ongoing commitment by being re-baptized in Springville on 6 Feb 1855.Two years later they renewed in the Salt Lake Endowment House covenants originally made in the Nauvoo Temple. The original records of temple work that James McDonald and Sarah Ferguson’s children, Jane & John, performed at the Salt Lake City Endowment House 22 April 1857 are on file in the Special Collections Section of the Salt Lake LDS Family History Library.  These records document that John McDonald took his mother to the Endowment House and John acted as proxy for his father as his mother Sarah and his father James McDonald were sealed for time and all eternity.  If they were sealed when James and Sarah were endowed at the Nauvoo Temple 6 Feb 1846 the records were lost when the Saints were driven from Nauvoo.

The children of James and Sarah traveled to the Manti Temple 13 Dec 1888 only months after it was dedicated. John again acted for his father and Jane McDonald Clyde acted for Mary McCracken when they sealed her to their father as his wife.  Ila Maughan concluded she was sealed as a second wife, but there is evidence in the original documents that they also sealed a son, James McDonald to his father James McDonald and his mother Mary McCracken!  We know James McDonald & Sarah Ferguson were married 20 Sept 1825 when according to the temple baptism record James, son of Mary McCracken & James McDonald was less than a year old.   Did Mary McCracken die during or shortly after childbirth?  Did Sarah Ferguson raise James Jr.?  Jane McDonald Clyde was born 17 July 1826/27 (she wasn’t sure).  But she knew James Jr. died at sea when he was 17.  That was the year (1842) that James & Sarah accepted the Mormon Elders into their home and were baptized.  There is no explanation of this additional family member (a deceased half brother of a deceased first wife?), but another list of temple baptisms done the previous February fills in some of the blanks.

The records of temple baptisms performed Feb 27th 1888 in the Manti temple baptismal font list 50 deceased family members that include a few who are not direct ancestors.  This is not just a list of 50 people from County Down known to John & Jane.  It includes the relationship of the deceased to those who acted as proxy.  According to this record John Clyde (Jane McDonald Clyde’s son) acted as proxy for Wm. McDonald born abt 1810 Co. Down Ireland and John McDonald born abt 1814 in County Down.  John Clyde’s relationship is listed as “gr. Nephew”.  John Clyde was Moses McDonald’s grandson so he was the “gr. Nephew” of Moses’ siblings.  Even though we have since determined from other primary sources that all of James McDonald’s siblings were born in Greenock, Scotland it is understandable why James McDonald’s children assumed his siblings were born in the same country they were, and where their father had told them he was born,  County Down Ireland.

John Clyde also acted as proxy for a James McDonald, born abt 1825 in County Down , Ireland.  John Clyde was Patriarch John McDonald’s nephew and is listed as nephew of James McDonald, son of James McDonald and Mary McCracken.   James McDonald, born 1825, appears to have been Patriarch John McDonald’s (born 1833) older half brother!  Baptisms were also performed in behalf of other McCracken ancestors with the relationship listed as “by marriage”. The record lists Jane McDonald Clyde as proxy for Mary McCracken and her relationship as “friend”. From these records it appears Mary McCracken was James McDonald’s first wife, and likely died during the birth of their son James McDonald in 1825.  That would be consistent with her only relationship to the descendants of James McDonald and Sarah Ferguson being “by marriage” or “friend” and explain why the descendants of James McDonald and Sarah Ferguson not only performed temple ordinances for Mary McCracken and her child by James McDonald, but performed temple ordinances for her parents along side James McDonald and Sarah Ferguson’s parents.  But you don’t have to depend on someone else’s interpretation of these documents. Now, thanks to Rex & Mary Ann McDonald, you can look at them yourself and come to your own conclusion.