News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Looking Back Fondly: Goodbye to President and Sister Topham

President and Sister Topham, who have served so faithfully in the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission, have completed their three years here in Western PA. Here's what they have to say about their service and about Pittsburgh.
President and Sister Topham take the incoming missionaries to get a good view of Pittsburgh

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

We are from Utah.  We both grew up in southern Utah but have lived in the Salt Lake City area for most of our adult lives.  We have 4 children and 16 grandchildren ranging from 18 to 9 months old.  I am a civil engineer by education and worked 30 years for the Utah Department of Transportation in highway planning construction and maintenance.  I also spent 11 years as a Senior Vice President and Western Regional Manager of an international engineering firm.  My most significant professional achievement was participating in the planning, financing, contracting and reconstruction of I-15 in the Salt Lake Valley.  Sister Topham was a cosmetologist but was always first and foremost a wife and mother and practiced most of her profession in our home while raising our family.  As for recreation, Sister Topham is a bowler and has participated in several bowling leagues, but her real interest is in her grandchildren.  She loves music and likes to play the piano.  I like to golf and to spend time at our desert home in St. George, UT.  While there I like to ride back-roads and trails in off-road vehicles.

What brought you here to the Pittsburgh area?

In 2011 I retired from work and Sister Topham and I had a desire to serve a mission.  We were surprised to be called on a three-year assignment to preside over a mission and were assigned to Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.   We have loved our time here and the people we have served and have served with.

What did your responsibilities consist of while you were here?

The main focus of a mission president is to work with the individual missionaries.  We have the responsibility to receive the missionaries, to orient them, provide housing and transportation for them, to assign them to their various service areas, and to train and direct them in their missionary work.  The Elders serve for 2 years and the Sisters for 18 months, and there is a constant flow of incoming and outgoing missionaries.  During our tenure here, the age at which missionaries can serve was lowered, resulting in a significant increase in the number of missionaries assigned to us.  When we arrived we had approximately 140 missionaries and we now have about 260.  The most significant increase was in our young sister missionaries, which increased from 8 to 80. 

What were some of your first impressions of Pittsburgh?

We had visited Pittsburgh several years earlier on a business trip and were favorably impressed, so we came with a positive attitude.  We love the green of summer and the colors of fall.  I had hoped to serve where the winters weren’t quite as harsh, but the good outweighs the bad by a long way.  In the three years we have been here, we have driven approximately 100,000 miles.  Our area covers from Lancaster to Williamsport on the east side and from Wheeling, WV, to Erie, PA, and Jamestown, NY, on the west, so it is quite possible that we have seen more of Pennsylvania than many of the natives.  Our first impressions of the beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people will be our lasting ones as well.

Please tell one or two of your most memorable experiences during your time here.

Because our mission boundaries are so broad and our missionaries so spread out, we didn’t think it would ever be possible to have all of them together in a single meeting.  As it turned out, we were able to get everyone together twice, once in June of 2013 and once in May 2014.  We were privileged to be visited by apostles David A. Bednar and Jeffrey R.Holland, along with other General Authorities of the church.  Each meeting lasted 3 hours and each missionary had the opportunity to individually meet these special men and be taught by them.  For us, being able to sit where we could look at all our missionaries in one group and watch each of them as they shook the hand of one of the Lord’s apostles was a real blessing—one that we will never forget.

When you go home and describe Pittsburgh to people, what will you say?

First let me say that we have grown to love the people here.  They are friendly and courteous and accepting of people from other cultures and places.  A couple of things that really struck us were, first, the courteousness of drivers.  We were amazed at how people stop to let others into lines of traffic and allow them to make left turns in front of them, etc.  Also, coming from a very rural part of the country, we assumed that Pennsylvania would be more urban. I suppose that if we had served in Philadelphia we would have found that to be true.  Instead, we found that central and western Pennsylvania can be as rural, if not more rural, than southern Utah, where we were reared.

Do you have anything else you'd like to say to people of Pittsburgh?

We hope that when we leave it won’t be the end of our relationship with Pittsburgh and that we will have the opportunity to come back or at least keep in contact with those we have grown close to.  Sister Topham has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since they won the World Series against the Yankees when she was in elementary school and listened to the games on the radio, so we will continue to root for the Pirates.  We hope that the prayers of the members will be answered, that more people will hear and accept the message of the restored gospel, and that you will be able to have a temple here in the not too distant future.  We hope that our positive memories of Pennsylvania will never leave us.

We in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake are so grateful for the dedicated service of Elder and Sister Topham. We wish them the very best as they return to their family in Utah!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

RootsTech Pittsburgh 2014 in Review

RootsTech Pittsburgh was a great success! Thank you to everyone who came and to all who invited friends. Over 100 people attended a total of 35 classes. Many also worked on their family lines in the Internet Café

We snapped quite a few photos to document the event. Enjoy!

Some of our sister missionaries helped out at the sign-in

The hospitality room for our guest speakers and other volunteers

Internet Café

Thank you to our excellent Family History Consultants!


Some classes were intended specifically for youth ages 12-18

Sister Macbeth gives an introduction to

A few rooms played recorded presentations from the RootsTech 2014 hosted in Salt Lake City

Using Facebook to find family

Finding your African-American family using the BUILD method

Finding your Carpatho-Rusyn family

Google your ancestors


Thank you again to all who made this event a success! We look forward to RootsTech 2015.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Historian's Corner: In The Beginning . . .

The picture shows Pittsburgh as seen from Mount Washington (or “Coal Hill” as it was then known) in the early 1850s.  It is the cover illustration for the book From These Hills and Valleys.
Hello, friends.  My name is Rush David, and I am the Stake Historian for the Pittsburgh Stake.  In this blog post, I will discuss the earliest history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Church was organized on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York.  During the next twenty years, the center of Church activity moved from Fayette to Kirtland, Ohio; Jackson County, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois, before ultimately moving to the Salt Lake Valley in what later came to be known as Utah.

The Church did not leave Pittsburgh (which was then a small town with a population of around 15,000) untouched in its earliest years.  A number of prominent early missionaries of the Church served in the area in the 1830s, including Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, William Smith, Orson Pratt, Jedediah M. Grant, Brigham Young, and Erastus Snow.  In addition, one of the original members of the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon, was a native of the town now known as Library.

A branch of the Church existed in Pittsburgh from 1830 until approximately 1840.  The branch had 169 members and 7 elders in its membership during that period; there were 830 members and 29 elders in all of Pennsylvania.  The area was within the boundaries of what was later known as the Eastern States Mission, which was headquartered in New York City and held semiannual conferences in Philadelphia for a few years in the early 1840s.

In time, however, the severe persecution that the Church faced in Missouri and Illinois, as well as the difficulty of communicating across long distances and the Church’s center moving to Utah, led to most of its members who lived east of the Mississippi River migrating to the Salt Lake Valley.  Missionaries were withdrawn from the East in 1857, and the Civil War (1861-1865) put a damper on Church activity in both the North and South.

The book From These Hills and Valleys notes that “Church records pertaining to growth and activity for this area are practically non-existent from 1840 until approximately 1885.” However, there was at least one branch in the area in 1885.

For organizational purposes, the modern history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southwestern Pennsylvania is considered to have begun in 1886, when a conference was convened at the New England Branch (near the present-day location of the Pittsburgh Second Ward) on May 16-17.  The members of the branch had asked to be re-baptized into the Church the year before.

This is how the Church began here, but there’s so much more to tell beyond this.  Until next time . . . 

Respectfully submitted,

Rush David
Pittsburgh Stake Historian 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RootsTech Pittsburgh 2014

Welcome to RootsTech Pittsburgh 2014!

Mark your calendars, Pittsburghers, and anyone in the vicinity! Saturday, June 21st, 2014, is the day of RootsTech Pittsburgh, a free local genealogy and family history conference.

This event is for anyone interested in finding more about his or her family roots—in keeping track of and finding out more information on grandparents, great grandparents, and beyond. People in attendance can choose to attend a variety of classes, depending on their personal and family interests and level of experience. RootsTechPittsburgh will introduce free resources, such as, with plenty of hands-on help in the Internet café.

What is RootsTech?

RootsTech is the name of a major family history conference hosted yearly by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Church then encourages other Family History Centers throughout the country to host their own local RootsTech events.

RootsTech Pittsburgh will include some of the best presentations from the conferences in Salt Lake City, and also an abundance of local genealogy expertise from right here in Pittsburgh—like Marilyn Holt, director of the Carnegie Library’s Pennsylvania Room.

You’ll learn about genealogical resources in western Pennsylvania, finding your family in the British Isles or Germany, finding your African-American family, Googling your family, and five ways to do genealogy in your sleep. See the entire schedule at

Who can attend?

Anyone with interest in family history is invited! Some classes will target beginners, some those with more experience. There will even be classes for youth 12-17. Register now to attend.