When my husband joined the Adventist church while we were dating, he was convinced I was related to someone in every Adventist church in the state of Michigan. While that’s far from the case, his supposition bears a bit of truth. When my second great-grandparents joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1881, all thirteen of their children followed them. A remarkable number of their descendants have remained faithful servants of God in the Adventist Church.

The story begins with my second great-grandfather, David Crockett Stevenson, who was born on January 8, 1842, in Dunlop, Ayrshire, Scotland. At the time, his mother, Agnes Grant, was a maid in the household of a farmer, William Raeside. Using the euphemism of the era for an illegitimate birth, David was the “natural” son of David Raeside, one of the farmer’s sons. Four months later, Thomas Stevenson married Agnes and adopted Baby David on the same day, May 9, 1842, in Fenwick, Ayrshire, Scotland. The newlyweds departed for America soon after and settled in Michigan. There it was simple to hide the facts of David’s birth. Whether his three younger half-siblings or children ever knew the story is unknown. Agnes’s death in 1849, when David was only seven, may also have contributed to keeping the story quiet. His grandchildren were certainly never told. Despite the documentary evidence, one granddaughter refused to believe the story to her dying day.

David was working in Canada when the Civil War broke out. He traveled to Auburn, New York, in January 1863 to enlist in the 9th Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery. Following the war, he returned home to Michigan where he married Lelia Hersey (1851-1946). After their marriage, David and Lelia settled on a farm in Gratiot County, Michigan. They would go on to have fourteen children, thirteen of whom reached adulthood. According to family lore, Lelia was the one who acquired Adventist literature and became convinced of the truth. Under her influence, the entire family joined the Ithaca Seventh-day Adventist church in Gratiot County, Michigan, in 1881.

A Family of Servants 

The Stevensons lived in unpretentious circumstances in rural central Michigan. They believed strongly in the Adventist message and in Adventist education. David and Lelia contributed land on which to build a church and school on a 99-year lease (descendants reclaimed the land at the end of the lease and continue to live there). Consequently, the family’s influence far exceeded, and continues to exceed, its humble origins.

Six siblings left the family community to pursue education and serve Adventist institutions. Agnes married a minister, Freeman Harris, and together they pastored in Kentucky, Illinois, and Michigan. David, Jr. worked at Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital in Illinois as the farm manager and later an elevator operator. Daughters Lelia and Emma both became nurses, Lelia training at Hinsdale under Dr. Paulson, and Emma graduating from the “Missionary Nurses Training School” at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1905. Family lore claims Meretta also became a nurse, although though the evidence is lacking. Olive attended Adelphian Academy and also trained as a nurse at Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital, but she accompanied her husband, Ernest Weaver, as his career moved the family from Bethel Academy in Wisconsin to Fox River Academy in Illinois, and back to Adelphian Academy in Michigan. Nettie also attended Adelphian Academy. She married Cecil Waller, who became secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Conference.

While the remaining siblings did not achieve such notable service to the denomination, many of them served the local church. When the Ola Seventh-day Adventist church was organized on September 13, 1896, at a railroad stop four and half miles west of the village of Ashley, Michigan, it was primarily a Stevenson family church. Brothers Bruce, Frank, and for a time, James worked farms adjoining each other and their father’s. Bruce served as Ola church elder for many years, and his daughter credited him with keeping his siblings faithful. Meretta, who never married, remained with her parents at least part of the time. Lelia, Emma, and Cordelia, after the death of her husband, Edward Hankey, all found their way back to Ola. Two siblings moved further away. Mary, married Edward Twomley and lived on a farm in Greenbush. Norman moved to Saginaw, where he became a carpenter.

This family nucleus, centered around the Ola/Ashley area, created a tight-knit, stable environment for their children. The cousins grew up close to each other, attending the Ola church school where the majority of the students were cousins and siblings, until it closed when Bruce broke his leg around 1930. As the primary financial contributor, he was unable to work while recuperating, and was thus unable to continue supporting the school. In April 1910, H. A. Boylan reported in the Lake Union Herald the organization of a Young People’s Missionary Volunteer group at Ola. Likely, the majority of the participants were Stevensons. In October 1915, the Ola church had thirty members, probably at least half, maybe more, were Stevensons. Six years later, in October 1921, an eight-year-old boy in the Ola school raised $7 for Ingathering by writing letters. This may have been James’ son, Forrest.

The Ola church eventually closed, and Stevenson cousins moved their membership to other churches not too far away. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended Cedar Lake Academy, Adelphian Academy, Grand Ledge Academy, Emmanuel Missionary College, and Andrews University, where they prepared for careers in ministry, education, and medicine. As the great-grandchildren spread across the country, many of their children continued the tradition of Adventist education in other places.

Time and space do not permit an account of the accomplishments of succeeding generations of David and Lelia Stevenson’s descendants. Just to highlight a few: Agnes’s daughter, Florence, like her mother married a minister, Leonard Light. In her own right, Florence was an accomplished educator who taught in the Michigan Conference from 1946 to 1960 and then supervised elementary classrooms for the conference education superintendent from 1960 to 1965. Both of Bruce’s daughters became teachers and married teachers. They taught church schools in Michigan, New York, Virginia, and Maryland. Olive’s son, Arthur Weaver, graduated from Loma Linda Medical School, spent a few years in Pakistan as a missionary, and returned to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University. He was highly respected for the many health and smoking cessation seminars he and his wife taught in the Detroit area.

While far from an exhaustive list, among David and Lelia’s many great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren are numerous teachers, ministers, doctors, and nurses, a physical therapist, a librarian, and a social worker. Among the places Stevenson descendants have served the church are Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and internationally in Pakistan and Malawi. They have taught at Andrews University, Southern Adventist University, Union College, and Malawi Adventist University. In addition to professional denominational employment, many have been and continue to be highly committed to service in their local congregations in a wide variety of capacities.

Creating a Legacy of Faith

What, you may ask, has been the catalyst for maintaining such a strong loyalty to faith in such a large family over so many generations? I believe there are three core reasons.

First, supportive relationships. David’s and Lelia’s children and grandchildren maintained close relationships, often living near each other and attending the same schools from elementary to college. Listening to my grandmother—one of those grandchildren—talk about her school years, I realize that a significant number of her “friends” were actually cousins.

Second, transmission of values through family narrative. The Stevenson grandchildren not only remained connected to each other, they shared their stories with their children and grandchildren. Today, there are more than a few genealogists among the second and third cousins keeping these memories alive.

Third, commitment to Adventist education. Multiple generations have attended Cedar Lake Academy, Adelphian Academy, and Grand Ledge Academy, and their successor, Great Lakes Adventist Academy, which merged the three boarding schools. Descendants who moved to other parts of Michigan or the United States have continued the tradition by attending Adventist elementary schools and academies in their areas.

In our family, stories have sometimes been shared without dates. It’s the work of genealogists to seek evidence to support these stories. Obituaries were the single most important source for this story. If you’re interested in learning more about your own family’s spiritual journey and service in the Adventist Church, start with the Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index. Full-text content for obituaries can be found in the Adventist Digital Library and the General Conference Online Archives.