Friday, July 31, 2009

Making History?

I love historical fiction books. And I don't mean those steamy romances where the characters supposedly lived 300+ years ago. No. I like the ones where the authors take a historically significant event, or time period, and toss in fictional characters in such a way that you're transported back in time, and history comes alive.

While I promise I haven't been one of those "If they don't sell it at Deseret Book, I don't read it" people in years, LDS Authors do seem to have a knack for the genre, or at least for appealing to my tastes.

As a teenager, I fell in love with Chris Heimindinger's adventures in Book of Mormon times.

The Church History tour I took after graduation, made Gerald Lund's famous series on the early church especially poignant.

I later fell in love with Dean Hughes's WWII series, then Jerry Borrowman's books on WWI and WWII.

Most recently I've returned to Dean Hughes's books, this time, it's the next generation, covering the 1960's and 1970's, the Berlin Wall going up, the Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement, etc. They're wonderful books, and they've got me thinking. Not only about that time period, but about our own.

Basically, the focus of his first series covered my grandparents' generation, this second set covers my parents' generation. So it would seem that if he did a third series, it would be about my generation. But I think through all the historically significant events I've seen occur in my lifetime, and while there's no discounting the importance of some of them, or of the wars we've seen battled, I still wonder if any of them would be enough to warrant our own series. Would future generations want to pick it up to learn about what we've experienced? To learn about the 9-11 and the War on Terror? What, maybe the gay rights movement?

Of course we learn and grow from history. By studying the pioneers we see their faith, their endurance, their dedication and their sacrifice, and somehow our trials seem easier to bear. And since most of my ancestry came across the plains, I gain insights into their own lives as well.

I get the same from studying other modern eras. I learn what my ancestors went through. I already received a strong sense of patriotism from both my grandfathers, but reading more about what they endured, or what my great grandparents went through in WWI...its very humbling and yet very pride provoking.

Reading these books now...I feel this sense of joy and gratitude at how far we've come. Sure, we still have a ways to go before we have a perfect world and before racism or so many of the other problems are abolished. I wonder where we would be if those in that generation had not chosen to stand-up the way they did.

What do you think? If you were to write a book about our time, what would it include? What things will our generation be known for generations from now? What will be our Legacy?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Do you KNOW your Guardian Angels?

“It remains the responsibility of each individual to know his kindred dead. … Even if the [temple] work is done, then it is still each person’s responsibility to study and become acquainted with his ancestors.” President Joseph Fielding Smith quoted in Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894–1994 (1995), 184.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. We talk a lot, in the church, of it being our responsibility to do the temple work for our ancestors, and what great importance that is. And don't get me wrong, I fully support that.

But I hear so many people use the excuse that "all my work's been done" but there's just something they're missing.

Ok, I've been guilty of similar, I spend much more time on everyone else's work than on mine own because mine has way too many people working on it and it's a big overwhelmingly jumbled mess, but maybe that's why I've been thinking about that "something else" that other reason why we do family history, to get to know our ancestors (and in many ways, ourselves).

One of my favorite songs is "Guardian Angels" by The Judds. They originally released the tune in 1989, but it was nearly 10 years later when I heard it for the first time. I can still tell you the exact spot I was at when it came on the radio, before it was done I was headed to the music store to get my own copy.

I'll let you google the lyrics if you want them, but basically it talks about her great grandparents, who she knows well "from the stories my dear gma tells." It of course refers to them as her guardian angels and tells how when she's going through tough times, they are with her, encouraging her along.

At the time, I too was going through a difficult time in my life, and as I heard those words, somehow I knew it was true, that my own paternal grandparents, both deceased from my childhood, were there with me, watching over me, and trying to help me along.

I was blessed to have many more years with maternal grandparents, so I know them even better personally. Since Gpa died 6 months ago, I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I've felt him with me.

Often times it's in humorous ways, like on Memorial Day when I was cleaning out gma's flower bed and found his garden decor skunk, long forgotten, hidden behind a tree that's now much larger than it had been when the decor was placed there. I couldn't tell what it was at first so I jumped back a bit, expecting a live animal to come running out at me, and I could hear Gpa laughing that after all these years, he'd made me jump again.

Or like the other day, when I walked outside Gma's house after a monsoon and found that a very large redwood plank had floated down the ditch and stopped right in front of Gma's house. Gma said Gpa did it so I'd know he wasn't lying about all the things he'd found "floating down the ditch." But I'm still convinced that very few of those items were really found there.

Sometimes it borders on frustration, like when I went to take an electric hedge trimmer to some of his beautiful roses. I knew he'd be rolling over in his grave, and sure enough, would you believe, my hedge trimmer wouldn't cut through a single thing until Gpa and I had a "talkin' to." I assured him that I knew this was not the way he'd want it done but with everything else I had to do, if this was going to get done at all, it had to be done this way. Once that was settled, would you believe the trimmer actually worked better than it ever has! I'm always pulling the cord out a dozen times when I try to use that thing, but it didn't come out a single time while doing gpa's roses.

But most the time, it's just that strong, gentle hand of his that I feel, giving me silent encouragement and the strength to do what's necessary day by day.

I have no doubt that I have many ancestors who take their turn as my guardian angels. But it's my grandparents that I know best, so it's my grandparents that I can recognize as being with me.

So what if I knew my other ancestors better?

I know that I get my handshake from my Gpa Taylor, and when those hands refuse to be idle, that comes from Gma Taylor, My sweet tooth from Gpa Shields, and my love of reading, well that's been passed down at least from my mom and Gma Shields. But recently I learned that my Great-Gma Nielsen had a love of plants and gardening, and had quite the green thumb. So now I can't plant without thinking about her and wondering about her (wishing I could 'channel' her wisdom).

I'm fully aware that gardening is the most common hobby in the United States, so statistically, it shouldn't be all that hard to find someone that shares that trait, even in your ancestry. Still, there is something empowering in knowing someone you descended from had that same interest/skill.

So while I would never want to challenge a prophet or change his words, I must say " know their kindred dead" almost seems to harsh. I would say it's the JOY of every individual to know their kindred dead.

Have you researched an ancestor today?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Journey to the Past

I LOVE the new Church History Library!


I had the opportunity to tour it today for the first time. We were told the tours would be about 45 min. But when we arrived, they were more-or-less self-guided. There were so many people that I didn't bother to stop and examine a lot of things the way I would have liked, and just sped-read a lot of the signs and information they had up. Despite "rushing" through, I was still in there for an hour and a half.

It's a gorgeous building and much more "user-friendly" and accessible than their old home in the East Wing of the Church Office Building. They had put up a bunch of signs with "fun facts" that I'd like to see published somewhere. Some were more historical facts like the various ways that land had been used in the past, but most were fun facts such as how many carpet squares there were in the building, or the fact that you could fit 31.5 million ice cream sandwiches on the shelves of the archival freezers. (They have 12 archival rooms, 10 of which are kept at 55*F and 2 of which are kept at -4*F...the colder temperatures preserve the documents better).

They had a lot of artwork scattered throughout the building, pieces not really seen before. Of course most of it was in the office space, so most of us still won't be able to enjoy it on a regular basis. Though they do have several documents displayed in cases for all to enjoy.

But the most memorable thing, I think, was the amazing spirit there. They showed an orientation film where the catchphrase was "The Story Lives Here" I can't think of a more befitting line to sum up the purpose of the building. Someone along the way said that their mission was to record (/store) the building up of the church and its members. The artifacts they have, the stories they tell...all are extremely sacred, and tell of testimony and sacrifice and great faith.

And with continuing efforts to digitize much of their collection, it's actually accessible to us! What a tremendous blessing!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Top reasons Genealogists love funerals

I don't know which is the bigger shame, that it takes a funeral for these things to come about, or the fact that there was too much else to deal with the last couple of days, including my own emotions, to fully appreciate and take advantage of the goldmines.

5. Long Lost relatives
I finally got to meet several of my grandma's cousins. Unfortunately I probably won't remember most of them, but the good news is, there is talk of putting together a family reunion and I did get some phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

4. Future reunions
Ironically enough, the last several family funerals I've attended have resulted in family reunions being planned. Usually because people decide they'd rather not wait for another funeral to see one another.

3. Funeral Programs
Grandpa had a suit coat that we called his funeral coat, since that was about the only time he ever wore that particular coat and he wore it to nearly every funeral he attended. At every funeral he would pick up a program, and eventually it would find its way into his pocket. Grandpa never took them out of his pocket. Eventually grandma would intercede and remove the large stacks, and most would get moved to "the case" a small brief case where grandma stored such things.

This week, we pulled out "the case" so gma could look at other funeral programs in order to decide how she wanted gpa's done. What a wealth of genealogical information. All these names and dates, and occasionally locations. And most of them contained lists of descendants, and their relationships.

One in particular caught my eye. A simple design, with a temple graphic on the cover. Opening it up unleashed a power that's beyond words. The sacredness of this document overwhelmed me. And I could only view it with reverence and respect. And in doing so, I discovered that this was the funeral program for my father's mother, my other grandma, who passed away when I was only 2 years old.

This is what critics of genealogy and genealogists don't understand. To them, these documents are just pieces of paper. They are names and dates of people long since past, they have no relevance to them today. They don't understand. They don't get that these are real people, that while their time on this earth is gone, their spirits live on. They haven't felt that connection, or enjoyed the strength, the comfort, the joy that comes in feeling that connection. They don't understand...

2. Now it comes out

Grandpa was a Veteran of WWII. Most of the things he saw horrified him to the point that he refused to talk about it. But when I was in the sixth grade, I had to do an oral report on Germany. Since Grandpa had been to Germany and had some 'souvenirs' from his time there, he broke down and helped. He pulled out one small trunk, mostly with tapestries and other cloth items. So while the stories still did not deal really with the war, but rather than country itself, I had at least seen this small trunk.

Grandma needed his discharge papers in order for Gpa to get the military honors. Only she had no idea where they were. She thought of one place they might be, but when we investigated, we found in that location, only my great-grandfather's discharge papers.

Then out of nowhere I had a memory of seeing discharge papers when gpa had pulled out that trunk for me. Amazing that I would even recall that after nearly 18 years, especially when I hadn't thought about it any other time during those years. But we made an excursion to find the trunk and check it out.

Like gma, I was half-right. the spot held discharge papers, but they belonged to gpa's brother, not gpa. But the really amazing thing, were the other trunks that were found with that one. Small trunks, but they were full of old letters and pictures (of course not labeled, but many of them were of famous landmarks so we still got some sort of 'diary' of his journeys at least). I look forward to going through them all in the coming weeks and months.

1. Cemetery time that doesn't creep others out
:) I don't know, it sounded good, since most people avoid cemetery's whenever possible, but we spend our lives searching them out.

But as long as we're on the topic. Let me give a HUGE shout-out to our Veterans. In particular the Honor Guard of VFW Post 4918. They performed the military rites for gpa. It was incredibly touching. Of course at least some of the honor guard members were friends with gma, gma has friends everywhere she goes. So after they completed the official presentation and he handed over the flag, the veteran was also able to share a more personal moment with gma.

But as for MY personal experience, I knew gpa would have the military rites. I've never witnessed the military rites in person, but I was still prepared for the 21 gun salute, and for the flag ceremony. What I was not prepared for was seeing the helmet on top of the rifle. Gpa's plot is near the road, and of course we've had a lot of snow lately, so there are some large snow banks where the roads have been plowed. The added effect of the pile of snow placed extra emphasis on the message of the rifle. I had hoped to get a picture of it afterwards, but they took it down too quickly. But still, the picture of the rifle protruding out of that deep snow, topped by the helmet, will forever be etched in my mind.

If anyone knows where I can get a picture similar to that, with or without the snow, please let me know. I know there's a name for it, but I can't recall it at the moment. Consequently, I'm not having any luck searching for a pic either.