Thursday, October 30, 2008

Visiting Old Cemeteries

I love walking through old cemeteries but not at night or on Halloween eve. Being an avid genealogist, I have searched through many graveyards looking for a family name carefully chiseled on a headstone. This past summer found my husband and I returning from a vacation trip to Northern Idaho. We normally travel on the I-15 freeway but we detoured to an obscure country road because I had an ancestor who died in Idaho near the Utah border.

Driving through the town of Oxford didn’t take much time as it is small but still populated by farmers, former residents who have returned to spend their last years in peace and quiet, and a few hardy commuters who live there and travel to nearby towns to work. There are no sidewalks just irrigation ditches, old abandoned farmhouses and barns. One prominent building, the LDS church meeting house, still stands in the center of town. We were able to walk inside and imagine what it was like when the locals attended activities and worshipped here.

My 2nd great grandmother, Ada Winchell Clements, had come from Springville, Utah to visit her married daughter in Oxford, and died here. I had never seen her headstone. No burial grounds were in sight. They are usually hidden on hillsides outside of town surrounded by large trees or bushes. By asking a local resident, we were able to find one on the road south of town. With no sexton to direct us, we started searching in the oldest part of the cemetery. Walking up and down each row of headstones, looking for a familiar name took awhile. My husband searched a different section. He soon located an old headstone with my family’s surname.

Close by a four sided monument had names and dates carefully chiseled and a little verse of remembrance on each side. My 2nd great grandmother’s name was barely visible, erased by constant weathering year after year. Doing a pencil rubbing on a piece of paper placed on the face of her headstone allowed us to discern her name and dates. I already knew quite a bit about her life and sacrifices to come to Utah from New York, suffering through all the Mormon persecutions in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo. Somehow now, standing next to her found headstone in that lonely old cemetery so far from my home, I felt a renewed sense of family.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Living With Rattlesnakes

Growing up in Utah’s sagebrush mountains with its rocky cliffs, it’s inevitable I’d see a rattlesnake. My mother warned me to be careful where I walked or played as a child. My dad was more adventurous; he took me out hunting for rattlesnakes when we were on picnics in the mountains of central Utah. Carrying a big stick, he used it to deftly hit a rattler on its head killing it instantly. Seeing no need for snakes in the world, he hunted them and collected their rattles.

Working on the railroad, my dad’s family had lived in many out of the way places at train stops that no longer exist. When the children were old enough for school, they moved back into town where they attended classes. Grandpa still worked daily out on the railroad, then returned home for the weekends. During the summers when the kids were out of school, the family lived together in one of the small company homes located along the tracks in rural Utah. Living in the boonies without electricity or a nearby grocery store was an adventure. Many mornings my grandmother chased the rattlesnakes out of her house with a broom. (Photo on left is my dad proudly showing his dead? rattlesnake.)

The boys in the family became very skilled at hunting rattlers. As far as I know none of our family was ever bitten, even grandpa who had been a sheepherder, outdoorsman and hunter all his life. He respected snakes and stayed out of their way unless he was specifically hunting for them. I know some of the workers on his railroad work gang actually ate snakes for their scanty mealtimes. I guess that’s putting the reptiles to a good use.

When some of my grandparents’ ancestors arrived in the Utah territory, they lived in dugouts (see photo on right) before being able to build themselves proper homes. Finding an available hillside, a small room was dug out. Walls of adobe or wood, and a roof of tree limbs covered with sod made for temporary living quarters. A stove or fireplace inside provided heat and light. Usually the opening for a door was covered with a blanket. I can just imagine the number and variety of living creatures including snakes that looked upon this newly constructed abode as inviting. When it rained, the roof invariably leaked and had to be patched. Living in dugouts with rattlesnakes doesn’t sound fun to me but it was all they had.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How well do you know your ROOTS?

Just a few questions to stimulate your interest in genealogy which is now called family history because no one could spell it correctly. Tell me about your:

1. Parents: Dad died in 1945, was a dispatcher on the railroad, loved photography, ham radio operating, fishing, hunting, flying and new adventures. My mom was a widow at age 28, worked as a telephone operator, loved traveling, dancing, playing the organ and her family.

2. Father's parents or your paternal grandparents: Grandpa Vernon was a railroad worker all his life, loved to hunt, fish, garden, read and have family visit. Auntie was my Grandma Vernon who felt too young to be called grandma when I came along-she was probably 40 or so, was a very hard worker, meticulous house keeper, excellent cook, loved to watch TV and do handwork. She became my babysitter after my Dad was killed in an airplane crash when I was five. We had many happy hours putting together puzzles. (My Vernon grandparents are standing by me in the photo below.)

3. Mother's parents or your maternal grandparents: My Grandpa Johnson died when my mom was 4 years old, he was a miner and died of stomach cancer-don't know much about him. My Grandmother Johnson babysat me after we moved in with her a year or so after my dad died. GMJ was fun to be with, happy, great cook, always had time to listen and play with me. (She's sitting in the photo on the right.)

4. Do you remember any of your great grandparents? Tell us about them. I knew two of my paternal great grandpas. One was a farmer Joseph Vernon and lived in rural Utah, he was a widower. The other was also a widower George Stevens and lived in Los Angeles. He had remarried and was very wealthy working in real estate. I only saw them a couple of times but have written about them in my family history webpage.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Voices from the Past

I've had these old homemade records that my mom had preserved carefully packed in a box since 1943. She tried to play them for me once decades ago on an old record player but they were very scratchy and difficult to hear. They are homemade recordings that my uncle Les made in Venice California during WWII. But what made them most interesting for me is that Les interviews my dad who died in 1945, my mom gone since 2006 and my self as a little blond girl about 3 years old.

Always curious to what my dad's voice sounded like, I took them to a company in Salt Lake City that restores and digitizes old recordings, films and videos. Now I am in the processing of transcribing them and improving the sound quality to make CDs for my family members who knew and still miss these family members. Les also interviews his wife Esther, daughter JoAnn and two of her little friends, his bro-in-law Norman, his wife Gladys and their child Ruth. Most of these people are no longer with us but waiting in the heavens for the great family reunion we'll have one day.

As I'm doing this transcribing, I realize how important it is for each of us to preserve our voice for our progenitors whether on tape, video tape or just written down. There will be those of our grandchildren or extended family who will treasure our words and remember the contribution we made to their lives. So let me encourage you again to write your biography or experiences from your life, whether by blogging or emails or in a printed record to leave for your family and friends. We do make an impression on others during our sojourn here on earth.