Biographical Details

You never know when you are going to come across small biographical details. Today, I set myself the task of looking for information about the marriage of Aaron Jackson (father of Jesse Taylor Jackson) and Abigail Taylor. For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be much information available. A simple search yielded only a Millennium File entry and a few member trees, none of which included sources for the marriage. That’s odd, too, because there is quite a bit of information about his father Robert Jackson, and his son, Jesse Taylor Jackson. Unfortunately, The Millennium File is a compendium of extracts from Ancestry File, and though it is a useful starting point when looking for information, it isn’t always the most reliable of sources, and does not contain any documentation. My policy is to reference it, but not rely on it as a sole source.

Fortunately for us, there is a biography of Jesse Taylor Jackson available in manuscript form, and thanks to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, it is even available online. Unfortunately, I still don’t have much in the way of details, but the one reference (so far) to the marriage of Aaron and Abigail does include an interesting family tradition:

When Aaron Jackson was in his early twenties, he married Abigail Taylor. She was born in the state of New York,but family records do not have any further information about her early life. Family tradition tells that she was a large, powerful woman; that she could lift large bags of flour and grain with ease. I know she produced two stalwart sons; namely, Robert Andrew and Jesse Taylor Jackson, and possibly her other children were of good size (Autobiography of Jesse Taylor Jackson, p. 6).

I have no idea of what the origin of this tradition is, or if it can be corroborated, but it does an add a bit of interesting color to the Jackson Family story. Finding details like this can be a slow process, and one that requires us to look for letters, journal entries and, if we’re lucky, Quaker Meeting minutes and similar sources.

So, how can you go about finding details like this in the stories of your ancestors? First and foremost, ask. If you have grandparents or aunts and uncles, that can tell you about your family story, sit down and talk to them. You may even wish to consider formal interviews. You may be fortunate enough to have ancestors such as Quakers or Mormons who maintained journals, meeting minutes and other records. Or, for that matter, you may be fortunate enough to have an ancestor who kept a regular journal or diary. Other people keep letters that may be available to you. The only thing to do is ask.

It’s time to start writing

pocket watch

Image credit: Kayla Kandzorra

It’s  February, time for The Family History Writing Challenge. You have signed up, haven’t you? Regardless of whether you’ve formally registered, now is a perfect time to start recording your family history in a reader friendly form. You probably have quite a bit of information stored in some type of data files. Depending on the software you use, it may be stored online, in the native file format of programs like Family Tree Maker, or possibly in GEDCOM files. You may also keep your records in paper charts and notebooks. Regardless of which of these techniques you use, your family history is not likely to be in a format the most members of your family are likely to sit down and read. That’s what the writing challenge is all about.

A good way to get started is by writing life sketches, short summaries of your ancestor’s life story. Fortunately, you have most of the information you need to get started. If you’re using software such as Family Tree Maker or a web application such as, there is probably a timeline view. What it’s called may vary from application to application, but it is a list of facts or events in your ancestor’s life in chronological order, along with supporting documentation for each. If you’re not using software that does this get out a piece of paper and start listing events in chronological order. Include the time and place (if you have it), a description of the event, an information source (such as a birth certificate, parish register or grave marker), and be sure to leave room for additional details. Most of the time this will be all you have, but keep your eyes out for additional details. Maybe you will know a bit about the church where your ancestors were married, or the town where they lived. Perhaps your ancestor owned property. How much? Where? What did he or she do with it? It may have been a farm or ranch, or it may have been a business such as store or blacksmith shop. It’s details like this that allow you to piece together a picture of your ancestor’s life.

The next step is to write this information out in the form of declarative sentences. In can help to imagine that a family member or friend has asked you to tell him or her about your ancestor. You might say something like: “David Andrews was born in a small town not far from Cleveland, Ohio. He was the third of seven children.” Don’t worry if you only have one or a few sentences for each event you have recorded. That’s okay. You can always go back and add more information later, when it becomes available to you. Right now, you’re just trying to take compiled information and put it down in narrative form. You can worry about polishing it later. Remember also that you have a lot of ancestors, and multiple life events for each of them. You will be busy!

There’s a funny thing about writing. When you start writing life sketches you will most likely start thinking of questions you hadn’t thought to ask, and you may discover you know more than you realized. So just start. Recording life events in narrative form may seem like a mechanical exercise at first, but you’re sure to find that some of your ancestors’ life stories will really start coming together, and you will soon discover that you have some interesting stories to tell. You probably already do. And if other people in your family are asking you about your ancestors, you know that you do.

Who’s afraid of GEDCOM?

If you’ve spent any time using computer applications in genealogy, including web based applications, you will probably have heard of a data format known as Genealogical Data Communications or just GEDCOM. It is a format developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the LDS or Mormon church), but it is available for anyone to use, and for this reason, it is supported by pretty much all genealogical software. There’s a good reason for this, too. Even if you always use the same application to do your work, there will likely come a time when you want to share data with someone else, and if you do switch to another program, you will need a vendor neutral way of storing your data. As of today, GEDCOM 5.5 is the only format to have gained sufficient traction to work for this purpose.

But if GEDCOM is so great, why don’t applications just use it as their standard data format? There are a few reasons for this. First of all, GEDCOM is a text based format that is designed for relatively straightforward representation of data. It is not designed for efficient storage and manipulation of data. In other words, it good for moving data from one application to another, but it is doesn’t provide efficient indexing or other features you might expect in format meant to support frequent updates. It doesn’t provide the flexibility you might want in areas such as internationalization and representation of complex relationships. To put it simply, it is primarily a submission format, one that provides a standard way of uploading data to

But how does it work? Regardless of what software you use (or no software at all), you are probably intuitively familiar with the basic concepts. Your family tree consists of

  • Individuals, organized into families
  • Events associated with one or more individuals, such as birth, death or marriage
  • Other facts or attributes, such as name or sex
  • Relationships between people such as parent, child, or sibling
  • Documentation for facts or events

GEDCOM provides a way of representing each of these. To see how, let’s look at an excerpt from an actual GEDCOM file

0 @I1@ INDI
1 NAME Matthew /Cooper/
2 DATE 12 NOV 1925
2 PLAC Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania
2 DATE 03 FEB 1976
2 PLAC Cupertino, Santa Clara, California
1 FAMC @F1@

This is a representation of information about a single person. The digit at the beginning of each line is a level in a hierarchy. The individual appears at level 0, his name at level 1, and for his birth and death, the date and place occur at level 2. On the first line, INDI tells us that we are about to see a representation of an individual (as opposed to a family) and @I1@ is an index that can be used to refer to that individual elsewhere in the file. These indices always occur between “at” signs. The final line is a pointer to the family structure in which Matthew Cooper is a child. Before moving on, I should note that David Cooper’s surname appears between slashes. This is done so that names like de Silva will be treated as a unit. Other data format split the name into multiple fields (e.g., surname and given names), but GEDCOM does not do this. It should be noted that this is another weakness of GEDCOM, it fairs poorly in treating naming conventions used in other languages or other parts of the world in a consistent manner. But my intent here is not to criticize GEDCOM so much as explain how it works.

Let’s press forward:

0 @I9@ INDI
1 NAME Herman /Grimes/
1 FAMS @F5@
0 @I10@ INDI
1 NAME Priscilla /Richardson/
1 FAMS @F5@

Here, we have two individuals, Herman Grimes and Priscilla Richardson. Notice that each of them is associated with the same family, but this time using the FAMS tag. As you might expect, this is a pointer to the family in which the given person is a spouse or a parent. The family itself is defined later on in the document as follows

0 @F5@ FAM
1 HUSB @I9@
1 WIFE @I10@
1 CHIL @I8@

But what about source citations? If we include a birth certificate for George Cooper, we will find a few extra lines in the INDI record

0 @I2@ INDI
1 NAME George /Cooper/
2 SOUR @S1@
3 PAGE document number ABC123

and a record for the source citation itself

0 @S1@ SOUR
1 TITL Life on Triton birth certificates, 1925
2 CONC Life on Triton birth certificates, 1925.  TRITON microfilm publication 
2 CONC A1.  TARA Archives and Records Service, 1925.

We can, of course include other events, either standard ones such as emigration (to Saturn in this example):

2 DATE 1950
2 PLAC Saturn

or custom events, such as Invention in

2 TYPE Invention
2 DATE 04 MAR 1971

I have not covered all the details of the GEDCOM 5.5 standard, nor have I discussed any of the features needed specifically for LDS temple work, but I hope I have given you an idea of how it works, and demonstrated that the basic concepts and constructs are similar to what you find in other applications. There is no reason to feel intimidated by GEDCOM. If you want to learn more, the actual specification is online in a number of places such as GEDCOM 5.5.1

Using task lists to stay organized

Family history research is a lot like detective work. Sometimes, you will be able to quickly find the information you need about a person or a family, but more often than not, you have to work to find the information you’re looking for. In fact, except for the obvious case of vital dates and place names (and they’re not as simple as it appears on the surface), you may not know what you’re looking for until you find it. Instead, in the process of reading through the documents available to you, you find little intriguing details, such as an allusion to a girl trapped in a mine shaft, a brief mention of someone having contracted smallpox or cholera, or Quaker meeting minutes in which a person you are studying is voted out of the meeting, In fact, these are examples of tantalizing details I’ve come across in my own research. Usually, I would have no idea of what to do with them at the time, so all I could do is record them and (temporarily) move on. In reporter or detective jargon, these are “leads”, hints or details that can lead us to more information as we chase them down, even if at the start we have no idea how helpful they’ll be. I started to say important, but that’s not really right. If a girl is trapped in a mine shaft, that is important. It may be that we will have ha hard fitting it into a coherent narrative, or even finding any more details than we have. It may be that we can find no corroboration or additional sources, but if we can, then we’ve taken a big step towards writing an interesting chapter of our family history.

Different people will have their own preferred method of organizing leads and preliminary information, and I do not pretend that there is any one best solution for everyone. Instead, I’ll briefly consider a feature of both Family Tree Maker and task lists. When you come across a piece of information that you need to investigate further, you need to record that somewhere. At first, you may just be able to remember it, or write it down on a notepad, but as your family tree grows, and as the number of documents and photographs you’ve collected grows, a more systematic approach can really be helpful. In Family Tree Maker, there is a task pane in Plan View, and it is likely the first place you will see the a task list.

task list  in TM3

There are several things to notice here. First of all, the task has a priority. I set it to low because this is an item I want to come back to when I have time. It’s not keeping me from making progress in other areas, nor is there much of a risk of making mistakes if I don’t investigate this lead right away. Finally, it’s an interesting story, one I really want to investigate, but it’s not a vital date or other data element that is central to genealogy. So, by setting the priority to low, I’m not saying it’s unimportant or uninteresting. Rather, I’m setting my own priorities. Next, note that the task is associated with a specific person. You can create general tasks, and this is normally the only type of task you will create in Plan View, but most tasks will be associated with a specific person. This is important because, most of the time, you will move from one person to another while doing research, and you need to be able to keep track of what you want to do when you come back to the person you’re working on. The task has a creation date, and this can be important. You may wish to filter by task age so that old tasks aren’t simply forgotten. Or, on the other hand, you may write something down and come back to it thinking, “Why did I want to do that?” It may be that a task simply is relevant anymore, and knowing its age can help you decide whether or not to keep it.

person tasks in FTM3If you look at the toolbar above the tasks, you will see several buttons. One allows you to create new tasks. This is the only one that is enabled (not grayed out) because no tasks are selected. There are also buttons that allow you to edit tasks (for example, to change the wording), delete them, remove completed tasks, or apply a filter. A filter is a rule that can be used to select a subset of tasks, making it easier for you to see what you need to focus on. You can also print your task list in Plan View.

Most of the time, though, you will be working on specific people and will want to work with tasks associated with people. In Person View, select a particular person and be sure the Tree tab is selected (not Details). Then what you see will be something like this. Notice that there are toolbars. The one on top allows you to select Facts (the birthdates, marriage dates and so on that you usually think of when you think of genealogy), Media (usually photographs and scanned documents), Notes (additional details that you want to keep track of in your family tree – think of these as marginal notes), Web Links (bookmarks for websites that contain further information or are helpful in the context of this person), and Tasks. Since the last of these (tasks) is selected, we have secondary toolbar just below it which is very much like the toolbar we just saw in Plan View. It is here that you can create tasks linked to a particular person. You don’t have to go back here to view these tasks, you see all of them in Plan View (that way you don’t forget!) but you can edit tasks, delete them, or mark them complete here in the same way.

What if you don’t use Family Tree Maker or similar software? You can still maintain task lists using paper or your favorite note management tool. Evernote is quite popular among genealogists,it is device independent and has some nice  features for sorting notes. If you want to associate tasks with specific people, you probably want a method of assigning unique identifiers to people, and then you can use that identifier to tag the task. It would take us too far afield to discuss schemes for assigning identifiers to people right now, but if you use a software tool, it will probably do this work for you. There are several numbering schemes you can use, or you can use names and sequence numbers for uniqueness.

A final option worth considering is a general purpose database. It requires more work to set up the database schemas, but you can store information about people using the database management system (DBMS) of your choice: MySQL, PostgresSQL, Microsoft Access, FileMaker Pro, etc. Realistically, though, this is a lot of work, and unless you’re a computer programmer or database administrator, you might not want to take it on. On the other hand, if you want to go this route, there’s a real opportunity to develop a tool that will benefit the genealogical community.

Remembrances part 2

[This is a continuation of Remembrances by Myra Jackson Cram, one in a series of first person histories.]

When Matlan was about eight or ten years old, he went out with Dad and a group from Fredonia to catch fawns on the Mountain. Matlan got lost. He was out all night before they found him. Mother was very upset. It made quite an impression on me.

Matlan was very kind, gentle, and patient. He loved animals. He was always taking care of some animal. Once he got a new puppy. He and the puppy went to the woodpile to chop wood. He accidentally hit the puppy in the head with the ax and killed it. It really upset him. It took him awhile to get over it.

Big poplar trees lined the street in front of Cecil’s and my house. One got blown over and it just missed our house. All the men were gone but Matlan, and he had a broken arm. We were afraid one would fall on our house, or Mom’s and Dad’s. Matlan said he would drive the truck to pull them down, but I would have to climb up to hook the chain around them. He sat in that truck, yelled up at me to higher, much higher, and laughed and laughed. But we got the trees pulled down.

Matlan died 25 Dec 1947. He was working near Evanston, Wyoming as a sheepherder. He and another herder were staying out together with the sheep. Matlan was shot in the head with a handgun. (The other herder said Matlan shot himself.) The coroner ruled it was a suicide. A Doctor at the hospital said there were no powder burns. When it happened, everyone went to Evanston. Mom and Dad stayed up there after everyone went home. When she got home Mom said she just wanted to let it drop. No matter what happened, Matlan was gone.

At Easter, the entire town would go out to Big Springs for an Easter picnic. It was a lot of fun. I don’t remember how we got there. Only that everyone went and we had a lot of fun.

Duard and I decided to go horseback riding. We started out early. We weren’t very old because we had go have something to stand on to get on the horses. We took a saddle from a horse named Felt and workhorse named Diamond. Diamond was one of a team. I can’t remember the name of the other half of the team. Billy Judd had a team named Dewey and Dolly at that time, but I can’t remember the name of the other half of our team. Duard and I decided we would like to go to the sheep herd and see Dad. I didn’t know the way but Duard said he did. We had gone quite a ways when I fell off my horse. Since there was nothing to stand on Duard decided to take my arm and pull me up on his horse. But when he tried, I was too heavy and pulled him off. Since we were both on foot, we headed back to town. It was after dark when we got home. Mom had the whole town looking for us. [Read more…]

Remembrances part 1

[This is another in a series of first person histories, in this case, a series of memories recorded by Myra Jackson Cram.]

I didn’t realize I was the oldest Grandchild, until Val reminded me.

I remember mostly, Grandma Jackson was a stately lady, and her house always had a good smell to it and was very clean all the time.

They didn’t always have a furnace. They had a big pot-bellied stove in the corner of the dining room. Before they built the furnace room.

I remember when Laree had rheumatic fever and Grandma Jackson came down to help swab her throat with soda.

Grandma Jackson always wore a tan sweater around the house to keep warm.

She told me they lived in the little red wash house when Earl (Dad) was born. They were getting ready to go down to Grandma Pratt’s for dinner and she got Earl all cleaned up and told Grandpa to watch him while she got ready. Grandpa let him get in the dirt and she was upset at him. So she got clean clothes for Earl and she threw them at Grandpa to put on Earl. They lit it in the bathtub where she had bathed. It was the last clean ones Earl had.

Grandpa Jackson used to walk down to check on us. I remember him playing with Delma and her doll. He would sing with Delma and rock her in the chair with the doll. When Grandpa died Delma buried her doll with him.

I rode in Grandpa Jackson’s car. I think Uncle Harold was driving. Anyway, Uncle Asa always had a lot of cows in the street by his corral and the road was slick. We were going slow and hit a calf. We dragged it clear to Pop wash before we realized we were dragging it.

When Grandma Jackson got older, Aunt Leone came down every week and went through the house to keep it clean. I remember going over to Grandma Pratt’s for butter and milk when our cows were dry. Grandpa Pratt would meet us at the door and kiss us hello. Then he’d play “Silver Threads Among the Gold” on the piano and kiss us good-by. He had a broom stick mustache. He had a new green Chevrolet car he would drive in low gear all the way to Kanab.

When Grandpa Jackson died, I don’t know who, but someone, got to the sheep camp to take word of his death. When Earl (Dad) got home he was almost frozen. I remember he had frost in his ears. We all rubbed his feet and hands to get the circulation going. He rode an old mule to town. He said the snow was so deep the mule would get stuck and he would have to get off and tromp the snow down to get the mule out. I think that was the winter that someone’s team dropped into one of those old blow holes out there. They had to haul water and feed to them until they could get them out.

When Grandma Jackson was sick, Grandpa Jackson mopped the floor, on his hands and knees, for her.

Grandma Jackson told me Lindy got a BB gun for Christmas. Carol Jean had a little friend come to play and Lindy shot them with his BB gun. Grandma said she went out, got that BB gun and wrapped it around a tree.

After we moved back from Phoenix, I went up each week and did Grandma’s hair for Sunday. One week she had a little package for my birthday. She said Cecil’s Dad (Alexander Cram) gave it to her and Grandpa for a wedding present. It was a little pitcher minus the handle. She said it was a bread and milk  set. It had a dish with it when it was new. But it was minus the dish when I got it. It is a beautiful little pitcher.

[page is missing]

We got to eat red mush (cereal) at the sheep herd. Dad always got his water from the reservoir. There was so much red sand in it that it turned the mush red.

There was only one ointment at the sheep herd. Dad put Vicks on you, no matter what the ailment. One time I got sore from riding a horse bareback all day. Out came the Vicks. It didn’t feel very good. Another time Dad gave Gwen his pocketknife to use and told me not to use the big butcher knife. Of course I did anyway. I cut right down through my thumbnail. Dad put Vicks on it and wrapped it up. Boy did I bawl.

Dad and Mother took Eris, Duard and I to Kane Ranch in House Rock, about 60 miles from Fredonia. The car we were in looked like a race car. It had only one seat and was pointed at the front and the back. Since there was no rumble seat, Dad put me on the back to ride. He tied me on so I wouldn’t fall off. I guess Eris and Duard rode up front with Mom and Dad, I don’t remember. The car had more power in reverse, so every time we came to a steep hill, Dad would have to back up all the way to the top.

On our way home from church, Mother and I saw Cleon and Matlan drilling a well. They had a pipe attached to a board. The board went through the fence for leverage. They would push down on the board to raise the pipe. They let go and the pipe would hit the ground, making a hole. When they raised the pipe, I leaned down to peer in the hole. They let go of the pipe. It split my nose and I got blood all over my Sunday dress, made from tan pongee. I was six years old at the time.

One time, I put Norma down for a nap while we at Mother’s. When I went in to check on her, she was gone. We searched everywhere. When we finally found her, she was several blocks away, in the church, sitting on the front row, cracking and eating pine nuts, listening to the speaker. I had to go in, get her and haul her out.

I learned to drive in a Model T Ford. Dad would let me take it out past Fannie Ellis’ and to the cemetery. There were no fences, so I could drive all over the hills and not get into too much trouble.

We did have a few mishaps with the car. Matlan and Cleon took the old V8 Ford while Mother was in Church. They were just going to go to Red Point and back. They rolled it and Cleon broke his leg. When they took him up to Old Doc Norris to have it set, he told Mother she should be able to set bones without him. Her family had enough of them. Matlan broke both arms one time, then broke one of them again later. I was washing windows on the outside of Mom’s and Dad’s house. As I didn’t have a ladder, I was standing on the ledge in the siding. When I finished, I jumped down and broke my arm. I wasn’t very old.

I was coming home from play practice once in the V8 Ford when I passed out and hit a light pole on Main Street, just west of our house. I was coming down with the measles, or chicken pox, or something. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling too well.

I was backing the same V8 Ford out of the garage and knocked the door off. I opened the door to look behind me so I wouldn’t hit anything. The door got caught on the door jam and came right off.

Matlan and Cleon fought all the time. They enjoyed fighting and wrestling with each other. Matlan bought a pair of boxing gloves for them to use. Cleon enjoyed singing. I wish I had a tape of him yodeling. He sang all the time. Matlan and Cleon were sleeping in the old blue three-quarter bed in the living room. Mom, Gwen and I were up late, sitting at the dining room table, making flowers for Memorial Day. All at once, Cleon sat up in bed and started singing. Then Matlan got out of bed and started shadow boxing. Just as suddenly, Cleon stopped singing, and then Matlan went back to bed, and everything was quiet again. Neither one remembered anything about it the next morning. They accused us of telling stories.

Autobiographical notes of Sarah Judd Jackson

Sarah JuddI was born at Fredonia, Arizona March 22, 1895 in a little two room lumber house in the western  side of town, next to the creek where Barney B. home now stands. My father’s name was Ira Judd, son of Hiram Judd and Lisiana Fuller. My mother’s name was Hannah Louise Lewis Judd, daughter of Dr. Aaron Lewis and Sarah Ann Weeks. I was the fourth child, my parents having 2 boys and 1 girl older than I. My father was a polygamist and owned two lots which run back to the creek. Also cattle and horses.

When I was a year old, my father sold our home to Levi Seth Dunham (another polygamist) and moved to Ogden, Utah. He had planned to go to Idaho, but by the time we reached Ogden it was cold – our family large and supplies running low. [A friend, Ike Cooper who had previously moved to Idaho, begged my father to sell out and move up there. My mother did not want to go and plead with him to take his other wife and leave her in Arizona, but his mind was made up and he disposed of all he had, which about broke her heart.] The winter spent at Ogden was quite an eventful year, my mother gave birth to son Parley Wilford Dec. 12, 1896. My half sister Rebecca Judd who had married Abia William Lee Brown before leaving Fredonia had separated and in spring May 17, 1897 gave birth to a daughter Dezzie Delores Brown. Father decided to head back south, so with his first wife Nancy Ann Norton, her daughter Rebecca and her baby, together with my mother and her five children, we crippled back to our old home town where we were once happy and may father well to do. Now broke and his two hands to make a living for his two families.

A carpenter by trade and a pretty good barber and blacksmith, he used to say he was a Jack of all Trades and a master of none. Lived here and there until he could buy and build two homes.

One of my earliest recollections was when I was taken by my mother to visit Aunt Alice Judd, wife of my father’s cousin Asa W. Judd and Walters mother who lived in a one room shanty where the Jensen’s home now stands. We then lived in a lean to of the house that is now Uncle Asa Judd’s home but then belonged to McCallister of Kanab. It was there that my mother – later – gave birth to another son Roy June 24, 189-. Mother was attended by an old Danish lady, Caroline Foremaster. Soon after that Uncle Asa bought the home from McCallister, also a polygamist. He moved his second wife Angie Brown back to Kanab and my father bought a one room log cabin out east of town from Joe Carpenter. This was my mother’s home until I was nine years old. Father built a lumber two room house for his first wife. I was taught to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ from my infancy. Before I was old enough to go to school, I saw the first manifestation of the laying on of hands, to heal the sick. This gave me a testimony that still remains with me and has grown strong through the years.It was living at the little log house; my father had dug a cellar on the north side of the house, where it would be cool. While we were playing, we heard a peculiar noise that sounded more like the squeak of a baby rabbit in distress, we followed the sound the cellar and found that my brother Parley next younger than me had been looking from the peek or top of the cellar and had fallen over and lay at the bottom of the steps. I ran for my mother while my sister Vida, four years older than I, went down the steps to the aid of my brother. He was carried in the house unconscious, everything possible was done to revive him but to no avail. All members of the family had been called in, including my father’s first wife who was a practical nurse. My brother had ceased making any sound and I heard the grownups of the family say there is just a faint sign of life – it looks like he will not last long. Here my mother asked my older brother to go for the elders to administer to him. (Elders of the Church) It seemed like the elders were at a long time coming – and by the time they arrived, it seemed like he was going despite everything. (Uncle Asa Judd and Eli Cox were the elders who came) Wile we were still praying for him as they were sealing the anointing he brought his hands up and laid them on their hands. By the time they were through, he opened his eyes. He was weak and shaken – but by evening was around the house. The next morning at Sunday School Uncle Asa told the story of his healing and asked if anyone knew who it was. I was happy to say it was my brother.

That fall, father took us to visit my mother’s sister who lived in Tropic, Garfield County, Utah. The road went by Johnson Town and up Johnson Canyon. We went by way of Pahreah, the town where my father hand lived with his two wives before coming to and making his home in Fredonia. I was still not old enough to go to school. On the way, we passed an Indian camp, and they waved and shouted to my mother and father. They were acquainted with the span of horses my father drove, two white mares – Doll and her colt Bess. We camped that night at Pahreah and I was so thrilled to see the great gorge and the high rock walls of Pahreah canyon, a creek with water in it. Father and my oldest brother took the horses to a pasture my father had owned, while mother prepared our evening meal. They did not check all the fence. Our blankets were soon spread down for the night and after saying our prayers, for we seemed even closer to the Lord than usual, we were snuggled in our beds – where we enjoyed counting the stars and singing ourselves to sleep. Morning came and we were up and dressed, not wanting to miss any of those wonderful sights. After making the fire, father went to get the horses while mother prepared breakfast. Once at the pasture he found tracks and a hole in the fence. Horses gone. And although they were hobbled they had headed for home. Father ate a hurried breakfast and started down the road, telling my mother that he would be back as soon as possible. He expected to trail the horses home – for they had such a long start ahead of him. After walking several miles, he heard shouts and soon came in sight of several Indians bringing his horses to him. I heard him say many times “be good to the Indians, once a friend they will never forget you.”. The trip on on up Pahreah Canyon to Tropic, Utah was a nice trip, one I shall never forget. My mother was so happy to see her sister and family Mr. and Mrs. Alva Tippets and family 3 children.

Grandmother Lewis and son Martin N. Lewis were also living at the Tippetts home my grandfather Lewis having died a few years before We visited with them several days before heading home.

[Date unknown – copied from one of Sarah’s many notepads.]

Consider joining the Family History Writing Challenge

This February, The Armchair Genealogist, another genealogy blog, and one that I recommend, will be running The Family History Writing Challenge. To participate, you need to make a commitment to write a fixed number of words per day (say 250 or 500) during the 28 days of the month. It sounds like a lot more fun than ice buckets, doesn’t it? Well, it does, except for the minor detail that many of us feel fairly comfortable with the technical task of genealogical research, but when it comes to the prospect of actually writing about our family history, we freeze. We face an empty screen (or piece of paper), thinking we have nothing to say, or at least nothing anyone really cares about.

But wait, why are we studying our family history? Because it’s interesting. One of the most rewarding aspects of family history is learning enough about our ancestors that they begin to seem real to us, and not simply names and dates. We know there’s an interesting story to be told, we just don’t quite know how to start. When you register for the challenge, you will gain access to advice and ideas on how to start writing. And what i just as important, you will be making a commitment. This may not be true of everyone, but it is often simply the act of making a commitment to do something that makes it possible to overcome the mental hurdles that are holding us back. It won’t necessarily solve all your problems, you’ll likely feel tongue-tied at times, or feel that you have nothing to say. But that’s okay, just push through it. Write something. You are always free to revise it, or even just throw it away and start over. But you’re also likely to find that, as you start writing, you have more to say than you ever thought you did.

So, how can you get started? If you’re like me, you’ve already collected a number of stories in the form of newspaper clippings, reminiscences and firsthand accounts written by your ancestors. If you don’t know a few stories about your grandparents or great grandparents, someone in your family probably does. You have most likely compiled a fair amount of information on where your ancestors lived (for example, from census data). Have you ever tried looking up those place names online or in an encyclopedia? Don’t forget to look for its history. What kind of place was New York or London in 1870? How did people live? of course, you’ll want to know what your ancestors did for a living, whether they owned land or a business. Did they hold public office? Fortunately, these are all things that you typically can find in public records. With census records, the questions changed from year to year, so you may not find a detail such as national origin or occupation in one census, but it may be in another. Passenger lists are also a great place to look for information about people’s occupations. When you think about it, wouldn’t you want to know what special skills passengers on an ocean voyage had to offer? You might not need a doctor, a weaver or a blacksmith during the voyage, but it’s likely you will. I know that my second great-grandfather John Woodhouse, who was a tailor, was able to earn extra money en route to America by doing tailoring work for the officers – and he did not have much when his family left Liverpool.

Of course, everyone is different, and what is important to your family story – and how you tell it – may not be that important to another person. But that’s okay: just start collecting pieces. You don’t need to have a clear idea of the story line when you start. Writing is a discovery process. And that, by itself, is a very good reason to start writing.

Can genealogy actually help to unite us?

What role does family history play in shaping our worldview? For me, that can be  perplexing question because learning more about our ancestors can have very two very different effects on how we look at society and our place in it. Consider, first of all, that family history is just that, family history. That means that the people we spend our time studying will, to put it bluntly, be very much like us. They may have lived in a different time, they may have earned a living in a very different way, but they will belong to the same ethnic group that we do, probably speak the same language, and very possibly believe very much the same way we do. This means that we can end up with a very narrow view of the past. For many years, I didn’t have much interest in researching my genealogy and, in retrospect, I can see that this is a big part of why. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a world that values diversity, and in which people have the opportunity to learn about different cultures, different religions, and different value systems. Why then should I be interested in focusing on white European immigrants (and, in my case, largely Mormon pioneers)? There are obvious answers, of course, beginning with the fact that the people I was learning about are my family, and preserving information about our families and our history is a worthy undertaking. But there is still an obvious tension here between the values of multiculturalism and diversity on the one hand, and studying our genealogy, and our blood lines (a term that still makes me cringe a bit), on the other. Truth be told, as a teenager and young adult, genealogy was also a bit boring to me! It’s all well and good to make a high-sounding argument about why we shouldn’t be interested in a subject when, truth be told, we’re just bored.

On the other hand, genealogical research can tell us a lot about what we have in common. Many of my ancestors go back to Colonial America, some of them came from England much later (in the nineteenth century), with still others coming hear from Scotland or Ireland. But they all have something in common: they were immigrants. Immigration has become a divisive issue in recent years, and those of us whose families have been in America “forever” all came from somewhere, and learning about our ancestors can help to make the immigrant experience real to us in a more personal way than historical accounts of people with whom we have no immediate connection  does. As an aside, I should note that I’m not thinking about the experience of Native Americans, or the original inhabitants of other parts of the world. I’ll return to that in a moment.

Traditional genealogical research is vulnerable to what is called confirmation bias. Put simply, we may start out with certain assumptions about our ancestry. We may think of ourselves as being from New England, Canada, France or India. We may (and likely do) have something more specific in mind such as  Mayflower descendants, Pennsylvania Quakers, Mormon pioneers, or Irish immigrants (say in the wake of the potato famine). Then when we start looking for evidence we tend to find what we are looking for. Confirmation bias occurs when we start out with a belief and then think see that  the evidence favors our belief, while overlooking evidence to the contrary. If we have a particular story in mind, it’s easy to go looking for evidence to back up that story, and this can create for us a skewed view of our heritage. In my case, I came across the name Bradford while researching something else and couldn’t help but be curious as to whether this was the same Bradford line we know from history. It turned out that the answer was yes, I am a descendant of William Bradford, governor of Plymouth and signer of the Mayflower compact. But trying to connect ourselves with famous people is just one of a number of genealogy pitfalls. It can be fun, and those people are part of our ancestry, But starting with a particular conclusion in mind and then trying to find evidence that will bear it out is not the right way to get a realistic picture of our ancestry. Worse, it can lead us to ignore important evidence, and come to conclusions that aren’t really accurate, or at least balanced.

Fortunately, changes in technology and the sheer number of records that are available online and indexed are leading to greater accuracy and coverage (the extent to which there are not gaps) in our family trees. Using just traditional methods, search tools, such as those at will often provide us with extensive lists of potential matching records. It makes it harder to miss large branches of our family tree because we don’t know how to get started. To be sure, the potential matches need to be evaluated, we need to identify and document our sources, and identify multiple sources of evidence where possible, but it’s hard to overlook entire branches of our family tree when they’re staring us in the face on our computer screen. Another area in which technology tends to keep us from overlooking information we may not have been looking for is the use of DNA techniques in genealogical research. A funny thing about our DNA is that it’s not vulnerable to confirmation bias. We are going to find out whether our ancestors go back to Europe, Africa or are Native American (for example) whether we like it or not. Now, the amount of detailed information we end up finding depends on what is available for the DNA sequences to match, but general information on ethnicity (at least for some 4 or 5 generations) is pretty much unavoidable. What that information means to us is a different matter. And regardless of the methods we use to learn about our ancestors, what our newfound knowledge means to us is, well, pretty much up to us. Still, I can’t help but wonder if improved research methods and greater knowledge about our ancestors will tend to break down barriers, and we will end up feeling more connected to people we might not otherwise meet and, finally, that greater knowledge of who are ancestors are will tend to be positive influence. This won’t always be the case. Unfortunately, some people will only find their prejudices reinforced, but we can hope this will be the exception rather than the rule.

Obituary for Emma Smith Thomas Woodhouse

Resident of Nauvoo And Utah a Pioneer of 1849 Dies at Lehi

(Special to The News)

Emma Woodhouse ObituaryLEHI, June 4. — Mrs. Emma Thomas Woodhouse, 86, died this morning at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Rachel Anderson from ailments incident to old age.

Mrs. Woodhouse, daughter of Daniel S. and Martha Jones Thomas, was born in Kentucky, Oct. 21, 1836. Her parents had joined the Church the year previous being converted by Wilford Woodruff, later president. In 1837, that family moved to Farr West, Mo., and thence to Nauvoo, Ill., in 1840, remaining until the exodus in 1846.

They crossed the plains in 1849 and May 18, at Beaver she married John Woodhouse. They moved to Lehi a few years later where she has since resided. She is survived by the following children: John D. and Harden Woodhouse, Mrs. Rachel Anderson and Mrs. Charles Ohrau. Lehi: Wilford Woodhouse, Idaho Falls: Charles Woodhouse, Preston, Idaho; Arza Woodhouse, Los Angeles, Calif.; Mrs. James M. Kirkham, Salt Lake: also 86 grandchildren, 73 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. Ten grandchildren served in the world war.

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