By J. Gaz
“Who Do You Think You Are?” is a television program broadcast during the past couple of years helping celebrities, like Ashley Judd, trace their ancestors. It is also a very intriguing question being asked lately by more and more people. We live in a transient world where families no longer stay in one location for generations. Without extended families, we can easily lose our roots and our sense of belonging. We ask ourselves, “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?”
I am no different. I have five brothers and we eventually all left our ancestral home in Utah and spread out from Hawaii to New England. We only remain close by vacationing with each other every other year, rarely talking or emailing each other. Our next generation does better. They have the enormously popular social media to help them stay in touch. But for many, including myself, that is not enough.
I starting researching my family’s genealogy about fifteen years ago and it opened a fascinating history to me. It was not JUST a history – it was MY history. It was so much more than just names and dates. It is about remarkable people and their remarkable stories. I learned that I have three major genealogical lines here in Massachusetts in the 1600s. One lived in Salem starting in 1630. Did his family participate in the witch trials? Another settled in Boston and was a linen draper, which was part of a family business based in London. Yet another settled in Watertown and had his farm somewhere in the middle of Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
I have also been lucky to find journals or writings by some of these ancestors. One of my favorites comes from my great-great-grandmother Alvira Smith. Alvira was born in Ohio after her parents join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She traveled with her family to Missouri where her father and older brother were killed in a mob raid on their camp. Her twin brother had half of his hip shot away in that raid and was miraculously healed by the Lord. As soon as her twin, Alma, was able to travel they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois.
While she was there, she states that she worked hard, earning $1.25 per week. Her family was saving all the money they could to make the trek west to Utah. With her money she bought several pairs of shoes, because she didn’t want to walk barefoot across the plains. Alvira didn’t write much, just a couple of pages when she was old. But what she did write is priceless to me. I particularly like her description of crossing the plains, which is not your Hollywood version of pioneering.
“We crossed the plains in the year 1850 and I was then 18 years old. There were twelve in our family and everything we owned on this earth was put into two wagons. I guess I walked over halfway across the plains to Utah. We left in May and we didn’t get to Utah until September. There was a large company of us, but we divided ourselves into smaller companies of about twelve to nineteen wagons each. Some men would ride ahead and let us know a good place where we could get grass and water. These things we had to have. We didn’t have any trouble coming across the plains. The buffaloes didn’t bother us at all, and sometimes Indians would come up to us and laugh and then go away again. We crossed the Mississippi River in a little skiff with oars. We came right to Salt Lake City.”
To truly answer the question “Who do you think you are?” I feel that you need to go further than just finding the names, dates, and places of your ancestors. It is the stories that bring them to life. Think about your family. Do you have an older member who has stories to tell? Why not call and find out. If you wait too long, that older family member might not still be here and those stories will be lost. Once you get those stories, write them down. If you choose to take this journey, you will discover a true sense of who you are and that you belong, because their stories are your stories.
The Church of Jesus Christ can help you in your journey, feel free to contact them or start your search online at familysearch.org.