When we received the news that the Gimlet’s grandmother had passed away, there was no question that we would make every effort possible to attend the funeral. Luckily it was not too difficult to make arrangements with school, work, and other appointments, so after the scouts returned from their weekend boating trip, we unpacked, then re-packed, and drove to Utah. Gasoline is expensive these days, but not nearly as expensive as last-minute airfare for a family of four.
Late September is a beautiful time of year to visit Cache Valley: the mornings were just starting to be frosty, but the days were sunny and warm. The mountains and canyons were bright with the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. We realized that the Things had never visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, so we spent an afternoon showing them the sights. Thing One enjoyed the Museum of Church History and Art; Thing Two, whose museum experience is quite limited, tried to climb into a display and had to spend the rest of the visit outside. Fortunately he was intrigued by a pioneer cabin on display in the courtyard, so that kept him busy until Thing One and the Gimlet were finished looking at exhibits.
We had a lot of time to remember Grandma Laurence and reflect upon her legacy to the family. Grandma didn’t have much in the way of possessions, and there were few tangible keepsakes or mementos. But her family was her treasure, and thanks to photocopiers and computers, the countless stories, photos, and wealth of information she collected over her long lifetime is equally available to every one of her descendants. From the oldest child to the youngest great-great-grandchild, and all the family yet to come, everybody inherits the knowledge of who they are and where they came from, thanks to Grandma’s work. (It must be noted that Grandma didn’t know how to use a computer, so it fell to her children to transcribe all her handwritten data and histories, a project which has taken years to complete.)
Nearly all of her descendants (numbering around one hundred) and surviving siblings attended the funeral, including her older sister (age 101, and shows no signs of slowing down). It was a wonderful opportunity to visit with family members, many of whom had not seen each other in years, and will most likely be the last family reunion of this size and scope.
While the funeral was held in a Salt Lake City suburb, the burial took place in Richmond, a small town just north of Logan. Due to the distance from Salt Lake, not everybody at the funeral was able to attend the graveside service. The Richmond cemetery is small and set into the hillside, overlooking the valley. A few of us arrived at the cemetery a little earlier than the rest and the Gimlet began to talk with an older gentleman and his wife. This gentleman had been the stake president of the Logan Stake while Grandma and Grandpa lived in Logan, and he would be celebrating his 100th birthday later that week. He had also been a professor at Utah State University (in fact, he had begun his relationship with USU as an entering freshman 80 years ago this year), and in the course of the conversation we learned that he had been my grandfather’s successor as county agent in Paiute County in the mid-1930s. A series of delightful little glimpses into my grandfather’s life then followed, as this gentleman reminisced about what the farmers and others had told him about his much-admired predecessor (no doubt telling the newcomer how to do his job!). Especially of interest was the information that my grandfather had introduced potato farming to the county, which brought the residents an annual income of $100,000 during the Depression, and had been an important staple of the area’s agriculture ever since.
We never expected to learn more about my family history on this trip, and given the gentleman’s age, and the remote location of this cemetery, it is amazing that such a meeting and conversation would occur. But Grandma had always loved to bring people together and tell them how they were related, or how they should know each other, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that she would still be the reason for this connection happening. She certainly would have enjoyed it.
Family history can (and should) be much more than collecting dates and names. We’ve come across some on-line resources which bring out the little details in our ancestors’ lives:
- Utah State University and the University of Utah are both in the process of digitizing their old yearbooks. (What was the Be No Club — complete with a “Goat” membership category? Perhaps we don’t want to find out.)
- The University of Utah is also digitizing Utah’s newspapers. So far several small town newspaper archives are available. Learn about everybody’s comings and goings, who hosted a bridge party the other day, prizes at the county fair, who’s been sick, who’s been out of town, and who wrote a poem for the paper. It’s blogging!
While these resources are Utah-specific, it’s very likely that other universities and communities are in the process of digitizing their yearbooks and small newspapers. A search of your local area may turn up some interesting and fun results.