You may not know it, but Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons) are big into genealogy. We believe that families are an eternal unit that can continue on after we die through temple ordinances. So, one of the many responsibilities we have is learn about our ancestors and make sure that their "temple work" is done. In all honesty, many of us are slackers when it comes to this. Everyone has one or two people in their extended family that are dutiful at doing their family history and the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief that someone else is doing it; we may feel a twinge of guilt now and then when a lesson is taught on Sunday about seeking out our kindred dead, but it doesn't get us very far. I am one of those people who figures I'll eventually get around do doing some family history, but since some of my family lines have been traced all the way back (once you can tap into a royal line, you've pretty much got a green light all the way to Adam and Eve) and I have an aunt on one side and an uncle the other side who are both vigilant, I figure that I have enough to do without jumping into family history.
I do know from experience that many genealogists are passionate about the work that they do. They get caught up in the lives and stories of the people they are studying. Ask someone who loves genealogy to give a class about it and they will ramble on and on about how exciting it is. Generally, it is hard for me to catch that vision.
But yesterday for some reason I started thinking about my ancestors. Pioneer Day is later this month, a day when we celebrate the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. We talk about their courage and their sacrifice and the legacy they left us. I have pioneer ancestors in both my maternal and paternal lines and have always known this. Yesterday I mused that maybe in honor of Pioneer Day I should learn more about them. So I went to FamilySearch.org and plugged in my grandfather's name and the year that he died to see what came up. There he was, so I clicked on pedigree and started reading some of the names and dates and birthplaces. Most of the names were familiar. Like any good Mormon girl, I've filled out a dozen four generation tables in my life (generally the way you get started with genealogy). But six generations back from me, a woman caught my eye. Tamma Durfee, born in 1813 in New York and buried in Springville, UT in 1885. Obviously, she crossed the plains. I clicked on her name and she began to be a real person to me. I saw that she had been married three times, widowed twice. I saw that she had 10 children with her first husband, two of whom died as babies. They lived in Kirtland and Nauvoo and her husband died before the crossed the plains. I saw that she had remarried a widower in Salt Lake City two years later and had six children by that husband, one of whom died as a baby. She then married her stepson (he was only seven years younger), who had three other wives (living, one of them was Tamma's oldest daughter), a marriage which I imagine was more for convenience and support than anything else, although she had one child by him.
I wanted to know more. I wanted to hear her voice and know what it was like to be her. So I googled her name and learned many other details about her life. I found this picture (the resolution isn't great); I also learned that she wrote her own personal history, so I emailed my aunt who is the keeper of all things family history related and asked her if we had it. It turns out we do! She's sending me a copy.
In the meantime, I keep thinking about Tamma Durfee. Having all those babies, moving from settlement to settlement as their homes were burned and trashed by mobs, losing children, husbands, crossing the plains alone with 8 children (I don't even take four kids to the grocery store alone voluntarily!). I want to know more. And I feel my heart fill up with love and gratitude for the sacrifices that she made so that her posterity could be a part of this marvelous church, the work of God. I can't wait for her history to come.
And somehow, I think I've caught the bug. I don't think that this will stop with Tamma Durfee. Because now that she has come alive to me, I see hundreds of other names that yesterday were only names--but today they are real people with stories to tell. I can't wait to learn about them. I guess that this generation needed to have an aunt who was into family history. Maybe that will be me!
Will you catch the bug?