A random visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City turned into the unexpected highlight of our recent tour of Utah.
The facility, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the world’s largest genealogical library. Thanks to the friendly volunteers who helped me discover my own family history, I learned something about my ancestors that has inspired me — and, I think, will inspire you too.
It started with a walking tour of Utah’s capital earlier this week. My middle son, Iden, loves to unicycle, and downtown Salt Lake City, with its wide, smooth sidewalks, is perfect for riding. We strolled through the city, ordered sandwiches at Caputo’s Market & Deli for lunch, and enjoyed a sunny November afternoon together.
Inevitably, we were drawn to the center of town, the Salt Lake Temple. After taking pictures and dodging multiple wedding parties, we found ourselves on the other side of the church, right across from the Family History Library. My son Aren and I had just had DNA tests done and were planning our spring trip to Europe to visit long-lost relatives.
“Why don’t we check out the library?” I suggested. The kids agreed.
A librarian who greeted us asked us if we had a family tree. We didn’t. So she helped us set one up (there’s no charge, and you can do it on the library website). Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far, since we were missing important information about my grandparents. But the librarians encouraging us to fill in the blanks. Once I did, they said, I would be surprised by the results.
And I was.
Back in Arizona, several hours of research later, the family tree blossomed. Its branches stretched more than 20 generations back. I found relatives from 10th century Wales, from 16th century Switzerland and 17th century France.
But my favorite discovery was more recent. It’s the story of my great- great-grandfather, Campbell Warren and his wife, Ashley Lou Allen. They both lived in rural North Carolina and were born deaf-mute. Their parents sent them to a school for the deaf in Raleigh, N.C., which is where they met.
In the mid-19th century, there were no disability advocates, no accessibility laws to protect people like my great-great grandparents. And yet they had five children — all with normal hearing — and lived what appears to be an incredible life.
Campbell was killed in a car accident when he was 78, but Ashley Lou, or “Grandma Lou” died in 1960 at the age of 98. And my uncle Peter, who is visiting with us now for the Thanksgiving holiday, remembers staying with her in Clinton, N.C., before she passed away. He told me the stories of learning sign language so he could communicate with her. He recalls her being a loving, generous matriarch.
“She was a calm person,” he says. “Maybe that had a lot to do with being deaf-mute.”
I’m inspired by that resilience, that calmness in the face of adversity. How often do we complain about our own circumstances? The next time I catch myself doing that, I’ll think of Grandpa Campbell and Grandma Lou, and the improbable life they built for themselves in North Carolina.
Here are this week’s stories:
- When you leave a tip — whether you want to or not (Washington Post)
- TSA PreCheck members fume as their lines get longer (USA Today)
- North American Van Lines won’t deliver my things? (Problem Solved via the Daily American)
- Can Palladium Travel Club keep my money? (Problem Solved via Mercury News)
See you next week.