A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. I was on a quest to find records of my great great great grandfathers in the Nauvoo Tithing Books. On my way there I started a new audio book by Erik Larson about the American Ambassador to Berlin during Hitler’s reign.
Here are some notes I recorded in my journal at the end of that day:
“There are no heros here, at least not of the Schindler’s List variety, but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behave with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature. That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know–now–to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it. These were complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature.”
(Preface to In the Garden of the Beast.)
I think that’s also the challenge of doing FH work, as I was today. To accompany our Fathers through the world as they experienced it. Complicated people moving through a complicated time. That’s how it was today in Nauvoo.
I got to the library by 10:30, a 35 min drive with no traffic. It took about 20 min to check in, get myself into the computer system, order the books and have them delivered to the secure reading room. I was allowed to take my laptop (I took my iPad and keyboard), blank paper they provided, and use of the pencils, sharpened to tidy points on each table. They also provided sanitizing wipes for my hands. I parked a few blocks east and had to move the car every two hours to avoid being ticketed.
I was excited when I saw the books. The librarian I talked to on the phone yesterday told me they were microfilmed, so I was thrilled when they brought down the actual books. Nauvoo Tithing Day Books B and C. Book B started 21 Dec 1842 and went until Aug 1844, 350+ pages. The books are about 9 inches tall, about 6 inches wide and about 1.5 inches thick. Leather bound, thick pages, beautiful entries in slightly faded ink, clear handwriting, daily entries. For the next 5+ hours I stepped back into Old Nauvoo.
It was amazing. Sobering. I feel like I’ve looked into the lives and homes of those Saints in a way no book about Nauvoo could capture or express. I felt grit and desperation and sacrifice. And service and selflessness extra ordinaire. I was humbled and enthralled and the hours on the clock flew by. Every time I looked up, I had to go move the car. I could hardly bare to leave that world and step out into downtown Salt Lake City to walk up the street to my luxury liner suburban. I felt embarrassed at the thought of how MUCH we have and how seldom we consider our abundance. I wanted to crawl into a cabin somewhere and strip it all away from me and be like they were.
As I read through the entries, day by day, page by page, I looked first for names. Theodore, Bushmans, dozens of others who’s journals I’ve read. I felt like I was among friends, at least people I know (although they have no idea who I am). I recognized so many of them. It was like walking through streets of a place I’ve once been, but not. Here was Jane Manning, there was Wm. Huntington, Wm. Clayton, Isaac Haight, Nathan C. Tenney, Smith family members, John Murdock, John D. Lee, HCKimball, Patty Sessions, Eli Kelsey, Lydia Partridge, Robert Clift (father of TT’s wives), and on and on and on. I knew so many of them and I read the lists, mostly very short, of what they had to give. I started taking some notes of the interesting things, the household items, the garden crops, the tools, the dry goods. Amazing to see their belongings being so freely given. When they could they gave cash, when they had no cash, they gave services and labor.
On page 85 I found James Holt, another of my 3rd great grandpas. Then just below him, my first sighting of Theodore, 25 August 1843, labor for Tarlton Lewis for $.50.
I will type up all my pages of notes tomorrow, as I have time. I’ve just been looking up all the men TT did work for in the 8 entries I found on him. Interesting. More lives to investigate. Tarlton Lewis was wounded at Haun’s Mill. TT did work for 2 of Reynolds Cahoon’s sons, Andrew and William F. Found histories on them. I’ve got to get to bed now and try to rest my mind from all the images of this very interesting day. 1:14 a.m.