“If we don’t tell them, who will?” Speaking at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Fall Social

Here are the notes from my comments:

18 October 2021
DUP Utah North Center Company, Fall Social, Orem

You are here because you descend from an ancestor who you love who did some amazing and hard things.

I wish we had time to learn how you came to know about your beloved ancestors.
Maybe some of you read journals or found letters. Maybe someone in another branch of your family posted a memory on FS. Maybe there are treasures that have been handed down in your family. Maybe you saw a photograph and wanted to know more. Maybe some of you found an archive in a library or online that documented things your ancestor did.

However you learned about a particular ancestor, I would guess knowing about that person has enriched your life in some way, has made you think differently about what you do and who you are, or has been an inspiration to you during a troubling time. In fact, knowing that ancestor has brought you hear today in this group called Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

As I started learning about my ancestors, and as I learned to love some of them very much, I developed a feeling–a strong feeling–that it is when I make an effort to know my ancestors and make a connection with them by understanding who they are and how they lived, that they are given or granted permission or access to me. I often sense the presence or influence of loved ones who have gone before. In most cases, I never knew them here, but have learned to love them since.

Some, like my Pioneer ancestors, I feel especially close to and I feel them particularly near. Perhaps these few are my guardian or ministering angels. Perhaps because I love and care for them, they return love and care for me. I believe in these ministering angels. I believe that our ancestors can be angels sent or dispatched to help us in times of need.

One day it occurred to me that the reverse might also be true. If they are granted permission to be near us because we know them, then might not it follow that if we “leave ourselves behind” in as many ways as we can (words, thoughts, records, journals, photos, etc.) so that our posterity might know us and love us, we will have greater access to them?

This thought has motivated me to do 2 things:

1. Find and know as many of my ancestors as I can (in order to feel connected to them).

2. Leave myself behind in as many ways as I can by recording and documenting my life with my own stories and history and photos (in order to be connected to my descendants some day).

Maybe some of you have perfect children and grandchildren who will need no future help or guidance or nudging. I expect my own might need some help. I want them to know me and love me so I can love them and have access to them.

100 or 200 years from now, when I am in another place, my children’s children will wonder about an old grandma named Ann who lived long long ago. They will wonder what it was like to live in Africa during a world-wide pandemic. They will wonder what it was like to be in a world with opposition and sickness and natural disasters. They may wonder how I felt about the political situation of our country, or about earthquakes and fires and floods that ravaged the earth. They will probably find it curious to read first hand accounts of moral dilemmas in my world. They will wonder what I believed and how I worshiped. They will wonder if I had faith in things I couldn’t see and why.

In that day, 100 or 200 years from now, when they read these things in my journals or in my history, I like to imagine that I will be watching them, perhaps arm-in-arm with one of my 3rd great grandmothers from Switzerland named Elizabeth Degen Bushman, who was one of my first life-changing ancestral discoveries.

Elizabeth and her family were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ by Mormon Missionaries in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the spring of 1840. They joined the Saints in Nauvoo, and were driven from their home in the cold and tragic winter of 1846 with six sick children in one wagon. Two of her little girls died and were buried in shallow graves along the roadside, unprotected from the wolves who came as soon as they moved on. Her son Jacob, who became my great great grandpa later wrote, “we done the best we could” as he describes covering his little sisters’ graves with branches and nearly freezing to death on that grueling exodus trip.

In her later life Elizabeth Degen Bushman became the good Samaritan of every village they lived in. She was an exceptionally gifted nurse and was renowned as the loving, successful midwife of the town of Lehi. Because of her reputation and kindness, it was said she served as midwife at the birth of almost every baby born in Lehi during her life there. Nearly every family in Lehi had an Elizabeth named in her memory.

The pioneer accounts in Lehi recorded that Elizabeth had the gift of tongues. Her dear friend, Mary Ann Davis had the gift to interpret. In 1878, on her death bed, Elizabeth offered a prayer in tongues that ended with these words to her family and to me:
“Oh my children and friends, be true to God and His work and He will take you through the gates of death and there will be a light in the valley for you. . . . Be faithful to the truth and all shall be well with you. We shall only be separated for a little season. God bless you all. Oh Lord, grant that my name may not pass into oblivion, but that it may be from generation to generation, because I have tried to keep Thy commandments. Amen.”

I’ve thought a lot about her prayer when she asked that her name might not pass into oblivion. I felt she was speaking directly to me when she spoke those words. I determined to discover her and remember her and preserve her story for others. And when I found her, I became determined to find others.

Let’s talk for a minute about that OBLIVION. Elizabeth prayed, “grant that my name may not pass into oblivion.” She did not want to be forgotten. Perhaps she also felt that being remembered would be her portal to my life.

Ronald O. Barney, a former Executive Director of the Mormon History Association who worked for 33 years as an archivist and historian for the LDS Church History Department said:
If you do not write your story, your name will be obliterated from the human record and you will not speak from the grave. You will not have any influence on those who come after you. Those who write about the things they have done and learned in life have a huge impact on posterity.
Write your story. You have overcome things your children need to know about.”

Here is how Ian Frazier, author of Family, describes his thoughts at his mother’s deathbed:
“Soon all the people who had accompanied me through life would be gone, too, and then even the people who had known us, and no one would remain on earth who had ever seen us, and those descended from us perhaps would know stories about us, perhaps once in a while they would pass by buildings where we had lived and they would mention that we had lived there. And then the stories would fade, and the graves would go untended, and no one would guess what it had been like to wake before dawn in our breath-warmed bedrooms as the radiators clanked and our wives and husbands and children slept.”

Betsy Byars, Keeper of the Doves:
“You know, there are poems, there are stories, whole books, about people who lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago. Those people still live because of words. Words! Words are the most wonderful things in the world. As long as there are words, nobody need ever die.”

30 November 2012 blog post:
Yesterday I received an email containing a priceless gift: a short life story of my great great grandmother, Mary Ann Pain Holt, who was born in 1840. I knew Mary Ann’s name and I had found a picture of her headstone in the Ogden City Cemetery. But I never knew her, until yesterday.
A distant relative I’ve never met found my name on a website associated with a man I know nothing about. He emailed, inquiring about information I don’t have. After explaining my relation to him and our Holt family, he replied yesterday, sending me several family histories, including one about my great great grandmother, Mary Ann.
For the first time in my life, I read words from her own mouth. There are
no words to describe the joy I felt as her thoughts became mine, except perhaps to say, “in that moment, heaven touched earth.”
What a miracle it is when hearts are turned by words alone! Oh the power of captured stories! The feeling I’ve had since meeting Mary Ann makes me want to write until my fingers turn to bone. I want to leave my stories, my thoughts, my dreams, my testimony of Jesus Christ. I want my posterity to feel what I am feeling right now–connected and loved.

I know that my Pioneer ancestors served and sacrificed things beyond my comprehension. I know now, the importance of finding their stories. I know that understanding their service and sacrifices will strengthen me, perhaps even save me in times when I may falter on my own. I know that I want to be worthy to stand arm in arm with them and some day be in a position to look down on my posterity with love.

Some of you may know the Storyteller, Donald Davis who is highlighted at our local Storytelling festival. I once attended one of his 2-day workshops at BYU and got permission for all of my FH students to attend. I asked anyone who took notes to send them to me to share with everyone else. One thing he said that almost everyone recorded was this:
“We are what we remember. If we don’t remember something, it’s as if it never happened.” Wow. That’s powerful and frightening.

When we record our stories, we are literally Saving Lives–the lives of those who live in those stories. When the memory is gone, it’s as if those events never happened, or those people never lived. We must save these lives, ours and those who have gone before us.

Now I’d like to talk a bit about the process of preserving these stories and leaving yourselves behind. I’d like to give you some fun and practical ways to approach preparing your personal histories, or perhaps how to approach finding and gathering and preserving the histories of others–the process is the same–for you, for a parent, a grandparent, or for your children.

Start with a Chronology!
Get a spiral notebook with about 100 pages in it.
On the first pages, make a list or outline of the things you’d like to include for each year of your life.
Review: Your Life Chronology handout

Then start with the year of your birth and continue the years until now, one page for each year. Sometimes it’s easier to fill things in backwards. Start with where you are now and go back in time, or jump around as you remember things. Carry the notebook with you and when you think of something, add it. This will be a very rough draft–a place to start remembering and jotting things down. It does not need to be fancy! (Describe interviewing children for their chronologies.)

Your Chronology will be like a table of contents for your life.
With that outline, you have a place to plug in your stories.
It helps you remember things and the sequence of things.
It helps you place events in perspective.
It’s simple to update at the end of every year.

As you start recording your chronology, stories will start coming to you that need to be recorded. You will have turned on the memory faucet!

Fun ways to get started writing things down:
Get together with friends or family members. Form a Writing Group. Cheer each other on. Share what you’re working on.
Write a Last Sermon/Last Lecture Series
(what would you say to your posterity if you only had 5 pages to say it?)
Complete description of yourself every 5 years or so
(Jacob Bushman near-sighted, Charlotte spoke fluent Spanish)
Letters to individual Children and/or Grandchildren

Find a box of old photos or an old scrap book. Pick out some interesting photographs that tell a story. Write about what is happening in these photos. If you have a living parent or older relative, you might want to ask them to do the same. Prepare a few photos on pages with lines below that you can give to them. Ask them to do this for their grandchildren, or their posterity. (Show example)

Another fun personal history activity starts with one little piece of your chronology:
Pick a place you lived.
After listing the places you’ve lived or visited, pick one of those places.
It could be home, a school, a farm or neighborhood, grandma’s house or maybe even a church building.
Use the back of your notebook to draw your floor plans and maps.
Walk through these places and find memories of things that happened there.

Donald Davis said:
Once in a while we go around a corner and see something, or smell something, or hear a piece of music that brings back a flood of memories. These times are evidences that those memories exist somewhere. Our senses are storing little pieces of information in our minds like in an unformatted hard disc–all the information falls into our minds randomly. Our memories are stored in invisible files. One of those files is Places that are meaningful to you. Places where you slept at night. Places you visited.
Pick a place and explore– as you recreate the floor plan of the house or store or school or place or farm, the process of trying to recreate it will be like turning on a faucet of memories. The pencil will pull memories out, and then sharing those with others will bring out even more memories. Use drawing to pull things out of your memory–it’s a process rather than a creative end result.
Then start attaching “a time when” to the places in your drawings. Times when the unexpected happened, when things didn’t go as planned, times when there was a little “trouble.” Try to fill in with the actual names of people who were there. Keep going back and walking around until the names and details fill in the story.

Remember the furniture, the curtains, the shag carpet, what you did in the kitchen, the appliances. Remember the smells of those places–grandma’s house, the barn, the cellar, the closet. Use your senses.

Sensory Memories (Tell it Slant pp. 7-12)
We experience the world through our senses.

1. Smell
Smell seems to travel to our brains directly, without logical or intellectual interference. (Read the section p. 8 on smell)
Gather articles that you know carry some smell that is evocative for you.
One by one, smell them deeply, then write the images that arise in your mind.
(My mother’s purse, chlorine and swimming pools, rotting fruit, fresh manure, cut grass, cinnamon rolls.)

2. Taste
What are your comfort foods? What foods did you hate as a child? What are your mother’s favorite foods? Foods you ate at grandma’s?
Make a list of traditional family recipies
Childhood favorites? (Dunking Graham crackers & milk, donuts & berries)

3. Hearing/Sound
Are there sounds that surrounded your childhood? Trains, crickets, city streets, sirens, the noon whistle, Jump rope rhymes?
Are there songs or is there music that takes you back to particular times in your life?
What were the first albums, cassettes or CDs you owned and listened to over and over and over?
High School years, Single life (Fresh Aire in BYU Library), dating life, marriage? Play those songs and write what comes to you as you do this.

4. Touch –barefoot, grass, running through alfalfa fields, picking cotton, sitting on someone’s lap, holding grandma’s hand, warming backs by a fire, CMS tree needles, hanging icicles, tinsel

5. Sight –what we choose to see or not see often says more about us than anything else. When we “look back” in memory, we see those memories. Our minds have catalogued an inexhaustible storehouse of visual images. The trick is to remember those images in writing.

There are lots and lots of resources that have memory prompts you can write about. You can even search for them by topic on google.
For example search:
Personal History Prompts
Journal prompts about Covid
100 Questions for Parents to Ask Kids
FamilySearch #52 Stories (self and family)

When I had FH students, I gave them assignments. Here are a few I would give you today if you were my students:

1. Locate a couple of Family or Personal Histories that have been written by your family members and read them. Think about things you are especially glad they wrote about or things you wish they might have included. Consider including these things as you make lists of things you’d like to write about for your posterity.

2. Get a notebook to carry with you. Work on a chronology of your life. Then start making lists of interesting things from your life that you’d like to write about for your posterity to read some day. What do you want them to know about you?

3. Think about the places you’ve lived. Try to draw floor plans of the various homes you’ve lived in. Go to those places in your mind and walk around in them. List the stories that come to mind as you do. You may want to find photos of these places to help you remember them.

4. In the next month, begin to write short stories about your life or experiences. You can pull ideas for these from your memories, or use personal history prompts. Pick things you would enjoy writing about. Set a personal goal for how often you’d like to record a story (one/week, more, or whatever you feel you can do). Think up a good reward for each story you will write!

5. Pay attention to the feelings you have about your ancestors and your connection to them. Now imagine yourself in their place and think about your descendants. Think about what you can do to connect the generations by being interested to those who have come before and by being known to those who will follow.

History In Danger
Parade Magazine, 22 June 2008, p. 11
According to a recent survey, fewer than half of American high school students know when the Civil War occurred. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough weighs in about why this ignorance is a problem.

How important is history in the United States?
For at least 25 years, we’ve been raising young Americans who are, by and large, historically illiterate. The founding of our nation, the Civil War, World War II—they all should be common knowledge, but they are not. History has not just been pushed to the back burner, it’s been pushed off the stove.

Why does history matter?
Amnesia is as detrimental to society as to an individual. The historian Daniel Boorstin put it very well: “Trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

What can we learn from the past?
That there is no such thing as “a self-made man or woman”—we all are influenced by people around us. That every action has consequences, and we have to be very careful about leaping to conclusions from first impressions. And that integrity and character do count in the long run. The idea that no one has ever lived in more difficult or dangerous times is untrue. Others have weathered more horrendous storms; we can take heart from them.

In closing, I’d like to repeat Ron Barney’s words:
If you do not write your story, your name will be obliterated from the human record and you will not speak from the grave. You will not have any influence on those who come after you. Those who write about the things they have done and learned in life have a huge impact on posterity.
Write your story. You have overcome things your children need to know about.”

I believe what he says is true. I believe family history isn’t a chore, it’s a joy. It’s connecting generations in ways that save us.

Thank you for having me here this morning.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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