Monday, October 1, 2012

Who Could Have Imagined?

They say you can't get involved in Family History/Genealogy without witnessing a few miracles. I'm here to tell you it's true. Something amazing has been going on around here.

I've been writing a book. At least, I was before we left on our first mission last year. Ten chapters mostly finished; eight chapters to go; several years of research under my belt. According to my notes, I've put almost 1200 hours into the project already, and it has been a fabulous project. It's a book about my dad's parents, but I've included chapters on their parents and grandparents, as far back as the early 1800's.

I packed all my research up and took it with me to Washington D.C. on our first mission, hoping to spend at least a little time writing. It never happened. Doesn't look like it will happen in England, either. I dragged all my files as carry-on luggage on all our flights when we came here because I couldn't bear the thought of the remotest possibility that an airline might lose all my hard work. Turns out, that was the last time I touched it. Our mission is busy and demanding and when we do have a few hours off there are people to see, calls to make, laundry to do, groceries to buy, and on and on. You get the picture.

BUT, in the midst of this two mission book-writing detour, there has been a miracle taking place. It's absolutely incredible to me, as I look back on the past several months, to see what has happened. Here's how it has unfolded so far:

It began with Sail Royal Greenwich. In connection with the London Olympics during July, a fleet of tall, old sailing ships arrived in London via the Thames and anchored at Woolwich (pronounced "Wool-ich") harbour. We happened to see an advertisement for short passenger cruises on these ships when Don picked up a discarded newspaper one afternoon on the train. This fleet of ships is somewhat newer, but very similar to the ships on which some of my ancestors (the very ones I've been writing about) immigrated from Great Britain to America.  Elder and Sister Kearl from the ELSM Mission office were just as interested as we were, so the four of us booked an early evening one-hour cruise during July. There were three or four big old sailing ships out on the river that evening. It was so exciting to step onto one of them and set sail towards the center of London on the Thames. Besides crossing the Greenwich Meridian and seeing the beautiful sights along the Thames (including Olympics venues) that evening, we got to explore the ship and imagine what it would have been like to spend six to eight weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean with our families. Sobering, to say the least.

Part of the "Sail Royal Greenwich" fleet

On board our cruise.

Don got to help hoist one of the sails.

Sailing the Thames

A view of London

Next, we were able to travel to Sprowston, in Norwich (pronounced Nor-itch), about three hours northeast of where we live on the London temple grounds. We are asked to speak in a different ward several times a month, and on July 29th, we spoke in the Norwich Ward. It was wonderful to meet the good people who live there.

After church, we found the church in the little village of Sprowston where my dad's paternal grandmother, Dorothy Jane Culley, was born. I had already written a chapter about her in my grandparents' book. We visited the church where her parents and grandparents were married and where she was christened shortly after her birth. We know that it is the right church because it was the only church in existence in the village until long after those events took place. The church is not normally open on Sunday afternoons, but the congregation was holding an Olympic celebration that afternoon, so the church was open and we were able to go inside!

Dorothy Jane Culley
Born in Sprowston, Norwich, U.K. in 1834,
Willey Handcart Company pioneer.

St. Mary & St. Margaret's Parish Church, Sprowston, Norwich, England

A view of the Parish Church from the cemetery.

The entrance to the chapel.

The chapel that my 2nd, 3rd and 4th
great-grandparents worshiped in.

Such an incredible window for a small village church.

The baptismal font inside the church.
Several generations of my father's family
were christened there as infants.

On September 23rd, we drove from the London Temple to Pontypool, Wales - a trip of about three hours. It was a beautiful drive and so exciting to drive across the bridge from England to Wales. Sunday morning, before we had to speak in the Cwmbrn Ward (pronounced Come-brun), we drove a few miles to find the tiny little village of Trevethin, situated on the top of a hill. There we found the only church that was built previous to the time my second great-grandparents, John and Ann Rowland Shore, were married in Trevethin in 1848.  It was early in the morning, so we just walked around the outside of the church and took pictures. Just as we were leaving, we noticed a woman carrying keys and walking toward the church. We were thrilled to find out that she was coming to turn on the heat in the church for meetings later in the morning. She turned on all the lights and let us walk through the church!

George Shore
The son of John and Ann Roland Shore
Born in Pontypool, Wales in 1849,
Died of Black Lung Disease in Ogden, Utah 

Directions to Pontypool, Wales

The area surrounding Trevethin, Wales.


Trevethin in both English and Welsh. All pupils in Wales are
now required to study Welsh throughout their school years.

The church in Trevethin, Wales where George Shore's parents were married.

The chapel of St. Cadoc's Church in Trevethin

St. Cadoc's Church

Our oldest daughter, Janet, is responsible for a few more genealogical miracles that we've experienced since we've been here. She has become very interested and worked extensively on Don's paternal grandfather's line during the past several years. It shouldn't be surprising (but it is) that the Carpenter line also comes from southern England - also in our mission!

Don's grandfather, J. Hatten Carpenter, was born in Devonport, England. Thanks to Janet's research, we were able to find the street that he was born on when we spent a weekend in and around Devonport and Plymouth. Since Plymouth is a five hour drive from the London Temple, and we had been asked to speak in church and also present a fireside on Sunday, July 22nd, we were able to spend two nights there. On Sunday afternoon after church, a wonderful couple who belonged to the Plymouth Ward - Ron and Lorena Telford - took us on a personal tour of the Barbicon and the waterfront in Plymouth, as well as the nearby port area of Devon. It was a beautiful day and such an exciting experience to see where Don's grandfather had come from.

Joseph Hatten Carpenter
Born in Devonport, England in  1861,
Died in Manti, Utah at the age of 103.

Beyrout Place, Devonport, England

Plymouth, England

Our drive took us past the site in Plymouth where the first pilgrims set sail for America in 1620.

The Mayflower Stairs

The first pilgrims set sail for America at this site

On Sunday, August 12th, we were on the road again, this time speaking in the Taunton Ward. Well, Taunton just happens to be the birthplace of J.Hatten Carpenter's father and is less than four miles from Bradford-on-Tone, where all Don's Carpenter grandfathers were born back to the 1600's - nine generations back from him. Wow. We found the Trefusis Farm which land records substantiate belonged to those grandfathers, one generation after the other, for about 200 years. Such a thrill!

Bradford-on-Tone is a beautiful place

The Carpenter homestead for 200 years

The church in Bradford on Tone where seven generations
of Don's grandparents worshiped.

The church in Taunton where Don's 2nd great grandparents
were married

We have discovered the home of J.Hatten's mother's family, only 30 minutes from us, where Don's grandfather lived for some time as a youth after his father, a Congregational minister, died.  Here he attended a school for ministers' sons. J. Hatten's mother, Elizabeth Link Hatten, also died in the home. It's in Croydon, about 10 minutes from our favorite (and only) Costco. It's another piece of his family history puzzle.

52 Friends Road in Croydon

There are still a few more family history sights we hope to be able to visit while we are in England. They are also part of the history that I have already included in the book I'm writing, so I'm hopeful we'll get there.

Actually, the miracles really began on our last mission. (See That We May Remember and Give Thanks, November 2011)  Just the weekend before we left Virginia, I was astounded to learn that the 3 Civil War battlefields on which my dad's maternal great-grandfather, Nathan Nye Coy, fought were within an hour of where we had been living the past five months. We dropped everything and drove to see two of them late on Saturday afternoon. By the time we had found them, it was too dark to find the third one, but I was overjoyed to have walked the ground my second great-grandfather has consecrated by his service to his country. The day after Thanksgiving, on the morning we left to drive back across the country to Utah, I discovered we would drive within 10 minutes of the 3rd battlefield, so we made a quick detour and saw it, too. Nathan Nye Coy was also one of the ancestors I had already written about in my grandparents' book....

All these serendipitous experiences have brought Don and I to understand that there is a "spirit of place" - a greater understanding that comes to you after you have visited the location where something important took place. Those experiences have become real. It's as if the ground speaks to you there. What a rich blessing this has been. Such a tender mercy, a bonus blessing, that has come from serving these two missions:  none of these experiences planned ahead, just discovered along the way.  Who could have imagined...?  Certainly not me!

Is it a coincidence that we were called to serve a mission in Southern England? Or is it an incredible blessing attached to the family history work that we have been involved in?  My opinion is firm, but you be the judge.

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