Have you ever visited your past? Perhaps you have shown your kids the house where you grew up, your high school, or favorite old haunts. There’s a country western song about that, “The House that Built Me”.
A couple of years ago my son, Joseph, was on a work assignment in the town in Oklahoma where I grew up. I gave him our old address, and he snapped this photo for me. Our home looks the same, other than my mom had flower boxes under the front windows. My dad planted the pecan trees in the front. The section between the garage and the house was a breezeway that my dad closed off and made into another room. I also sent Joseph over to the bowling alley that was our family’s second home.
Earlier this month Jeff, our daughter Helen, and I traveled even further into the past. We went to the area in Utah where my grandfather and my mother were raised. It was the coal mining communities near where my great grandfather, Robert Farish, had died in the 1900 mine explosion. Helen had filmed a documentary in this area, and wanted to show us all her discoveries.
My mother’s hometown, Spring Canyon, is just a field now. The Winter Quarters Mine area is privately owned, and was plowed under. The neighboring town of Scofield still exists, and is where my great grandfather was buried. The cemetery was our destination.
When you enter the cemetery, and you see the wooden grave markers all in a row and labeled “Died in 1900 Mine Explosion”, you begin to feel the devastation that community suffered. We walked the rows reading each marker, not only searching for Robert Farish, but fascinated by each individual and what their personal story must have been. One row contained six graves of individuals with the same last name, who had all died in the explosion. As we continued to investigate, the question became, “Who was left behind that fateful day, and what happened to them?”
After a long search, we didn’t find Robert’s grave. We left feeling disappointed, and stopped at the local gas station to purchase some drinks. I asked the owner if anyone in town had records for the graveyard. He said they had a sexton, and her name was Kim. Sexton was a new word for me, but I got the drift of the meaning. I asked if he had her number, and he began to write it from memory. I figured he must have been asked that question a lot to have it memorized. He said when there are only 21 permanent residents in a town, you tend to know people. We gave Kim a call, and she was available on the spot to help us. She would bring the book. She was the record keeper.
We returned to the cemetery and renewed our quest for Robert Farish. This time we had the records and the expert to help us.
Viola! We found the grave site. How in the world did we miss it the first time around?
Our next destination was the town of Helper. Back in the day it was the big city for the small mining towns. Today it is the location of their history, preserved in the Western Mining and Railroad Museum. As we walked through the museum, I saw a collection of photos on the wall of school bands. My mom played the clarinet when she was young. There was a photo of a Spring Canyon junior high band, and the dates were about right. There was my mom!!! Helen Farish was front row and center. I had found my mom in the museum. They had a book at the main desk with other pictures, and I found another one of her even younger with her classmates.I know I promised to tell you this month about the free family history websites, but I’m postponing that to next month.Your family history tip this month is to visit the past. Talk with the people who live in that area. Find the record keepers. Most counties have a genealogical society, or a court house with records. Museums, cemeteries, or memorials may provide you with a link to your family history.
The rest of our trip was a sight seeing adventure. We camped at Green River State Park, visited the petroglyphs at Sego Canyon, and hiked to rock formations in Arches National Park. An awesome two days.