Monday, March 23, 2015

Our Friend, Andrew

I want to introduce you to our new friend.  His name is Andrew.  We got acquainted with him at the warehouse last week.  He is spending a lot of time here in Vigo County, Indiana these days.  In fact, our calendar is marked for his big birthday party on May 26th.  However, it will be difficult to put 230 candles on the chocolate cake with white frosting and green sprinkles!

Untouched photo of Andrew
 How did we meet Andrew, you ask?  Let me give you some background information.  

FACT #1: The majority of our documents are old, but in unusually good condition.  Every once in awhile we find one that has been torn, has pieces missing, or is damaged beyond being readable.

FACT #2:  The documents have been rummaged through periodically over the last 150 years and have not always been returned to their proper storage place.  Occasionally we find John Doe's letter in with Jane Smith's certificate, or Sally Brown's inventory list among Susan Brown's debts.  We start each day with prayer so that we can be sensitive to this problem and catch as many errors as we can.

FACT #3:  Our work at the warehouse needs to be productive.  We've got to keep the camera clicking.  We often don't have the time to sit and read the documents in front of us as we prepare them or capture them.  That's what makes Andrew's story so fascinating.

We pray that we can be guided in our work

MIRACLE #1: Last week we found the bottom half of a document that had been torn. It described property and contained other legal verbiage, but no identifying names. When this happens, we usually give the document to the county's record custodian, who files it away in a miscellaneous folder, and sadly, it may never be looked at again. This time, for some reason, Michael suggested we tape it to the wall beside the camera in hopes that we would come across the other half later. It stayed on the wall for several days, and, honestly, we didn't pay much attention to it.

MIRACLE #2: I remember being in the middle of capturing images for Alvah Hotchkiss.  It was a large file with several hundreds of papers.  I was just feeding the camera one document after another when "something" made me stop.  I looked at the handwriting in front of me, the color of the paper, the torn lower edge, and suddenly the idea came that perhaps this could be a match.  I asked Michael to look at it while I continued working.  

MIRACLE #3: At first, he didn't think the lettering along the torn edges lined up with each other.  But as he worked with bits and pieces that had been curled and folded, he declared the two pieces indeed belonged together.  It was a simple, good feeling that we had solved a little mystery, and I was ready to put the completed document on the capture board and add it to Alvah's folder.

MIRACLE #4:  But, again, I was stopped.  I started reading.  This was not a probate record for Alvah Hotchkiss.  It was a record for Andrew Hottell... and it contained names!  Both Michael and I were speechless.  The continual unfolding of miracles was overwhelming.

Two puzzle pieces fit together

It has taken the weekend to see how truly marvelous this experience was.  From start to finish, the spirit directed our efforts.  We were guided to save the first half, which resulted in a visual alert when the second half came along.  The spirit made us LOOK.  Otherwise, Andrew's family names would have been lost in another man's images.

We have since found that Andrew Hottell was born May 26, 1785.  He died on August 18, 1840 and is buried about 20 miles away in an old, rundown graveyard.  No other information seems to be readily available.  We have faith that somewhere, sometime, the images we are preserving for FamilySearch will lead a great-great-granddaughter to find him.  We believe Andrew will make sure of that.

Barbour Cemetery in New Goshen Township, Indiana

"This work is a spiritual work, a monumental effort of
cooperation on both sides of the veil, where
help is given in both directions."
Elder Richard G. Scott  General Conference October 2012

At times Michael and I wonder what difference we are making in this work. With so many wonderful historical documents available in the world, why were we sent to Montgomery and Vigo counties? This miracle has reminded me that every soul is important to Heavenly Father.  No one is lost to God, not me, and certainly not Andrew.
Our weekend getaway to the St. Louis Temple

"Never underestimate the influence of the deceased
in assisting your efforts and the joy of ultimately
meeting those you serve."
Elder Quentin L. Cook General Conference April 2014


Sunday, March 1, 2015

"I'm Small, I Know . . ."

One of life's big questions is "Why am I here--does my life have a purpose?"  I have no trouble answering that in the bigger context of this mortal existence with relationship to eternity.  That's the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the revealed words of our loving Father about His purposes for us, his children.

Our half of a really nice duplex--a nice place to come home to.
But, "Why am I here in Indiana?" is a question that keeps resurfacing.  What possible difference will our work here make?  Vigo County is one of 92 counties in Indiana, each county with its own courthouse full of old wills, marriage licenses, and probate records.  It would take 100 more missionary couples capturing images to prepare an adequate data base for Indiana research.  Indiana is only one of 50 states.  The job is MAMMOTH, and there are only 88 couples doing digital imaging, as we are, in the whole world!

The warehouse we go to every day (as Google saw it last spring).
It's wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling boxes, file cabinets and shelves
of old documents and books.

This last week we've been able to get a better feel for the scope of our probate project here.  There are over 700 boxes of probate packets that fit in our project's time frame--1818 to 1935.  Each box contains the probate documents for, on the average, 18 people.

Some of the boxes that contain our old probate packets.

We can image about one box a day.  That's over 2 1/2 years--our remaining 10 months plus another couple's full mission.  What is there about the importance of Vigo County's records that we are here instead of some other county or state or country?

Ruthanne and Stephen Thompson.
I'm convinced that they "prayed" us here to Indiana

It could be as simple as the squeaky wheel getting the grease.  Stephen Thompson, an avid genealogist and member of the church in Crawfordsville, is a "front man" for FamilySearch.  He finds archives of documents that meet FamilySearch's needs and then initiates the contact between FamilySearch and the custodian of the archives.  He and his ancestors are Montgomery County natives, and he has ties to Vigo County.  He paved the way for our two projects--Squeaky wheel. Our call--Grease.

Somewhere written on this old, curled scroll may be the missing name or date
that some genealogical researcher is looking for.

Or it could go deeper?  The spirits of our departed loved ones know where their names can be found.  They know where the documents are that will facilitate the linking of their particular branch of the Family Tree, documents that will lead to the proxy ordinances in the Lord's temples that open the way to exaltation for them, sealing generations together as families.  If I am here in Indiana to preserve that particular document, then the work will not have been in vain.

Just a bundle of old, decaying paper?  It's a treasure
if it links someone to their ancestral family.

A third consideration?  God knows me.  Being here, doing this work, will in some way inch me along on His intended path for me.  I surely have been learning patience, submission, humility, and dependence on the Spirit.  Pres. Uchtdorf described it as "Lift Where You Stand."  Elder Holland observed that "she hath done what she could."

These are hardly the hands of a musician, but that's often
what they look like after an hour at the warehouse.

The lyrics to a Primary song, "Give, Said the Little Stream," come to mind, "I'm small, I know, but wherever I go the fields grow greener still."  I guess that's the point.  My only concern should be to "Give, then, as Jesus gives . . . For God and others, live."  And to do it "Singing, singing, all the day, 'Give! Oh, give away.'"