I, like several other regular readers, come from a family where it seems nearly all the temple and genealogy work has been done. I’ve chosen to focus my efforts on recording the stories that previously existed only orally, and verifying them as much as possible. I’m not a professional researcher or historian, but it’s proved to be a fun and fruitful adventure.
Here’s one such story from my great-grandfather, Joseph Andrew Ritchie. According to the life history read at his funeral in 1975, at the age of 25 he was called to leave behind his wife and two young children to serve in the Central States. It reads:
One of Grandpa’s missionary companions was Spencer W. Kimball, who is now our prophet and President of the Church. They continued their friendship through the years, and Grandpa used to enjoy going to conferences in the area where President Kimball was assigned to talk, so they could renew their friendship and talk about mission experiences.
Hmm … There’s a few things here that raised an eyebrow of skepticism. The additional unwritten stories about their supposed service together seemed even more dubious.
The first source I checked was Pres. Kimball’s biography, written by his son. It listed or described several companions Kimball served with in the Central States Mission in 1915-16, but none was my great-grandfather.
My mother said that there used to be a picture of the two of them serving together, but it had been lent to a shirttail relative years ago and never returned. He didn’t keep a diary or journal. The trail seemed to be growing rather cold.
One evening, for something unrelated, I was watching the Church-produced video biography about President Kimball. It’s only about five minutes long. And in the middle of the film, for a few brief moments, I caught a glimpse of my great-grandfather.
Miraculously, I had found the photograph. Well, maybe not the long-lost photograph, but certainly a photograph of Elders Kimball and Ritchie together.
Not knowing what to do next, I wrote a letter to the Church Archives, referenced the video and the time when he briefly appeared, and asked if they could help me track down the picture.
Within just a few days, I received an email back with a high-quality scan of the photo and the catalogue reference number. I consider it a priceless addition to my family history.
But did the two elders really stay in touch for more than half-century? With the heavy workload an apostle carries, even a man as compassionate as President Kimball couldn’t possibly stay in touch with old companions. Right?
That question was solved when I found a letter in my grandmother’s papers, dated just a few days after Great-Grandpa Ritchie’s death. Printed on official church stationery, it reads:
I was sorry to learn of the passing of your father, and wish to express my condolences to you and your family… I recall with fondness the time your father and I spent in the missionary service together. He was a fine man, and I enjoyed greatly my association with him. I pray the Lord will bless you and the others of your family in this trying time and be with you and comfort you.