Sixty-one women from St. George, Utah, and the surrounding communities participated in Wilford Woodruff’s Eminent Women project in 1877 and 1878. I’m now done with eight of their biographies, plus the matched biographies for the Eminent Women of the world, along with some additional posts that came from the research on the eight women: The Fire and Light Was Always Free, Marinda Redd Bankhead: A Slave in Zion, Mitt Romney’s Polygamous Heritage, and Seth and Eliza Pymm: Childhood Memories.
The learning curve has been pretty steep on the research process! I now have a shelf full of books about early St. George, a large folder on my hard drive full of the digital equivalent, and some set routines for each project. I thought I’d take a few minutes and share some of the methodology behind the research, and see if anyone has suggestions or questions.
For each of these posts, I start with the list of Eminent Women from Brian Stuy’s article about Wilford Woodruff’s vision from the Journal of Mormon History, Spring 2000. (A kind reader of this blog originally provided the list to me several years ago.) The list shows the woman whose work was done, any male she is connected to in the project, the date her endowment was done, the woman who did her endowment, and her location in Evert Duyckinck’s Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of the World, Wilford Woodruff’s source for these names. As I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before, this project has been in the works for several years but never got off the ground until I realized the story that needed to be told wasn’t about the Eminent Women as much as about the St. George women who did the temple work.
I’ve entered the names into a spreadsheet and added genealogical data: dates of birth and death, parents, husbands, and so forth.
Only one of the St. George women was notable outside her community: Lucy Bigelow Young, a wife of Brigham Young. Most of the women are largely unknown outside of their family circles, and in at least one instance, Anna Charlotte Eldridge Hinkle Chidester , her children stayed in Missouri when she headed west. Some of her descendants have joined the Church and had traced their genealogy back to Annie’s daughter but hadn’t been able to find the next generation. The relation was obvious when approaching it from the mother’s side, so I had the great fun of letting some converts to the Church know that they had an ancestor who was a Mormon pioneer.
Lucy Bigelow Young’s biography came first since she did the proxy baptisms for all the Eminent Women, but after that I’ve tried to choose each subsequent woman by inspiration. I look at a list of the St. George women stored in Evernote or continue processing the genealogical data in my spreadsheet. A woman’s name will stand out, and I’ll take her information and start working through a checklist of sources.
To use the most recent post as an example, I started by googling Eliza Brace Lund and her husband to see if there were family histories available online. There were, but some of them didn’t show up until I knew more about the family and could refine the search terms. The most comprehensive family history showed up only when I googled the name of Eliza’s husband’s second wife.
Then I systematically ran through an extensive list of sources I’ve compiled through my previous research and through suggestions from posts on Keepa and elsewhere in the history wing of the Bloggernacle.
Here’s a random sample of some of the places I find information:
Curtis, Kirk M. “History of the St. George Temple.” Thesis (M.S.) B.Y.U. Department of History and Philosophy of Religion. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1962.
Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Under Dixie Sun: A History of Washington County By Those Who Loved Their Forebears. St. George, Utah: Washington County Chapter D.U.P., 1978.
As I run through the checklist, I simultaneously build a documented family tree in Ancestry, looking at least one generation up, two generations down, and at all the siblings and marriages on both sides of the extended family. I also construct a timeline and source list in Evernote.
Each of the projects is enjoyable in its own way, but Eliza Brace Lund had a particularly enjoyable series of “aha” moments.
Eliza’s baptismal date was listed in Family Tree as March 1840 and she lived in Herefordshire, England. That didn’t mean anything to me at first, but then I was looking at a list of people from Hereford on the EarlyLDS database and saw the Benbow name. I knew what that meant! A look at a history of the Church in the British Isles, Truth Will Prevail, confirmed that hers was part of that great early conversion.
Eliza was not in the Mormon Migration database. I couldn’t figure out when she came to America. Later, I was puzzled to see that Eliza was sealed to a couple who were not her actual parents, John and Ann Green Dutson Carling, so I looked them up and found an interesting biography of Ann online. Using Ann’s story, I figured out that Eliza must have traveled to America on the ship Medford, a voyage of Saints without an existing list of passengers. I had already seen that Orson Hyde officiated at Eliza’s marriage and that her first child was named Orson Hyde Lund, and when I saw that Orson Hyde presided over the Saints on that voyage, it all made sense. (Well, that and the fact that the dates of travel matched the dates in her biography and her vital records.)
Ann Green Dutson Carling’s biography told in detail about her long career as a nurse and midwife in Fillmore, Utah. When I read that, I remembered that one of Eliza’s children had been born in Fillmore, and the connection there suggested why Eliza was later to sealed to the Carlings.
Researching and writing one of these posts can be draining, so they’re taking an average of about a month each. (A length of time I hope will decrease with practice.) When I’m done with a post, I send it to Ardis who codes it for WordPress and schedules it to post. Then I try and wrap up any loose ends and finish my citations and footnotes. Here are the source list and timeline for Eliza. These are working documents and not ready for publication.
The research and writing has been an education in itself, and an adventure. I’ve felt a personal connection to each of the St. George women and to some of the Eminent Women. I mentioned Annie Chidester above. When I was done with her history, I was in one of the rooms of my house and thinking over her experience and feeling rather grumpy toward the Chidester family for not remembering her better and preserving a record of her children. As I walked out of the room, I got a clear impression that she was grateful to the Chidesters for taking her in and that she had volunteered to go first of the three women in the Chidester family so I would learn more about the family than I might otherwise.
This and many other experiences, the interactions I’ve had with descendants of these women and members of the Mormon history community, and all the kind readers at Keepa have been a help and blessing in keeping up the pace on this project to memorialize the women who participated in the temple work at their beloved new St. George Temple.