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Guest Post: Behind the Scenes at the Eminent Women Project

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - July 16, 2012

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.

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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.

Joseph Smith Papers Project: People

Utah Digital Newspapers

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.

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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.



11 Comments »

  1. Thanks so much, Amy, for sharing your research techniques as well as the results. It’s been fascinating to read about these ladies, and equally fascinating to see how you bring all the information together.

    Comment by Alison — July 16, 2012 @ 7:47 am

  2. I have been very impressed with the quality of your research. You note a steep learning curve, but your work reads like you’ve managed to pass that curve effectively.

    Your description of the process also makes me wonder if Ardis is aware that this series of guest posts as well as others make her essentially the editor of an internationally read Mormon historical studies journal.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 16, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  3. Wow! You have done an excellent job with all your posts. I know they are a lot of research work. And now I don’t feel so bad about taking so long to get my post for Ardis. We have so much information it is hard to sift through it all and filter out the non-essentials. And still I think it is much too long.

    Comment by Chocolate on my Cranium — July 16, 2012 @ 9:10 am

  4. Unlike politics and sausage, it’s a wonderful thing to see history being made. I hope it helps all Amy’s readers appreciate the thoroughness and the scholarly underpinnings of what might otherwise appear simply to be readable and enjoyable short biographical reports.

    And I hope this suggests ways that Keepa readers might start going about writing sketches of their own ancestors. Timelines are wonderful things, even if you can start only by listing the life events that appear in New Family Search or some similar database. Then, as Amy has shown, you fill in entries from the more-or-less obvious genealogical records, like the census. Then you might start googling to identify general sources for the places your family lived — the equivalent of Amy’s St. George sources. Etc.

    Anyway, I think Amy gives a very helpful model for beginning family historians who may be overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

    Plus, I’m pleased and honored that Amy is willing to post her Eminent Women at Keepa, when she has her own website where she could showcase her talents. Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 16, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  5. Alison — thank you!

    Bruce — interesting thought. The posts aren’t peer-reviewed before publication, but Ardis is quite the intrepid editor and author and mentor. And all the content she’s generated! What’s it been? Four years? Amazing feat.

    Chocolate — I’m glad you’re working on that! Length can be a real issue. I shoot for 600-800 words (LOL) but often end up with double that. And I must say that I stand in awe of all you do — I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I started reading your blog several years ago, due to some publicity in the DesNews. I’ve very much appreciated your comments on this series.

    Ardis — post elsewhere? but a good part of the joy of the project is the community at Keepa.

    Comment by Amy T — July 16, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  6. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 16, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  7. 600-800 words? EEK! I’m at 1357 and am only at the first wife. There are still 4 more wives to go! Back to the drawing board…

    Comment by Chocolate on my Cranium — July 16, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  8. Ha! Look for a place to break it into two posts, or let me suggest a little editing. Sometimes it’s easier to have a stranger point out that other strangers can probably do without this and this and this, than it is for you to do itself when you have such loyalty to everybody and everything!

    600-800 is about right for most people’s tolerance for reading on the screen, but it can go beyond that range if really necessary. *Don’t* let it make you stop writing for Keepa!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 16, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  9. Amy, in case you are interested in more information on John and Ann Green Dutson, Jay Burrup in the Church History Department is a descendant.

    I’m totally blown away at the depth of your research.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — July 16, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  10. Good luck with that, Chocolate. : ) Thanks, Jared and Maurine. Ann’s history was fascinating! She was a woman who should have books written about her, at least a historical biography and some high-quality historical fiction.

    And, speaking about sources for the history of the pioneers, Maurine has several on my list of documents I check for every woman — I’ve used some of them in just the past few days, including “A Partial List of Church Members Living in Nauvoo,” and “Names of Persons and Sureties Indebted to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company.” Thank you, Maurine!

    Comment by Amy T — July 17, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  11. Thanks for putting your process down in writing.

    Comment by The Other Clark — July 17, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

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