After transcribing Julie’s papers, which surprisingly took only a few weeks since they were so interesting that I became fanatical about transcribing during the day and polishing a translation at night, I gave a presentation to the Archives staff about their newest collection. One of those listening thought the Desaules name sounded familiar; when he checked some family papers, he discovered that he had a number of letters written by Desaules family members to his wife’s ancestor, who had been a missionary in Switzerland in the 1850s. Clues in Julie’s papers also led me to letters in other collections, newspaper articles, and other sources, so some of what I relate here may have come from records not strictly a part of Julie’s collection.
Julie’s papers lay out the 30 year history of a French-speaking Swiss family, part of whom were LDS, part of whom were vehemently anti-LDS, and part of whom had once been LDS but had lost their focus somewhere along the way. Some highlights:
Ned Desaules, who was so dour and gloomy by the date of his surviving diary, appears exuberant and enthusiastic in his earliest preserved letter: “Oh Zion! Oh! Zion, beloved home! Oh, valleys of Ephraim! When will we be in that blessed land of the Lord! Oh!” As a 20-year-old convert, he cannot contain his gratitude to God for leading the missionaries to his valley. He describes his blessings, records his praise, and eagerly awaits the return of the missionary, who must approach Ned’s valley with caution because elders have been beaten and driven out of the region. Ned suggests a meeting place on a bridge, swearing he will be as punctual as a soldier. He describes his own clothing in great detail and asks the missionary what he will wear: “Excuse this foolishness, but it is imperative that we recognize each other. I will be on the bridge at Boudri no matter the weather – neither rain nor wind nor snow will stop me from going, I will be on the bridge of Boudri whatever the weather.” He closes with the plea, “Don’t forget – on the bridge at Boudri!”
While in one sense the emotional bubbling of one young man, on another level we sense the spontaneous joy of the convert for the missionary who has brought the gospel. Many missionary accounts speak of generic “persecution,” but in Ned’s letter we glimpse a concrete example of that persecution, the ways in which the Saints worked around their troubles, and the courage of a missionary who was willing to return to the scene of brutality in order to minister to those who needed him. And in a lengthy section of the letter I have not quoted here, we have a detailed report on the location, life circumstances, and varying shades of commitment of a specific congregation of European Saints struggling to preserve the tiny flame that has been kindled among them.
In other letters, we learn that the Desaules family had much in common with the earliest converts to the Church in both the Palmyra area and in Great Britain: they had been Seekers, listening to the wandering missionaries of one sect and then another. One sister (by blood, not religion) who did not understand that Julie had finally found what she had been searching for urged her to return to Switzerland with the news that the Darbyist brethren had returned to the neighborhood, and Julie could return and worship with them and members of her family as she had done “in the days before Mormonism.”
Julie’s papers reveal that she and her husband Francois, childless, had intended to emigrate with a young niece and nephew, whose mother was institutionalized and whose father had given permission to the Desaules as guardians. Plans had progressed so far that Francois’s passport, issued only days before their departure, listed Francois and Julie, and Philippe Guyot, age 9, and Anaise Guyot, age 12. At the last moment, the Guyot father changed his mind about letting his children emigrate, and the authorities drew a line through the names of Philippe and Anaise. “After you left, how I cried. There was nothing left in the world,” wrote Anaise 22 years later. “When I left you, I had to wander in the world. Aunt Eusebie didn’t want to keep us anymore because she wasn’t paid enough. … They boarded us cheap. I was at two places where I went hungry. I no longer had an Aunt Julie who had been to me as a mother, to tell my little troubles to.” Yet Anaise remembered the lessons taught to her by her aunt: “They put me with a woman where I was very unhappy and I was mistreated. I was like a dumb animal – when anyone met me, they saw me with my hands folded and my head bowed. They said, ‘Here comes the crazy girl!’ I said, ‘No! I am not crazy. God will not allow that.’ I always prayed. One evening when I had been beaten so that I no longer knew where I was, I asked myself what I was going to do. I no longer had my Aunt Julie, but I had God. I knelt to pray, and God heard my prayer. The next morning before noon, someone came to tell me, ‘Anaise, come live with us.’ … God was with me. He has not abandoned me – he never has up to now.”
The largest part of Julie’s papers are letters written to her by Ned. He writes of his life on the frontier as he moved from Santaquin to Richfield to Kingston, and of his experiences in three United Order organizations. Like other Desaules family members, Ned was relatively wealthy when he arrived in Utah; with the close of each experiment in communal living, he found himself less and less well off, until he reached the point where he did not have money enough to buy a blank book to continue his journal. Yet he never gave up on the effort, and while he bewailed his poverty, he never blamed his reverses on the system itself, only on the failure of the people – including himself – to live as righteously as they should have.
Ned earned his living as a carpenter, but his true love was gardening. While still in Santquin, he spent a small fortune in purchasing and freighting flower seeds and bulbs to beautify the town, and evidently there were complaints about his “waste of money.” Ned demonstrated his faith in the literal fulfilment of prophecy when he wrote to Julie, “I do not think that the cultivation of flowers is a useless thing, because if Zion is going to blossom as the rose, there must needs be flowers.”
During construction of the St. George Temple, Ned was “donated” as his town’s contribution to the building effort. Ned worked as a carpenter, living chiefly on the foodstuffs donated by other Saints as tithing. Remember Ned when you make your fast offerings this month, and be a little more generous than usual: “I work without pay, and I depend on the good Saints for my support and the means to clothe myself. At present my board is not of the best, and my clothes will soon be all worn out. But I am patient. Although it seems to me that when you work for the good Lord you work for a poor payer, seeing that he receives nothing for tithing except a little flour, some bad butter and a little meat. There are so few Saints who pay their tithing as they ought to. I have had to sell all my things for practically nothing in order to have lamp oil and envelopes. But after all, I need to have patience and keep up hope for better times when he will stir the hearts of the Saints and cause them to be more generous toward those who work for the glory of the Lord.”
Working on the temple may have stirred Ned’s desire for temple ordinances for his family. He and Julie exchanged letters about their efforts to sufficiently identify relatives. Julie wrote out what she could remember, and Ned wrote repeatedly to family members in Switzerland asking for information. In reply, he received every excuse imaginable: “It costs too much.” “It takes too much time.” “Come back here and get it yourself.” “We sent it to you once but it got lost in the mail.” Despite years of effort, Ned and Julie were unable to do more than a handful of baptisms.
That’s a sample of what emerged from Julie’s carefully saved papers. Here is a sample of what those papers have led to:
I was already more than a little in love with Ned long before I read of his discouragement over his inability to provide temple ordinances for his family. I had never done genealogical research in Swiss records, but one day I went to the Family History Library just to see whether there were any records available, and what would be involved in identifying a few of Ned’s relatives. What I found there was as miraculous, to me, as the survival of the letters that told of his desires to do that work:
I found that the birth, marriage, and death records for the narrow, rocky valley where Ned’s family lived are in a perfect state of preservation, and have been microfilmed by the Church. Those of you who have done research can understand my sense of absolute disbelief when I discovered that whenever a person is mentioned in the records of Ned’s parish, he is identified by full name, AND by the full names of both parents, AND by the full names of all four grandparents, and women are always referred to by maiden name. As fast as I can type – which is considerably fast – I can put entire families together, with virtually no doubt as to the accuracy of the groupings. I started with Ned’s immediate family, then added in-laws, then parents of in-laws, then spouses of children of parents of in-laws, and finally began adding everyone who could be hooked into a single family tree. As of this morning, that amounts to 8,706 souls, virtually none of whom (fewer than 100) have had any temple ordinances performed previously. For a while a BYU stake helped me with ordinances. Now an Institute group at the University of Utah has taken over, and recently a ward in Logan has assumed responsibility for 1,000 baptisms in 2007.
When the research reached back to the 18th century, the handwriting and recordkeeping style changed. I hope you’ll appreciate what I’m really saying now: I am not taking credit myself, because despite my years of preparation for this project in the way of French study and genealogical research, *I*am*not*good*enough*to*do*this* – I have no trouble at all reading the records. Yet when I sit back and look at the images objectively, I recognize that barely a word of the smeared ink, crabbed handwriting, and non-standard French is legible. I lean forward again, and blink my eyes a few times, and once again I am able to read every word. This has been happening continuously through the years I have worked on this project.
I can’t help hoping that Ned is pleased, that his relatives who refused their help have sheepishly apologized to him for their lack of understanding, and that some of his most distant relatives and neighbors have thanked him for the opportunities his faithfulness has brought to them. And I hope Julie is honored by those same people for having preserved the records that inspired this project.
For any sticklers out there, please know that I traced a descendant of Ned’s niece, who came to Utah as a young girl. She quickly lost her French and was therefore not in close touch with Julie. The descendant gave me permission to do the temple work, so I have met the requirement that this work be done by or with the cooperation of the family. I also have not neglected my own family’s research and ordinances in order to help Ned.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 2/20/2007 @ 6:59 pm
Wow! What a wonderful story! I’m having enough difficulty with finding family records as near in distance and language as Maryland; what a miracle all thos Swiss records are!
Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — 2/20/2007 @ 7:46 pm
I agree, this is wonderful! I just had to post about your entries on my site: Family History: Reading Old Handwriting URL: http://lds.about.com/b/a/257284.htm
In my blog I also posted about the \”Free Research Series on Reading Old Handwriting\” that the Family History Library will be holding in a few days on the 24th and was surprised to note that one of the specific topics will be on French Handwriting. Are you involved with this at all? Anyway, thank you for sharing your story (and that of the Desaules family) with us!
Comment by Rachel Woods, About LDS Guide — 2/20/2007 @ 9:00 pm
What an amazing story! I think I’m going to cry! =’)
Comment by Tatiana — 2/20/2007 @ 9:07 pm
Wow! Thank you so much for this! I have enjoyed your posts on this family … and what you have done for them is amazing.
Comment by Pam W. — 2/21/2007 @ 12:58 am
You’re an inspiration, Ardis. Thank you for sharing this.
Comment by maria — 2/21/2007 @ 11:15 am
Merci, Ardis, passionnant!
Comment by Wilfried — 2/21/2007 @ 6:09 pm
Comment by Kevin Barney — 2/21/2007 @ 9:31 pm
Update: A ward in Logan has been helping me with baptisms. They thought they could do about 100 a month, so I prepared and sent them about 1,000 cards at the first of the year to last them through 2007.
They just sent the cards back, the work completed for all the women and many of the men, and asked for more. Thank you, young women and men!
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/24/2007 @ 10:59 pm
This post appeared on another blog on 20 February 2007.