When I arrived Bishop Schroeder came up to me and told me he had arranged for a youth speaker and one other adult speaker, as well as a musical number. However, all those had cancelled. He advised me to speak for as long as I wanted and he would take up the rest of the time.
I smiled and told him not worry. I had enough material to take up all the time. So I spoke for 35 minutes, or perhaps a little longer. It was quite well received considering that it was so long.
He also gave me a copy of the program. The program had a typo. It said "Brother Earl Ashurst - Stale High Councilor". I thought it was funny, so I started out saying, "Hello, my name is Earl Ashurst and I will be your stale high councilor for today - at least according to your program. I like that (big smile). I was going to introduce myself as your dry councilor, your minister of somnambulation, but this is much better.
Side note: Bishop Schroeder fell ill suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and died two days ago. He was a nice man. He was 51 years old, I believe.
When I was a young man, about 137 years ago – approximately - the church was encouraging everyone to build a 4-generation chart of their family. My older brother had done one, and I mostly copied his, as any young man with better things to do, would do. However, I dutifully talked to my grandparents to make sure I had it right. On my Mother’s side of the family, I found what many other descendants of the pioneers find – that somebody has already done the pedigrees - far back, and well. I felt there was nothing left for me to do, there. That is an illusion, but it is how I felt.
But on my Father’s side of the family it was virgin territory. He is not LDS and nobody had done anything in the way of genealogy. That sounded like a bit more fun - but not enough to actually do anything about it at that time. I was still a young man, after all.
So I finished high school and went off to BYU. I served a hitch as a U.S. Marine part way through my college work and came back to BYU as a married student. I finished up my degree in Zoology and chemistry in December, 1975 and headed off to Arizona for my first job as an agricultural biologist. At that time, they didn’t pass out diplomas when you finished your degree in December, so when I got a fat letter from the Y in the mail, I thought it would be my diploma. To my surprise, it was a copy of my transcript and a notice that I needed two more hours of coursework before I could expect a degree. Any two hours, in any subject would do the trick.
Well, I was disappointed, to say the least. I was living out in remote NE Arizona about 30 feet from the edge of the Navajo Reservation, and there was no way I was getting back to Provo for a 2 hour class.
But wait! There are correspondence classes. I called BYU and they told me that even correspondence classes would do, as long as the class I chose was a credit class of at least 2 hours. They sent me a course book and the Religion Department had a class in Genealogical Research that was 2 hours. It sounded kind of interesting, so I sent in my registration and fee. My only hangup was that it required a fair amount of time in a genealogy library and I was living in Sanders, AZ which had a permanent population of about 100 and no library, grocery store, theater, or much of anything else. In fact, it had a post office, a trading post, a high school, and a small LDS chapel – that’s it. The stake center and the genealogy library were in St. Johns, which was 60 miles south. There was also a stake center in Gallup, NM, which was 60-some miles to the east, and there might have been another in Holbrook, AZ, which was 60-some miles to the west, although I think their stake center was probably in Snowflake, which 60-some miles further west
So I picked our own stake center and started driving down to St. Johns every Wednesday after work to do my assignments in the genealogy library. I found that the other patrons were all older women. I never saw a man there at all. As you might imagine, they were all interested in what I was doing, which made my natural bashfulness even more intense, and I kept my head down, did my work, and left without saying much. I am pretty sure I did tell the lady helping me that I was working on a class from BYU.
Mostly I was retrieving microfilm records from the county courthouse in Paris, Kentucky where my great-grandparents were born and I found many good marriage and death records, which, when combined with census records let me build up my pedigree back to the revolutionary war. So that was fun.
I was able to tell my coworkers that I was spending my days off doing research in Paris. They didn’t believe me, though.
What I could not find was any birth records in Paris, KY, so I was using estimates based on census records for birth dates, and that isn’t very accurate. That bothered me. It still does. I’d like to find better dates. Later, talking to my grandfather’s brother, I discovered that there was a family cemetery in Paris that had all the dates I needed on the tombstones. I decided that someday I would go find that cemetery, and I had a strong feeling that I should hurry.
So, I finished my class and graduated from BYU. About that time, I got a call from the High Priest’s group leader, inviting me to talk about genealogy at a stake meeting of the high priests, down in St. Johns. I was surprised by that, but I don’t turn down church assignments so I agreed, even though I felt woefully unprepared for it. I did my best to prepare something, but I was still a rookie in genealogy, after all. I went, knowing that my talk wasn’t very good.
When I got to the meeting in St. Johns, they had me sit on the stand and the Stake President introduced me, saying that I was in St. Johns working on a doctorate in Genealogy from BYU! That was a shock!
As I sat there waiting my turn, I debated how to handle this turn of events. Clearly those ladies at the library had been busy speculating, and the rumor mill had churned up a doozey. I wasn’t sure what to do, but as I stood up I decided the only thing I could do was set the record straight.
So I got to my feet and thanked the stake president, but then said I wasn’t working on my doctorate, only a bachelor’s degree. And my degree wasn’t in genealogy, it was in Zoology. And I only took one class in genealogy, so I was pretty much a beginner. I think I also mentioned that I hadn’t seen any of them at the library, which is why the confusion. I then gave my talk, which I soon realized anew wasn’t really what they expected, needed, nor deserved. I gave a poor delivery, but I don’t think any of them were paying any attention to me after that, anyway. It was a long drive back home that night.
So what do we take out of that story? Clearly the brothers in the church in the St. Johns stake were not anxiously engaged in Family History work at that time. If they had been, one or more of them might have actually shook my hand and talked to me. As I’ve grown old in the church, I’ve seen that that pattern is pretty much the norm. The genealogy library serves church members but only a few of us actually use it and there are usually more non-LDS patrons than LDS, which is fine with everybody. Nowadays, genealogy is done more and more on personal computers, at home, and I think that the library may become a thing of the past. Not yet, but someday.
Well, in Ecclesiastes 3 we read: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” At that time, 1976, there were only a handful of temples in the world, and those ladies in the libraries were keeping an adequate supply of names available for temple work. Things are different now. We have 144 temples operating today and more in the works, bringing the total to 170. They continue to announce more nearly every conference. We have a greater need for names, nowadays, and the internet makes genealogy easier and faster. We continue to generate sufficient names that any time you go to the temple, there are names waiting which need the work done for them. Everything is speeding up, and we need to be keeping pace with that increase. All of us.
I keep honeybees as a hobby, and I like to tell people about honeybees. I harvest several gallons of honey each summer and a few more gallons in the fall, which I mostly give away to my family and a few select friends. I am fascinated by the way the bees work and what they do.
BUT, Did you know that there are literally thousands of different kinds of bees in the World? Thousands! And They all make honey. But we only know about a few of them: European honeybees, African honeybees, and bumblebees are the only ones known by most people. Three kinds of bee, out of the thousands. Why don’t people know about any of those other kinds of bees?
The answer is very simple. Bumblebees are big and loud and colorful, so we see them and notice them.
Honeybees make honey for us, so we know about them.
But what about the rest? Most bees make exactly as much honey as they need to survive. And no more. You could open up a leaf-cutter bee cell and get a tiny amount of honey, but you would starve to death trying to get enough to put on single bite of toast. It’s the same for all the other bees. They make enough for themselves.
Only the honeybees make enough honey that we can have some. I build wooden boxes to hold the honeybees, and they are happy to live inside them because I build the box to the size they prefer. If they don’t like my box, they will fly away and find a better place, but I make my boxes the size they like, so they stay. When they fill the hive up with honey in the spring, I add another box and when that one is filled, another. As long as nectar is flowing and they have more room, they will keep making and storing honey. By the end of the year, they will have made enough for themselves to last through the winter, plus several more boxes of honey that I can have. Each box yields about 3 gallons of delightful, sweet honey. It’s a perfect food. It’s hard work for the bees, and it’s hard work for me to harvest it, but I love doing it. And the reason we know about, and adore honeybees is that they make more than they have to. Of all the thousands of kinds of bees in the World, only 3 or 4 kinds make more honey than they have to.
We are like that too. We can get by doing just enough to survive. We can do that and be forgotten. Or we can do more than we have to, and we will be remembered when the Lord calls the roll of his faithful.
What we are asking you to do is to be involved in some part of the family history work.
The easiest thing to do is indexing. The stake presidency is asking each of us to spend one hour per month doing indexing. That is not a big thing. Many of you are diligent in doing it. In case you don’t know why we ask this, let me tell you what it is. Indexing is simply building a file of references, so that other people can find what they are looking for.
I have an old-fashioned index here. I found this in the courthouse in Paris, KY when I finally got out there. Somebody had taken the time to go through the wills filed at the courthouse and write down each surname he encountered.
here is the name, Ashurst
In this column are First names and page numbers.
This piece of paper is the result of many long, hard hours of going through those records. But once I found it, I was able to go straight to the records I wanted instead of having to sift through books and books of old, dusty records. It was great. Now that we are doing this via computers, it is much easier. But, we need to build this kind of index for all the dusty, old books of records people have stored all across the globe. And that is what indexing is. We do indexing a little bit at a time, and when we are done, many, many people can go straight to the record they want to see. Indexing is pure service.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he index my family’s records so I can find them when I finally get around to doing my geology research.
Now, let me go back and recap. To get my degree I did some pure research of old records and built up a pedigree of the Ashurst family back to the Revolutionary War. That was in 1976. I sent copies of my pedigree to Salt Lake. I left copies in the Arizona State genealogy library in Phoenix, and later in the courthouse in Paris, Kentucky. I gave copies to my grandfather’s brother. Of course, I also gave them to my siblings and my children. Many, many people have taken that beginning and used it as the basis for their own research. I constantly find where it has been copied or referenced. That gives me a great feeling, although I don’t feel like I get much credit. It only happened because I was negligent in finishing up my degree.
But remember that I did not find any birth records. I still needed to find the family cemetery in Paris.
I told you I would tell you about my failures. I let a lot of years pass without getting to Kentucky. I worked hard and built a career. My wife and I raised six wonderful kids and kept them happy and fed and clothed. But I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I should get myself to Kentucky and find that graveyard!
I knew I should make it a priority, but I was living on the West coast, and we had some financial setbacks. I just couldn’t find the time and money to make that long trip. Finally, in about 1987 I was working for Ross Perot’s company on a high priority project in New Jersey. We lived in Washington state at that time, so I was a continent away from home. I was out there for 3 months straight, working terribly long days, 110-120 hours per week, week after week. Finally it started to slow down and I had a chance to take a weekend off. I talked to my wife and we decided that it was time to make that trip to Kentucky. A trip back to Washington meant so much flying time that we’d only have a half day together anyway. So, Instead of going home that weekend, I caught a short flight to Kentucky, rented a car, and drove out to Paris.
I parked in front of the courthouse and walked in the door, not really knowing what to do. I had no idea where the old family farm was located, except that it was near Paris, and I didn’t know how to start.
Two women were talking behind a circular desk with a sign that said, “Information” so I walked over there. As I waited for them I noticed a map of Bourbon County on the wall and I was startled when my eye fell on the name: W. ASHURST! It was like I got poleaxed! William Ashurst was my grandfather’s grandfather! What I was looking at was a copy of an old map dated 1877, and it showed all the names of families living in the rural farms. It was the key to what I needed! Now I knew how to proceed.
When the women finished and one of them asked how she could help me, I asked first thing if I could get a copy of that map. She told me it had been used as the inside cover of a book on architecture and that I could get a copy across the street, which I did soon after. She also showed me where they kept the old records and let me into a back room where I found a lot of the records I had painstakingly searched on the poor microfilm copies when I was doing my original research on my family. Actually handling those old, original records was a hoot, but I didn’t find much new. I confirmed that in Kentucky they didn’t record births. They just didn’t bother.
I did find some interesting court records such as the Wills I already showed you the index for. I spent my first day in the courthouse and nearby public library, which had a genalogy section. The next day (my last), I headed out to find the family farm.
I bought a current map of Bourbon County and laid it next to my new book on Architecture (with the map inside) and pretty quickly got the road located where the ancestral farm was located. I was on my way, at last.
As I turned onto the Clintonville Pike road where the old farm is located, I noticed a sobering sight. There was a little triangle of land where several roads came together that was too small for a business, and was obviously used mostly for temporary parking. In the middle was a big old chestnut tree and under the tree were tombstones. Hundreds of them, leaning on the tree trunk, and on one another. Someone told me they were from farms nearby as farmers got tired of plowing around them. He said there are family graveyards on every piece of ground and most of them are for people nobody knows, so they get plowed under pretty often When the farmers got tired enough to do something about it they loaded the stones up and piled them there, or hauled them to the dump. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
It took me a while to locate the exact farm where my ancestors had lived. When I did, I knocked on a farmhouse door and a nice young couple came out. I confirmed I was in the right place as they looked over my maps. When I inquired about the family graveyard the man told me that the corporation that currently owned the land had instructed him to remove the gravestones and haul them off. He said he had pled with them not to do it, but they had insisted and he had taken them to the dump, about a year before.
For eleven years I had had the strong feeling that I should go find that cemetery, but I had waited one year too long! There is no other way to explain except to say that I failed. My only hope is that someday I might discover that somebody else recorded the information on the headstones. So far, I haven’t found a trace.
The couple who lived there did tell me an interesting thing. They said there was another graveyard just over the hill, away from the road, and they pointed out the track to follow. I went back there and found a slave graveyard. At that time, I had no idea such a thing existed, although it is logical.
I knew from census records that my ancestors had been slave owners. I wasn’t very happy to learn that, but you can’t do anything about what your ancestors did. You can learn it, but not change it.
I located the graveyard because in the middle of rolling hills of beautiful blue grass farmland there was a grove of tight-packed saplings growing in a square. That was it – just a square of young trees. I walked over to the edge of the square and sat down on a log to think. At first, I thought it was another cemetary where the stones had been hauled away. But as I sat there I began to see the pattern of it. There were stones, but they were simple blocks of uncut limestone, unremarkable in every way except that they were laid out in a regular grid. They were about three feet apart from each other in both directions. It took me a while to figure out what that meant. When we bury people, we dig a hole six feet deep and about 2 X 8 feet long, so we can lay them to rest lying down. With stones 3 feet apart, it meant the slaves were not given the space and/or time to do that. They dug a hole just large enough for a body that was folded up. It must have sucked, being a slave.
I wandered through the yard and I found a few stones that had 2 or 3 initials rudely carved into the limestones, but most had no marks that remained.
I actually had a very spiritual experience as I contemplated that slave graveyard. Those people had some severe trials, but I felt like they had found peace there. It is a nice location, near the top of the hill with a view across the countryside, not to where most folks live, but across the back country and trees and grasslands. It was quiet, and nice.
The last thing I found there was in the SE corner, at a low point where it wasn’t visible from very far away. There were a few modern stones standing upright – 3 or 4 of them. Most were small-ish, but one stood out above all the rest. To begin with, it was 5 feet tall, and very ornate, with carvings – which alone would make it stand out in that place. But the inscription is what made it unique.
J. H. Simonds
Born Nov. 22, 1830
Died Feb. 8, 1860
(that means it was placed near the beginning of the Civil War when slaves were still in bondage, and J. H. Simonds was less than 30 years old.)
And then this verse
Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at deaths alarms?
Tis but the voice that Jesus sends,
To call them to his arms.
I’ve always like that verse. I have no idea who J. H. Simonds was, or even if J. H. was male or female, although I always think of her as a woman. It piques my curiosity why such an ostentatious gravestone got to be in such a place, and why J. H. was that well thought of. There has to be a story, and I wish I knew it.
I am sad to report that the slave graveyard is also gone, now. I haven’t been back, but recently I got onto Google Earth and looked at the satellite images of that hillside. There is an unbroken field there now, so the slaves of the ancestral home are now in the same state as the family who owned them, sleeping in unmarked peace. But they are not forgotten. I remember them, and I think of them often.
So, what should you get out of that experience? Well, obviously, DO NOT put off doing things the spirit tells you to do! Don’t be like me, having years of strong feelings that I should journey to ancestral home, only to arrive too late to accomplish my main purpose. Now, I had a great experience on that trip and I am very glad I went! But I still have no birth dates for my Ashurst ancestors.
Well, we’ve discussed indexing, and genealogical research. Those are two legs of a 3-legged stool. But why do we do those things? My close friend recently said genealogy isn’t doctrine, it’s a hobby. True, so why does the church encourage us to participate? The answer is temple work. We are trying to perform temple ordinances for every person who has lived on Earth. That is the third leg of the stool. It is also is a very big slice of pie to swallow at one time. Too big for me! Fortunately I don’t have to do it all alone, and neither do you.
Here is an engineering question for you: How did they dig the Panama Canal?
Answer: One shovel-full at a time.
True, they had some awesomely big shovels, but they still dug it by moving a shovel-full at a time. Move enough shovel-fulls and you can bridge a continent.
We don’t have to do all the temple work there is to do. But if each of us does something, we can perform huge tasks. We can’t do everything, but each of us can do something. And that’s what we are asking you to do.
Try out indexing. It is given in small batches and they are simple to do - Easy; fast; instant gratification.
Try your hand at genealogy. It is a hobby that is encouraged by the church and can become a fascinating journey into history.
Or write some history. Just start writing down what you remember about your parents and grandparents. I recently did that and got a surprise. My mother told me that she met my father at a dance. When I wrote that down and sent to my siblings another version of the story came out.
My father confirms that actually they met when he was washing a car just off main street, and it being a hot day he had his shirt off. My mother whistled at him! I was shocked at this turn of events. My mother whistled at a man?!? Really?
And take time to come to the temple. It is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours.
God bless you all. You are wonderful people, and you are doing good works. Remember that we know about honey bees because they do more than they absolutely have to. Bee like honeybees.
And I say this, …………………………