Linda & Richard Eyre: Genealogy comes alive with stories, places
We are sending in today's column from a castle in Ireland (see accompanying photo). We are in the British Isles for some speaking engagements but are combining business with "our kind" of genealogical research.
You see, we have some great technical genealogists in our family — the kind who find and check the dates and the names and the spelling and the charts. And we are SO grateful for them and for the work they do.
Our part, it seems, is the stories. What we love to do is to make these ancestors come alive by knowing little incidents and places from their lives, and because we have to travel so much with our speaking and writing anyway, we get to drop in and walk the roads they walked and gaze at the same skies and forests and trees they knew so well.
We're on our way to Galway, where the center of the city is called Eyre Square, the model for Union Square in San Francisco. But today, as we write, we're sitting in a high room of the Ashford Castle in County Galway, looking out at the river Cong and the islands in Lough (lake) Corrib. The history sketch sitting on the coffee table says, "In 1589, after more than three and a helf centuries under the Anglo-Norman deBurgo family, Ashford Castle passes into the hands of a new owner, following a fierce battle won by the forces of the English Lord Bingham, Governor of Connaught. The Binghams controlled the Castle until 1715."
Part of those same Binghams immigrated to New England and later joined the LDS Church and pioneered to Utah. Bingham is our Grandma Eyre's maiden name, and her father, Enoch Bingham, came from Sanford Bingham — after whom Bingham Canyon was named — a man who found copper ore on his homestead and took it to Brigham Young to ask if he should switch from being a sheep farmer to being a miner.
"Leave it in the ground, Sanford Bingham," President Young reportedly said, "and you will be a happier man!"
We have a children's story about this incident in our "Ancestor Book." It is titled "The reason we're not billionaires."
This "Ancestor Book" started years ago when our small children seemed to have a powerful attraction to stories we told them about their great-great grandparents. We had a painting that Linda had done of a big, old tree, with a photo of one of our kids on each of the branches. On the trunk was a picture of the two of us, and on each of the roots, which spread down with four branching to eight and then to 16, was a photo of an ancestor.
We started compiling stories from diaries or family lore with the goal of finding at least one story about each ancestor — preferably one that showed honesty or character rather than revealing a horse thief or a scoundrel. We wrote the stories, in children's book language, in a big leather book we found in England during our mission presidency, and we called it "The Ancestor Book." The kids illustrated the stories with drawings and coloring crayons.
Whenever we would ask what bedtime story kids wanted, they would ask for an ancestor story.
"The reason we're not billionaires" was one of the favorites, and when we get home from this trip, we had better add one called "The reason we don't live in a castle," and the answer will be that our part of the Bingham family took off and crossed the Atlantic.
Another favorite story from "The Ancestor Book" is "Grandpa Dan and the cat that came back." It is about Swen and Tilda Swenson, our great-grandparents and their little son Dan in Malmo, Sweden. Swen had lost his school teaching job, perhaps for showing interest in the Mormons, and the family was so poor that Dan was told that he had to put his cat in a burlap bag, weigh it down with rocks and throw it off the bridge into the river because it was starving, and they didn't have enough money to feed themselves, let alone a cat. Dan obediently did the deed, and then cried all the way home from the river, only to find the cat, licking its paws in front of their humble home. Swen said if the cat was that smart of an escape artist, they would just have to find a way to feed it. The Swensons immigrated one at a time and settled in Logan.
Our son Talmadge and his wife, Anita, went to Sweden a couple of months ago to visit the Ice Hotel in Lapland and to, on the way, stop at the farm village outside Malmo where Swen and Dan lived. There they located the now vacant farmhouse where the family lived and found traces and memorabilia of the family, including the buttons in the accompanying photo. (See second image in gallery above.)
One of the most wonderful parts of our beliefs about eternal families is the opportunities we have to know those who came before, and in many cases whose courage results in our having the gospel today. Learning who they were and where they lived can be one of our greatest joys.
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