Study abroad program in England put me on a quest to discover my ancestors

By Crystalee Beck

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This week Mormon Times shares stories from staffers' and contributors' family history whether one from an ancestor or their search to fill out their family tree that educate, entertain, inspire or uplift.

The day after I turned 20, I took my first international flight to London. My 42 study abroad friends and I lived in the beautiful BYU London Centre and spent four months befriending Big Ben, admiring National Gallery art, relishing British accents and snapping photos of real-life castles.

I also found a personal treasure — I found a connection with my English ancestors.

This quest began when our insightful religion professor, Dr. David R. Seely, assigned a family history project.

Researching at the local family history center, senior sisters helped me navigate census files. I learned my 18th- and 19th-century ancestors were from Guilden Morden, just outside of Cambridge. I wanted to see Guilden Morden, hoping to feel closer to them.

With professor permission to go on a day trip on my own, I researched train and bus information. All semester I looked forward to the journey. The awaited day arrived, and I took a morning train from London to Cambridge, leaving just a short bus ride to Guilden Morden.

Unfortunately, that day the next Guilden Morden bus wouldn't leave until 5 p.m. —after my returning London train would depart.

Scouting out my next option, I learned the 20-mile taxi fare was £27. I only had £25 — not enough to get there or back.

There I stood — 4,500 miles from my USA home — and just 20 measly miles were keeping me from my ancestor’s town?

The 40-mile roundtrip was too far to walk in a day, so I considered renting a bike. I imagined pedaling the blustery, unknown roads to a place I’d never seen and miraculously finding my ancestor’s grave sites; it could be a tear-jerker family history story repeated in Relief Societies everywhere.

Then reality hit.

My bike idea wasn’t practical. I was alone, tired, didn’t know where I was going or have means to get there. I couldn’t miss the train back to London. And would I fail my family history project?

Later, safe in the BYU London Centre, I received an email just before the family history project deadline. It was from Elizabeth Thomas, a distant cousin I’d never met. My Grandma Webb had asked her to send stories about the Squires, our other family line.

I learned Henry Augustus Squires, and his wife, Sarah Minnie Catlin, sailed to the United States with five little daughters in 1856. They crossed the plains with the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. Sarah gave birth to my 4th-great aunt in Echo Canyon, Utah, naming her Echo. Miraculously, the whole family made it to Utah.

Adding their stories to my paper, I concluded, “I truly feel the Spirit of Elijah when I see those pedigree charts — I have love for my ancestors I never knew before. My quest for my ancestors will continue for the rest of my life.”

Maybe I didn’t quite make it to my ancestor’s town on my study abroad, but I found what I was looking for: a connection to them.

And in case you’re wondering, I got an "A" on my project.

Crystalee Beck is a writer, marketer and traveler living with her husband in Ogden. Next time she goes to England, she'll make it to Guilden Morden. Her email is delightedtowrite@gmail.com.

Twitter: Crystaleelee

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