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Researching Family History: The sadness that comes from lost or ruined photos and documents — and the resolution

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20 2014 5:38 p.m. MDT

A home is destroyed by a slide in North Salt Lake, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Note the words of David Utrilla, son of Eguardo and Elena Utrilla, who lost their home in a landslide in North Salt Lake on Aug. 5, as quoted in the Deseret News: "There are a lot of (photographs), journals, things that have passed from one generation to another, that are material of course, but you can't replace that. Everything they have is buried in there."

During that same week, day after day, relentless downpours of rain continued to pound hillsides and valleys in northern and eastern Utah. In North Salt Lake, the ground became saturated and eventually, a chunk of the hillside measuring some 400 feet by 400 feet and 20 feet deep carved out, causing the earth and mud to move. Some huge boulders budged in its wake, and the landslide slammed into the back of the Utrilla home. The impact pushed the home off its foundation, tearing out walls, breaking windows and toppling the house. Fortunately, three nearby homes were not damaged.

Sue Williams, a resident of Helper, made the following comment in a Deseret News article about the flooding in her Carbon County area: "I've never seen anything like this. Everything of my great-grand kids', my granddaughters' — all of it is downstairs. It's nothing but floating. There's nothing but mud."

Record downpours over short periods of time caused severe flooding in Helper. Clean-up crews cleared mud and debris from streets and about 75 homes there.

Evacuated from their basement home in Washington Terrace, just south of Ogden, an elderly couple went to a community center and visited with Red Cross representatives. Ten homes sustained minimal to moderate damage. City storm drains were not able to keep up with the rapid downpour, city officials said at the time.

After these incidents, we thank our Heavenly Father that no lives were lost or major injuries reported. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Utrilla family which lost their home, photographs, journals, etc., to the landslide; as well as others such as the Williams family, which probably lost photos and family records as well.

In emergency cases like these, after meeting the first priority to get everyone to safety, consider whether there is time to grab the photos, family records and computer. Putting these things together in a secure place, where you have immediate access to grab and exit, prevent lot of sorrow in the end.

Escape plans mapped out by family members when things are calm and quiet allows everyone to think through the process before the pandemonium that follows when calamity strikes. If everyone knows ahead of time where they need to go, they can exit calmly, efficiently and orderly.

Copying photos, family records and histories and other documents onto a DVD or CD and sending it to a relative at a different location can help ensure important documents will not be lost during unexpected calamities. Putting them in a safe deposit box can also be helpful. Backing up computer information with e-books is also a good way to go. A family history consultant or researcher can help put together a plan ahead of time if you don't have the time.

Another option is storing photos and histories on the Family Tree account for safe-keeping. Contact your local ward family history consultant for help on that.

When people prepare, it helps lessen the fear factor in their lives should something happen. It's often not a matter of if, but when trouble will come. If done prayerfully and carefully, the Lord will help see people through such events and they can jump into action because they know where the most important things are to evacuate.

It has been two weeks since the flooding and landslide came to northern and eastern Utah. I hear on the weather that St. George received about three inches of rain earlier this week and others points in southern Utah also received heavy amounts of rain. I hope and pray that people there have been able to avoid destruction of their home, and keep their photos and family records.

Utrilla is correct when he stated, "You can't replace that." So why not begin now to think these things through and make a plan for escape, and a plan for preserving and storing photos, family records and computer backups? You'll be glad you did.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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