Once in a while, the conversation turns on what individual from history you'd like to meet. Put Johannes Gutenberg right near the top of my list. He's the fellow who invented the first workable printing press, back in 1440 in Mainz, Germany (then part of the Holy Roman Empire).
A goldsmith by trade, Gutenberg took elements of early technology that were the ideas of others to create the first precise and rapid system of movable type. It caught on in a hurry. He was not able to convert the technology into a financial success and died in poverty. By 1500, there were Gutenberg-inspired presses all over Western Europe that had produced some 20 million volumes, according to "The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800."
The advent of readily available books might have put a lot of monks, who had labored tediously over elaborately decorated handcrafted volumes, out of work. But books had a significant role in the Reformation as they got into the hands of common folk. They were a threat to religious and political authority and elevated literacy into a highly desirable achievement.
My sister Leanne and I visited the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz one summer and spent several hours admiring the replica presses and marvelous early edition books dating back as far as the 15th century. Thanks, Johannes, for making reading a nightly ritual for me.
Today, books are so ubiquitous, it is a rare topic that isn't addressed in print. That might apply to genealogy in a big way. Recently, I was made acquainted with a history of the community of Centerville, in Davis County, Utah, where I lived for many years before relocating to Kaysville.
I'd be willing to bet that dozens of other communities have similar histories written by local buffs — paticularly in Utah and other states where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have congregated. If you have pioneering ancestors, it would be worthwhile to check.
During the 1996 Utah Centennial, one of the activities was a directive to every one of today's counties to commission a history. The collection is available in most local libraries. I haven't read all of them, but those I have are rich with names and events. If there are any pioneer ancestors in your history, they may be some of those who are included.
The Centerville history, subtitled "Our American Hometown," was made available during the community's 2015 celebration of a hundred years of incorporation. A copy was presented to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert by current Mayor Paul Cutler as part of the hoopla. The printing of the wonderfully illustrated book culminated months of intense work by a committee headed by Sister Mary Ellen Smoot, former LDS Relief Society general president, and Lloyd B. Carr. Others on the committee were Royce H. Allen, Ann S. Allred, Jane Brown Anderson, Shauna S. Essig, Marilyn Holje, Earl C. Tingey and Brandon Toponce. Margo Beecher was editor.
The book begins with the earliest settlers, including Thomas Grover and Shadrach Roundy, who were authorized by the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' High Council of Salt Lake City to move cattle into what later became Davis County. The area had been explored soon after the vanguard wagons of the first party to settle in the Salt Lake area arrived and found to be suitable for agricultural pursuits.
Grover built a cabin and planted wheat and brought his family to live in the settlement. Others began to head north from Salt Lake, settling down in the spots that later became Bountiful, Centerville and Farmington. The Centerville settlement went through several name changes, taking on the names of settlers such as Cherry and Deuel, who built cabins and challenged the rocky land on what had once been the shores of ancient Lake Bonneville.
The pioneer era generated wonderful stories that descendants need to know.
For instance, the tale of Rebecca Ann Cherry and Nathan Tanner Porter. Rebecca Ann was a young woman of determination and resourcefulness. When her father, Aaron Cherry, brought his family west, she drove two yoke of oxen on one of the family wagons. While crossing the plains, she also worked at odd moments with spools of thread and knitting needles to make elegant lace intended for eventual use on her bridal bed linens. At one point while crossing a river, her team was washed downstream and became tangled in underwater debris and was in serious danger of being swamped or carried back down the river. A dashing young man assigned to one of the other companies sharing the trail saw her plight and dashed into the river on his horse, untangled her team and led them to shore. On Nov. 12, 1848, Rebecca Ann married her rescuer, Nathan Tanner Porter, and they became part of the Centerville story.
The tales are laced with dozens of other names of those who became part of the Davis County fabric: Whitaker, Rich, Duncan, Oakden, Parrish, Tingey, Rigby, Sessions and many others.
While researching your own family, don't overlook local histories as possible sources of not only names and dates, but the stories that help us to regard these people of the past as living, breathing entities.
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.