LOGAN — The children were reared, she was retired after years of working and all of a sudden there was time. What to do with it?
Lila Eddington found the perfect solution. She indexes. Every day for at least two hours she sits at her computer in her comfortable Logan home and adds bits of genealogical data to the growing collection that has helped countless people find out more about their ancestors.
Indexing allows volunteers to make names and other information stored as images of records into a searchable database.
Lila is 94 now and counting. Before she turns 95 on Feb. 23, she hopes to have reached a personal goal of having indexed 600,000 pieces of information. I think she has a very good chance. On Jan. 19, the day I visited, her total was 582,286, and at the rate of 200 or more per day ... Well, you do the math. We'll all be rooting for you, Lila.
"I love it. It gives me something to do," she said as we visited.
Amazingly, this get-together was a reunion of sorts. Long years ago, the Eddingtons and the Van Leers lived on the same street (Avenue C NW) in Great Falls, Montana. We went to the same Great Falls 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it's likely our children knew each other. Then time did its thing. It changed the scenery for both Lila and Twila. I had heard nothing of their family for years and was delighted to be reintroduced through my calling as family history missionary.
The event that turned Lila's life upside down and presented her with a new bundle of challenges was the death of her husband, Blaine, in 1970. He was only 50. His work with the Federal Aviation Administration had taken the family to several locations around the country, including Miles City and Great Falls, Montana. They had been in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for two years when she suddenly found herself alone with parenting still to be done, boys to send on missions and all the rest.
"I had to decide what to do," she said. A son wanted to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, so she relocated. The odors of the old Geneva Steel plant led her to think it was time for another move, she said. A brother in Logan encouraged her to make the move in his direction, and she was set for the long term.
She had reason to be grateful her mother had advised that she study something in high school that could translate into a job if that ever became necessary. Her courses in office skills came to the rescue. She worked as a secretary at Utah State University, moved to Wurlitzer Piano for 10 years and closed out her working career with another 10 years as secretary to the administration of North Logan City. She retired at 69.
She was introduced to indexing by her daughter, Leanne Cragun, who had been involved in genealogical work for years.
"We traced our Swiss line back to Jacob Amman, one of the founders of the Amish sect," Lila said. But indexing was a less demanding way to contribute to genealogy efforts, Lila concluded. In 2011, she began keeping her tally. Each day, she adds that day's entries to the grand total.
Early every morning, she opens the indexing option at familysearch.org and goes down the list of records available to indexers.
"I just look to see what looks good," she said.
Over the years, she has done it all — births, deaths, marriages, military records, obituaries, etc. She prefers the latter because of the richness of the information they offer. Among those whose obituaries she has mined for the relevant data are those posted for actor Bob Hope and Walt Disney's daughter-in-law.
Indexing is one of the ways through which she honors her pioneer forebears who sacrificed to bring her family into the LDS Church and to the American West, she said.
Her great-great-grandfather William Stimpson joined the church in England and emigrated with his wife, Rebecca Lubbock, and two small sons to the United States. In Iowa City, Iowa, they joined the Edward Martin handcart company to travel to the West. The Martin Company and its companion Willie Company suffered severely when untimely and severe winter weather hit while they were in Wyoming, still hundreds of miles short of their destination.
William and Rebecca's 2-year-old son died at the Sweetwater River crossing, a victim of hunger and cold. About three days later, Rebecca died in childbirth near Fort Bridger. The newborn infant lived for about 15 minutes. The record did not say if the baby was a girl or a boy. Lila recalled from their family history that the baby was wrapped in a blanket and put into the river in hopes it would keep wolves from desecrating the tiny body.
William and his 4-year-old, Frederick, were all that remained of the family that had left England in high hopes of finding freedom and peace in Zion. They ultimately settled in the Riverdale area of Weber County. Succeeding generations, including the super-indexer, remember them with reverence and respect.
Maybe when I grow up and have time on my hands, I'll become an indexer like Lila.
FamilySearch Indexing: How it works
Indexing allows volunteers to make information in images digital, searchable by computer.
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.