When I count my blessings, books are right up there in the top five, probably. Being born in an age when even women are taught to read — something not common just 150 years ago — and there are thousands of books readily available requiring only the effort to pick one up, I look upon as rare good fortune and I express thanks for the joy they are in my life.
Recently I just thumbed my way through the books in my special "church books" bookcase looking for something to read until I make my next trip to the local library and came across a little volume that someone gave me that I had tucked away without reading it first.
The book is titled "Links of Forever," a collection of "Stories of Lineage and Love," collected by Connie Rector and Diane Deputy. It was printed in 1977 by Salt Lake publisher Bookcraft (which merged with Deseret Book in 1999). That was back in the days when computers had not yet given family historians "super powers" that have sped up the work of collecting names multiple times over.
The technology may have changed, but the miracles that surround the work are the same — long-sought records that inexplicably turn up in odd places, chance encounters that open up new family lines, data that miraculously escapes disasters that destroy items not so important to the work.
Let me share, in brief, one of the fascinating Rector/Deputy tales:
In a chapter titled "His Life's Work: My Kickapoo People," Harlan Reed describes how a trip from his home in Seattle to Texas and Oklahoma in 1976 uncovered totally unexpected information about his Kickapoo Indian ancestry. The primary objective of the trip was not genealogy, but an opportunity for Harlan, an airplane buff, to learn to fly a vintage airplane stored at an air museum in Paris, Texas.
When he and his wife, Jan, arrived in Paris, he was disappointed to find that the plane he planned to learn to fly had crash-landed a week before. He had made this trip a matter of prayer and felt good about it, so why was it turning into such a disappointment?
Since flying was no longer on the agenda, they drove north across the Texas/Oklahoma border and followed the Indian Nation Turnpike to Shawnee, tribal headquarters for Harlan's tribe. With only prayers to guide them, they began searching for relatives. The local phone book was their first resource. He could remember visiting with family members as a child and was able to find some relatives.
A sense of antagonism dampened the Reeds' drive to learn more of his heritage. Some relatives refused to see them because of tribal customs that ban talking about the dead. Burials among these Native Americans are secret and graves unmarked. The Kickapoos have no written language and records are sketchy or unavailable, they found.
A visit to the Shawnee Bureau of Indian Affairs was a turning point. The Reeds visited a library and found "a gold mine" of Mexican Kickapoo names, dates and relationships dating back to the 1800s. They found information not only for his own family but for the whole tribe. Their feverish work to get it all on record was interrupted by four days of celebration of the national bicentennial that year.
When they could access the records again, they had help from members of the small Shawnee congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After copying the information they were ready to head north and west back to Seattle, but made a stop first at the Oklahoma Historical Society offices, which had a special library devoted to the state's Indian tribes. They added census and land allotment records, some directly related to his own family.
A helpful librarian also directed them to a "Mr. Slack," a retired Bureau of Indian Affairs worker, who had completed extensive research on the Mexican Kickapoo Tribe. Even Harlan, who had never lived with his tribe, was listed. Slack had written six volumes of information, but the BIA library did not have copies. The Reeds called him and made an appointment to visit him in the BIA offices. Driving 50 miles back to Shawnee, they were able to get copies of the history and its index and they then met with Mr. Slack.
They learned it had taken him 26 years to compile his volumes, during which time he became a trusted friend of the Indians in his area, facilitating his work in identifying members of the tribe and gaining knowledge of their relationships and customs.
The Reeds got permission to have the volumes microfilmed at the Genealogical Library in Salt lake City. The author was overjoyed at the interest in his work and allowed the Reeds to take the records for as long as it took to copy them.
"We came away with the knowledge that we truly can do the impossible with the Lord guiding us," Reed recounted. "We believe sincerely that the Lord inspired Mr. Slack to love my father's people and that similarly the Lord guided us and protected us on our trip."
Now, that's flying high in a different way! And thank goodness for the book that recorded this and dozens of other stories about family history miracles.