On several occasions last fall, Harold and Patricia Redd found themselves pulling over on a rural Alabama road to study the atlas, already having forsaken the GPS unit.
When that didn't help, the elderly couple from Utah frequently turned in at the nearest country store and approached the friendly clerk.
The married couple of more than 50 years didn't feel lost, just a little disoriented. But on this investigative adventure, missed turns were usually fortuitous.
The Redds went to rural Alabama to pursue their version of the genealogy TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?", primarily using the journal of Harold's LDS missionary grandfather to retrace his two-year journey through the Deep South. The experience involved some unexpected twists and pleasant cultural surprises, but having never met his granddad in this life, it was ultimately rich and rewarding, Harold Redd said.
"I felt like he (grandpa) was aware and pleased that we were there," Harold Redd said. "I felt we were led by the Spirit."
"For Harold, this was the culmination of years of reading these journals and wanting to go and see where his grandfather served," Patricia Redd said. "What we found was a lot more than we expected."
Harold's grandfather, Wayne Hardison Redd, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Southern States, laboring in Alabama and parts of Georgia and South Carolina from 1896-1898. He later served two terms in the state legislature, a mission to California and as a president of the San Juan LDS Stake, among other life experiences, before he died in 1936.
One of the treasures Wayne Redd left behind were his mission journals. His grandson obtained copies of the six handwritten volumes, along with a 300-page, typed and spiral-bound version. As he read and re-read the pages, Harold Redd became enthralled with his grandfather's writings.
"You always wish there was more," Redd said. "It's a good journal and what it contains is really interesting to me. ... As I read I wanted to see what he saw."
Harold Redd had never been to the South, but given his passion for history and geography, a road trip was a no-brainer. The Redds traveled to Alabama for about 10 days in 2015 and returned in 2016, renting a small home in a central location for an extended three-month stay.
During the 2016 excursion, the Redds typically visited two or three towns where they hoped to find descendants of names mentioned in Elder Redd's journal. Part of Harold Redd's motivation in going was to thank these families for their ancestor's kindness in feeding or sheltering the missionaries, who typically traveled without food or money at the time. Elder Redd served during an era when anti-Mormon feelings in the South were high and often led to mob violence, according to records of the LDS Southern States Mission.
"He was never harmed or spent a single night without a roof over his head," Harold Redd said. "During this era, a lot of people didn't like Mormons, but many still showed hospitality out of a sense of Christian duty. ... I decided if I met a descendant, I wanted to say thanks."
Not much had changed in that sense, said the Redds, who discovered there really is such a thing as "Southern hospitality." Not only was the couple fed delicious food in homes and at church potlucks, but strangers also generally took an interest what they were doing and wanted to help. Some even requested a copy of grandpa Redd's journal.
Other times, the Redds explored church cemeteries with moss- and mold-covered tombstones in hopes of finding a name from the journal. They did find one, a man named Duncan Blackwell, but failed to find his descendants.
When the couple needed a break they pulled over for a picnic. Once near the Florida-Georgia border, they ate by a lake and tried to ignore the "Beware of Alligators" sign.
"We didn't see any, but we knew they were there," Harold Redd said.
There comes a time in each episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" when the celebrity guest uncovers a family secret or makes a shocking discovery. The Redds had two "wow" moments, Harold Redd said.
The first shock came when Harold and Patricia Redd met three grandchildren of Frank Wilson, a man baptized by Elder Redd. The Wilson family even found an entry in Wilson's journal where he recorded Wayne Redd's name, along with the baptism and confirmation date.
"I wasn't expecting that," Harold Redd said.
It was a sweet reunion of sorts, Patricia Redd said.
"These people were overwhelmed and wept when they knew Harold was the grandson of this man who had led their families into the church," she said.
The second surprise came in Monroe County. Finding the community of "Jones Mills" was a priority for the Redds because Elder Redd had gone there three times to attend conferences and once met two apostles — Francis M. Lyman and Matthias F. Cowley — who had come to dedicate a new meetinghouse. Elder Redd even sketched the chapel in his journal.
It was also there, in his first months as a missionary, that Elder Redd baptized his first convert, Ada L. Johnson. Her testimony and influence led most of her family to join the church. Members were "astonished" and "grateful" to learn of Elder Redd's journal and his link to Johnson. They introduced the Redds to a Johnson family cemetery with rows and rows of Latter-day Saint graves.
"She (Ada) is held in such high esteem," Harold Redd said. "People told us if not for her, the branch wouldn't be there today."3 comments on this story
"You shouldn't be discouraged if you only baptize one person," Patricia Redd said. "As we have seen, one missionary with one baptism can have significant consequences in an expanding family."
Harold Redd came away from his Alabama family history experience having formed a special bond with his grandfather. He also gained a new appreciation for the importance of journals. He encourages anyone with missionary ancestors to find their journal and distribute copies among your family.
"They (missionary journals) need to be found," Harold Redd said. "Hopefully, this can inspire people to look for and preserve them."