As soon as she had the alphabet down pat, Debra Call was into genealogy. At 8 years of age, she was copying pedigree charts and family group sheets from her mother. And the habit has persisted throughout her life as she has made the quest for family names part of her routine.
"I grew up hearing and reading stories about my pioneer ancestors," she said as we visited in her Kaysville home recently.
She is blessed with a great heritage of ancestors whose names are prominent in Mormon pioneer annals: Her mother's family descends from Ezra T. Clark, one of the original settlers of Farmington. Her father is a descendant of Anson Call. His son, Anson Bowen Call, helped settle a little south of Farmington, in Bountiful. When Anson Bowen Call married Dora Pratt, granddaughter of Parley P. Pratt, the family acquired yet another name that resonated through the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After the Manifesto of 1890, which ended the church's commitment to plural marriage, Anson Bowen Call and his family joined others in migrating to the Mormon colonies in Mexico. There they faced the challenges posed by the Mexican Revolution in the second decade of the 1900s.
One of the treasured stories from that experience, recounted in the manual "Church History in the Fulness of Times" in chapter 35 "The Church at the Turn at of the Century" concerned Call's close call at the hands of Pancho Villa's rebels. Call was then bishop of the Colonia Dublan Ward. The Mexican rebels who were rampaging through the area had been told that Bishop Call had provided information to the government forces that led to the death of one of their number.
The rebels arrested Bishop Call and two days later he stood before a firing squad, their rifles ready to fire. At the last second, the executioner stopped the execution. The rebel group had been promised 200 pesos if they refrained from killing the bishop. He was able to solicit the money from his congregation and counted his miraculous rescue the answer to a blessing he had received earlier. In that blessing, Elder Anthony Ivins, then of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, had promised that though Bishop Call might suffer at the hands of the rebels, his life would be preserved.
That was the kind of story with which Debra Call grew up.
"When we went to visit relatives in the colonies, my grandparents showed us a bullet hole in the wall of one of their houses," she said. "It was put there by one of Pancho Villa's men."
Many of the LDS colonists left Mexico during the revolution, but some, including members of the Call family, later returned to their homes, she recalled.
During her career teaching English classes to El Paso, Texas, high school students, she used her interest in genealogy to enrich her lessons.
"I sometimes asked my students to look into their family history for their writing assignments," she said. "I told them how to get onto the research sites that were available then and some of them really got into it."
When she retired, Call had an objective in mind. She wanted to be a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. So she moved from Texas to Farmington, Utah, the town her Clark ancestors had helped found, and began the application process for the choir.
"The Lord had other things in mind for me," she said. When she failed to make it beyond the first two screening steps for choir membership, she settled for the alternative.
"I put in my papers for a mission," she said. Her parents had served a similar mission 20 years earlier, and Debra Call was already into genealogy, so it seemed the logical thing to do. The call was a little time in coming, but in June 2014 she embarked on a one-year mission experience.
Her assignment was to train other LDS missionaries to use the rapidly-developing technology that has supported a boom in the availability of the data on which genealogy is built. And she learned as she taught. One of the guidelines she passed along to her trainees was that they should not submit names for temple ordinances unless they had proved a relationship.
For more than 10 years, she and other genealogists in her family had been trying to prove a relationship to a man named Nathaniel, supposedly in her mother's line. He was the grandfather of George Washington Brown, another prominent Mormon pioneer. In the frustrating search for him, they had discovered other probable relatives and submitted their names to the temple, though no relationship had been absolutely proved.
"I couldn't teach others not to do what I had been doing," she decided. She determined to abandon the search. Then one night she went to bed and in the middle of the night, was awakened with the clear thought that she had to look for Nathaniel in her father's line. "I got on my computer at 3 a.m. and went back to my father's pedigree until I found the familiar surname. The relationship I had felt I had to all of those people for whom I'd done temple work did exist, just not on my mother's line. I am related to them through my father. I believe they found a miraculous way to tell me that."
With the relationship established, she has continued to find the names of her kinfolk and to present them, conscience-free, for the relevant temple work.
It's just one of the miracles that happen routinely to people who delve into family history, Call believes. "And I wouldn't have found it if I hadn't been on a mission. We find 'impossible' names every day."
Her advice to others who are committed to the search for their kindred dead: "Be aware that things are changing all the time. Go with the changes and follow the rules. And listen to those voices that are trying to help you in your search."