Picture above: Twila Van Leer and her cousin LaFay Thornock Ericksen get help from a missionary in Kirtland, Ohio, to look a copy of a receipt made out to our common ancestor, Martin Hortin Peck, for purchases at the Newel Whitney store. Taken by Ray Boren.

Sometimes we English-speakers say things that don’t make sense. For instance, if I were to tell you that this column is my “swan song,” most of you would know right away that I’m telling you it is my last. At least it is my last related to my assignment as a missionary in the FamilySearch department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a week the assignment will end and I will no longer be burdening Mormon Times on a regular basis with my ramblings.

About “swan song.” I looked it up long ago so I can tell you why we say “swan song” instead of “I quit!” It relates to old lore that said swans (cygnus to us ornithologists) only sing when they are dying. The last gesture. Makes sense. As I understand it, swans don’t even sing. They squawk. That makes it perfectly logical when applied to me. I am under threat of excommunication if I sing out loud in church. Not really, but you don’t want to invite me to perform at your next function.

Now then, back to this swan song. What have I learned in two years of looking into and writing about family history?

A whole bunch.

I learned, first of all, to quit looking at my own ancestors as names and come to love them as people. I had had access to the family stories for all my life, but never looked into them intimately enough to learn the persons behind the names.

I now admire my great-grandfather Martin Horton Peck not just as a generic pioneer, but as a man who challenged his own faith in 1833 to join a little-known church and “having put his hand to the plow” so to speak, never turned back. I see not only what he did, but what motivated him.


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