Finding a Home for Lost Records: The Viglia Papers

We just don’t know what to do with them, my neighbor said. The box of photos, letters, and ephemera was found among crisp, hand-embroidered linens and stacks of fiestaware, remnants from an estate whose owner passed away. The records were inherited by a couple, who passed on to my neighbor, who in turn brought them to me. After a little detective work, we determined that the records originally belonged to the Viglia and Bonomo families, Italian immigrants who settled in Price, Utah in the early 1900’s. The photos themselves are remarkably beautiful and tell an intriguing story of religion, music, death, and celebration. But what to do with them?

While attending my Utah History class at the University of Utah, I got my answer. Taught by Professor Paul Reeve, the class is includes a public history project where students will work in conjunction with Utah State Historical Society to update its database of state historical markers. When I learned that Price, Utah had an Immigrant Monument, I knew these records could help tell the story of immigrants in a very personal way.

The Viglia and Bonomo records include over 200 pieces such as photos, letters, postcards, receipts, greeting cards, and other ephemera. As immigrants, it is an important thing to tell your own story. By contributing the Viglia papers to the public history record, they can tell it in their own words.

 

What’s in Your Closet?

Closets are wonderful places. As a young child, I hid in them during games of hide and seek. I remember quickly pulling the folding doors closed, crouching down, catching my breath while my eyes adjusted to the dark. As I grew older, I hid things in my closet: little collections of memorabilia, my diary, and secret notes. At the end of the clothes rack were my favorite clothes I could not bear to part with. My parents had stuff in their closets, too: old tennis rackets, favorite purses, candy bars, and birthday presents.

When I think back of how I began my interest in family history, it began with a closet. A few years ago, I was at my parent’s home looking through a closet in a spare bedroom. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.

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There were more things in that closet. A hand-beaded dress made by my great grandmother June Bushman Smith. My great grandmother Ella Clark’s eyeglasses. My grandfather Ellsworth’s toy drum. I didn’t know it that day, but something in my heart changed. I became determined to not only rediscover who my ancestors were, but to find a way to share these discoveries with everyone.

Over time, this determination evolved into a path that led us to found Kindex, an online archive and transcription tool that enables families to collaboratively gather, index, and share their records. It hasn’t been an easy path, but whenever I think of giving up, I think of that red and black shoebox full of letters that inspired me so many years ago. I also think of the millions of other closets that hold family treasures. How many photos, letters, journals, and heirlooms will be lost or forgotten? How many family records will be thrown away by those who inherit our closets? Our own history is at risk. Will you be the one to rescue it?

The Bicycle

The Bicycle

Every Christmas, Leon Chamberlain tells the story of the bicycle to his children and grandchildren. He has written it here for our benefit.  -CG

By
Leon Chamberlain

I love going to bicycle shops, so when I recently accompanied my adult daughter to a bicycle shop to select a graduation gift, I lingered among the rows of sleek, new bicycles. Inevitably, I was drawn to what are now called “retro” cycles. The sight of those old-style bikes brought to mind my first bicycle and all the memories that came with it.

As I recall, I wanted a bicycle when I was just six years old. Even at that young age, my hope was tempered by the realities of the time. World War II had just ended and items like bicycles were very scarce. I was also quite young to receive such a coveted Christmas gift, so I knew the chance of getting a bicycle that year was slim. When Christmas passed without a bicycle, I held my hopes out for next year when I would be seven.

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Leon Chamberlain (left) stands with a friend outside their home on Navajo Street in the Poplar Grove neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah.

As the war and its scarcities grew distant, I grew more hopeful that there would be a bicycle under the Christmas tree. But when Christmas came and there was no bicycle, I struggled to hide my profound disappointment. My disappointment mixed with jealousy when I learned of my friend’s good fortune. His dad had salvaged a bicycle at a junkyard and fixed it up for Christmas. “Maybe my dad could go to the junkyard and find me a bicycle,” I thought. But the spring and summer months passed without a bicycle, and it wasn’t until the next Christmas season that my longing was once again renewed.

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Leon Chamberlain standing on the south side of his home on Navajo Street.

It was 1948, and to me it was the mother of all winters. There was over two feet of snow in our yard, and the streets in my neighborhood were coated with snow and ice. The wind blew drifts so high we could climb to our rooftop and slide down the drifts banked up against the garage. I was eight years old, and my guarded yet unflagging hope for a new bicycle never left my mind.

That Christmas Eve, I could not sleep. Through the darkness, I crawled on my belly from my bedroom to the living room to see if the bicycle had arrived. I strained my eyes through the dim light, but I couldn’t discern a bicycle. I repeated this exercise several times without any success. The anticipation was excruciating, and as the first gray light of morning entered my room I pled with my parents to be allowed into the living room.

There it sat. A 26-inch balloon-tired Yale bicycle. A Yale? Yes, a Yale. I was very familiar with the brands of bicycles by then: Schwinn, Columbia, Raleigh and Roadmaster. I had never heard of a Yale and have never seen anther one since. That did not matter. I had a bicycle and that’s all that mattered.

I did have a problem, though: I wanted to ride my bicycle and there was literally no place to ride it. Despite blankets of ice and snow, I braved the below-zero temperature and immediately set to work shoveling a path for my bicycle. Beginning at my back door, I tunneled a 25-foot square course through the snow. I could barely reach the pedals as I shakily guided my new bike though the narrow course I had cleared. As ice formed on the spokes, the bike became more difficult to ride, and after a few trips around the course my enthusiasm waned. My patience was again tested as I was compelled to wait through the long winter in anticipation of riding my new bike.

That Yale was the only bicycle I had growing up. When I got tired of the color, I painted it a different one. I would completely take the bicycle apart from one end to the other and reassemble it again. I knew that bike backwards and forwards and probably rode it several thousand miles. I had no desire to have another bike, and it wasn’t until my interests shifted to cars that I parked my Yale in the back of the garage, never to be ridden again.

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Leon Chamberlain with his ’51 Ford.
His first car, a ’41 Ford, didn’t last too long*

I have since bought several bicycles and enjoyed riding them, but as I shopped with my daughter it became clear that while I could buy any bicycle in that shop, none could bring the happiness that my Yale did. It wasn’t until many years after that Christmas that I discovered that my Yale was second-hand, and that my parents had much difficulty acquiring it.

Perhaps at some future time I will again have the chance to ride my Yale along the streets of Salt Lake City, the breeze blowing in my face, my shirt unbuttoned and my hands behind my head. It doesn’t get any better than that.

 

*My ’41 Ford had been through a lot. I remember driving to West High School, and my friends in the back were complaining they were cold. Before I knew it, my friends had built a small fire on the floor of the car to warm them up. The brakes also went out in that car. I remember carefully driving all the way home from West High to Navajo Street without having to use the brakes. Unfortunately, I did not calculate how I would eventually stop the car once in the driveway and sailed right into the garage door.

Indexing Hugs & Kisses

Indexing Hugs & Kisses

How about a few hugs & kisses? One of our favorite letters in our grandmother’s Kindex archive is one she wrote when she was just nine years old. Written while Dorothy’s mother June was out of town for an extended period working on a medical certification, it’s the earliest letter we have. In Dorothy’s letter to her mother, it reveals details about her childhood that are both mundane and fascinating: clothes she crocheted for her doll, fun things she was doing to prepare for Halloween, and good reports on her piano lessons and school quizzes. She closes her letter with an endearing chart of hugs and kisses to be applied to specific recipients.

While the hugs and kisses were a little tricky to index, we are treated to a wonderful snapshot of who Dorothy was as a child: smart, affectionate, and playful. We count the hugs and kisses and see that Dorothy esteemed Aunt Mary high enough to send her the same amounts of hugs and kisses that she sent her mother. Reading this now is like receiving a virtual hug and kiss from the past: a gift of affection and greater understanding.

Dorothy dressed as a fairy at about the same age she wrote this letter.

This letter plays an important role in not just Dorothy’s life narrative, but the narratives of her parents, Louis, and Aunt Mary. Stepping back even further, Dorothy’s papers as a whole—if transcribe and tagged—will have an expansive influence, reaching hundreds of additional people, adding citable sources for hundreds of places and events, and marking time with thousands of dates.

The influence of primary source records is key to providing rich details to our family history. Trees can’t stand alone in our body of research. We must digitize and share our historical records through indexing and create content-based resources. Through the ability to connect with our primary sources through transcriptions, markup and tagging, we create accessible, searchable sources for our families.

Indexing shouldn’t be a tool reserved for official records or the so-called historically important. Building narrative genealogies through indexing the letters, journals and papers of everyday people is a key step to adding the depth and dimension we yearn for in our ancestors.

See the original letter and transcript on smith-clark.kindex.org

Do you have family letters to index? Start your own searchable family archive on Kindex for just $5/month.

Our Hill Cumorah

Our Hill Cumorah Beginnings

Examining Cumorah connections from our family archive

Note: this article was orginally published December 9 2015. It has been subsequently edited and updated with new photos. -Cathy Gilmore

A recent article on lds.org, Reclaiming Hill Cumorah1, prompted us to share some sources related to Hill Cumorah, its monument, and pageant beginnings. Our grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark’s papers reveal her connections to Cumorah  through her parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith, who were missionaries at the Cumorah Farm from 1935 to 1939, and her friend Torleif Knaphus, who sculpted the Hill Cumorah  monument. In searching Dorothy’s diaries and letters on her Kindex archive, we are able to provide insight to our family’s connection to this historic sight.

Friendship with Torleif Knaphus, sculptor of the Moroni Monument

Partly as an effort to expand Dorothy’s educational and artistic opportunity, Dorothy’s family moved to Salt Lake City from Lethbridge, Alberta in 1930. In 1931, the recently widowed Torleif Knaphus took an interest in Dorothy. As her artistic mentor—and for a time—her suitor, Torleif escorted her on artistic excursions, instructed her in sculpting, and employed her in making handmade Christmas cards and sketches. Dorothy must have been flattered, as my grandfather Ellsworth was also competing for her attention. In her diary she wrote:

Sunday April 23, 1933

Went by Orem Electric to annual Springville Art Exhibit with T.S. Knaphus, sculptor. Spent 3 hours in Provo, sight-seeing on our way back to S.L.C. Took kodak snaps on B.Y.U. campus.

This was a very interesting day for me and rather an outstanding one I suppose, inasmuch as I was so kindly favored and well treated by one so prominent in his sphere.

En route he gave me valuable instructions and criticisms on art. Urges strongly that I begin to busy myself with “oils” and harness the talent he believes lies dormant. (I hope to do this soon, as I have been so inspired today). Left Knaphus at 8 P.M. to finish the day with Ellsworth. Youth does have its preferences.2

Indeed it does, as Dorothy settled on Ellsworth and became engaged that summer. Still, Dorothy maintained her friendship with Torleif and continued their mentoring relationship. In September of 1933 she wrote:

Was invited to Knaphus studio this evening where be showed me a newly-designed model of the shaft for the Hill Cumorah Monument. We ate some ice-cream there and talked of my doing some more painting there and maybe helping him with some new panels. Thrilled about getting into that work again.

Grateful for his attention and interest in her art, Dorothy later wrote:

Saturday, November 12, 1933

I have Christmas card orders to fill for Torleif S. Knaphus in return for clay which he gave me for modeling.

He certainly has inspired me and been a great help in pushing me, as it were, along the road to accomplishment. I don’t know many other grown people who have so influenced me to good and been as companionable.

During their engagement, Dorothy encouraged Ellsworth to serve a mission. After he departed in December 1933 to a Western States mission, there is some hint that Torleif was keen to maintain a close relationship with Dorothy as he repeatedly sought out her company. Dorothy wrote:

Wednesday, January 24, 1934

Attended night class tonite and made my first water color scene (copy of Moser’s) in new style (from my former teachings.) Mr. Knaphus met me after work – asked me to go to Beaux Arts Ball this Saturday but I declined.

Although she didn’t attend the dance with Torleif, their close friendship often proved difficult for Ellsworth during his absence while serving as a missionary. On a temple trip to Manti that included the Knaphus family, Dorothy played an April Fool’s joke on Ellsworth and wrote to him that she and Torleif decided on a whim to be sealed there. Practical jokes notwithstanding, Dorothy and Ellsworth married in August 1934.  

Dorothy with her parents Hyrum and June Smith, c1928

Dorothy in Professor Wildhaber’s studio, 1932

Cumorah Farm Mission and Moroni Monument Dedication

That same summer, Dorothy’s parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith were called to be missionaries at the Cumorah Farm. After their marriage, Dorothy and Ellsworth moved to Idaho, but Torleif’s connection to the family remained as he completed the monument and attended its dedication in July 1935. Over the next year, Dorothy regularly wrote to her family in Palmyra, discussing plans for the Moroni monument dedication and future pageant. In her letters, Dorothy sketched out ideas for local advertisements for the pageant.

On May 26, 1935, Dorothy’s brother Oliver—a missionary in the Eastern States Mission—wrote about local missionary efforts and preparations for the monument’s dedication:

Along with 37 other missionaries of the Easter States mission I am engaged in a special drive in the area within a 20-mile radius of Palmyra, which will continue until the dedication of the Cumorah Monument on July 21. We hope to do some good work by this concentration of effort, which has significance with the connection of the monument. We are visiting every home—rural and urban—in the section. Eleven of us stay together at the LDS hall in Palmyra and drive out 5 or 10 miles every morning to a rural section in which we go tracting until late afternoon, when we return. Our week-ends I have visited Rochester and Buffalo for publicity work. At Buffalo I stayed at Mary Payne Chamber’s place. She has three children. Girl 11, girl 9, and boy 7….

Every day or so there are visitors here from somewhere we have been. Today Bro & Sis Douglas Anderson visited us and went to the Peter Whitmer farm with us in the afternoon. The church was organized there. Next Sunday we are having a session of the Cumorah District Conference here.3

Dorothy’s Visit to the Cumorah Farm

In the spring of 1936, Dorothy and Ellsworth made plans to visit Dorothy’s parents in Palmyra that summer with their young son Norman. In her life sketch she recalls:

The summer of 1936 we vacationed at Cumorah Farm, near Palmyra, N.Y. with my parents. Lois, who had been with us for her senior high school year, returned with us. It was thrilling to see the first pageant presented at the Hill, which was co-authored by my brother Oliver, an Eastern States missionary. I was able to help with publicity posters. Our 15 mos Norman was used in a covered wagon sequence of a pioneer panorama presented one evening at the Hill.4

The 1936 pageant was a family affair. Her parents Hyrum and June and brother Oliver had key roles developing the pageant, and sisters June and Lois Smith participated in the pageant. Even her one-year-old son Norman rode in a wagon as part of the festivities. The images below reveal pages from Dorothy’s Book of Remembrance that chronicled their trip.5

Hyrum Smith (center) standing at the base of the monument. He is a first cousin once removed to Joseph Smith, and served as Torleif’s model for Joseph Smith in this panel. Note Hyrum Smith is a first cousin once removed to Joseph Smith Jr., not a second cousin as the caption indicates.

Additional pages from Book of Remembrance of June Adele Smith, Dorothy’s younger sister. 6

 

 

 

1. Ashton, Curtis, “Reclaiming Hill Cumorah,” April 18, 2014, https://history.lds.org/article/historic-sites/new-york/manchester/reclaiming-hill-cumorah

2. Smith, Dorothy, Diary 1932-1934, in the author’s possession

3. Smith, Oliver, to Dorothy Smith Clark, May 26 1935,Dorothy Smith and Ellsworth Clark Archive, https://smith-clark.kindex.org/share/1702339dd4b1d708c6ff76822484b96f

4. Smith, Dorothy, Life Sketch, Dorothy Smith and Ellsworth Clark Archive, Jan 31 1975, https://smith-clark.kindex.org/share/16f43a4946cdb126afdfc57b42c44472

5. Smith, Dorothy, Book of Remembrance, Dorothy Smith and Ellsworth Clark Archive, https://smith-clark.kindex.org/gather

6. Smith, June A., Book of Remembrance, in the author’s possession

Planting Pansies: A Remembrance

Planting Pansies: A Remembrance

Recently I visited the coastal village of Bosham, Sussex, where my Chamberlain ancestors lived out their days fishing, gathering oysters, mending nets, and laundering clothes. I walked around the marshy harbor, past the quay on to Shore Road, where high tides brush the steps of the sea-facing homes. I passed the Millhouse where my Second Great Grandmother Ida Gardner lived with her husband and children. And I stepped quietly on the worn floors of the 1000-year-old Holy Trinity church where my Great Grandfather Archie was baptized in an ancient stone font. As I wandered through the churchyard, brushing my hands against sea-pocked headstones, I noticed something that took my breath away: bunches of pansies dotted the yard, planted seemingly at random. To understand why these pansies meant anything to me requires the telling of another story: how through loss, pansies became a flower of remembrance for my ancestors.

Sisters Ida and Ellen Gardner were young — 10 and 13 years old respectively —when their mother died. Following her death, Ida lived with her maternal grandparents while her older sister Ellen stayed with cousins in nearby Fishbourne. In 1878, 17-year-old Ida Gardner gave birth to a son, Archie. The birth record did not reveal a father. Three years later, Ellen married Percy Chamberlain, a fisherman who was orphaned as a boy and was also raised by his grandparents. During this time, younger sister Ida worked as a laundress, living with her grandmother and son Archie.[1] By 1887, Ida was married to George Brown while Ellen, Percy, and their three children lived in Fisher’s Gate, near Brighton. 1887 was a pivotal year for the Chamberlains. In March of that year the family decided to join themselves to the Mormon faith. On a foggy evening missionary George Miller[2]  baptized Percy and Ellen Chamberlain in the sea near Brighton’s West Pier.  From George Miller’s diary:

Wednesday March the 2 1887 […] then we go to the west pier to meet a man and his wife who wished to be Baptized it being a very foggy night so we baptized them close by the pier in the sea though it was so foggy and dark we was not alone for one man came along just as we were going into the water and ask us if we were going to lurn them to swim but we Baptized them all rite we came out on the street, shake hands and Bid them good by they go for Fishers gate we for Albion Hill.[3]

In the ensuing months, Ellen and Percy determined that they would sell their possessions and emigrate to Utah with their children, Albert, Ellen Rose, Mabel, and infant Robert. When they set sail on the S. S. Wyoming in June 1888, there was one extra family member: their ten-year-old nephew Archie. He was thereafter was known as their son Archibald Percy Chamberlain. In my mind’s eye I can see young Archie pacing the ship’s deck, already missing his mother and grandmother, bracing for new adventure with his new family.

The journey took its toll on the Chamberlain family. Ellen struggled with a persistent illness throughout the voyage across the Atlantic. Too weak to care for her infant son Robert on the journey, she allowed a kind stranger to assist her. As they grew closer to Salt Lake City, Robert also fell ill with fever. The night they arrived by train in Salt Lake City, residents took the ailing family to the Tithing Yard [4]—an open-air, temporary accommodation where incoming emigrants could sleep outdoors and receive provisions and rest. Despite these comforts, Robert died that first night on the straw in the Tithing Yard. They buried the him in a pauper’s area of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Tragedy also caught up with Ellen. Doctors determined that her illness was tuberculosis, and she died the following January, six months after the family arrived in Utah. She was buried in the same cemetery, not far from her son Robert. With no headstone to mark their burial place, Percy marked their graves with pansies.

Percy never remarried. His family lived in an area of the Salt Lake Avenues called “the crummies”, and  Percy—far removed from his fisherman days—worked as a gardener. He could often be seen walking through avenues with his sack of gardening tools slung over his shoulder. Many times those walks lead to the cemetery where he cared for the pansies that marked the resting place of his wife and son. Perhaps he loved pansies for their delicate hardiness, and how they bloomed despite the cold.  Or perhaps he knew that pansies symbolized humility and remembrance. A remembrance of seaside days, gathering cockles in the shallow marshes of Bosham harbour. A remembrance of Ellen and the love of his youth. A remembrance of home and the flowers that bloomed there.

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A collage of the Percy & Ellen Chamberlain Family designed by Clark Chamberlain.

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Bosham homes on Shore Road.

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Great Grandfather Archibald Percival Chamberlain

[1]  1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 1135; Folio: 24; Page: 9; GSU roll: 1341277, Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 1881 British Isles Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © Copyright 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

[2] Amazingly, George Miller’s great-granddaughter is my neighbor Sydnee Spencer. It was her family that donated his journal to the Church History Library.

[3]  George Miller, 1850-1918. “George Miller papers, 1886-1925”. Church History Library Catalog, Call Number: MS 2816, Image name: MS 2816_f0002_00113.JPG

[4] Fred E. Woods, “The Arrival of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Emigrants in Salt Lake city,” in  Salt Lake City: The Place Which God Prepared, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Kenneth L. Alford (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2011), 203–230.