The Scraps of a Well-behaved Woman’s Life Part II: Three Steps for Understanding your Ancestor’s Leavings
How well do you know the women in your recent family’s history? Have you wondered how they weathered the changes of the 20th century? Do you know of their contributions to community? As part of Women’s History Month, I went in search of my 20th century ancestor to determine her involvement in public service. My reward was discovering facets of my grandmother’s life that just needed to be contextualized to give them meaning. Researching 20th century ancestors is rewarding. Unlike the previous centuries where we’re thrilled to find a handful of documents, our 20th century ancestors have a plethora of papers and things. Our job is to bring order to these “leavings” and use them to tell our ancestor’s story.
I inherited my grandmother’s scrapbook that shared bits and pieces of her involvement as an American War Mother and a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Her public service story needed two tellings, so I first wrote about her involvement with the American War Mothers. I had been inspired by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who penned the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” During her lecture, “Beyond Letters & Diaries” she discussed the value of the things we leave behind: the documents, photos, and artifacts. My grandmother had left behind piles of papers and I had questions. Why had she saved them? What could I learn from her? How could I tell her story?
Sorting through the news clippings, photos, the “scraps” of her life, I began to form a pattern for what I was doing. I boiled it down to a three step process that worked for me in uncovering both her public service as an American War Mother and her membership in DUP, Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
3 Steps for Understanding Your Ancestor’s Leavings
First Step: Organize and Discover
The first step was to see what I had inherited. I carefully sorted the materials into chronological order, then I read the news clippings and took notes of things that stood out to me. I also wrote down several questions that came to mind.
Grandma Kelsey’s DUP mementos included:
- Her “Application for Membership” denoting her pioneer heritage
- News clippings from a variety of events, some dated, some not
- An article from Collier’s Magazine, dated 6 July 1956 “Ordeal by Handcart” by Wallace Stegner
- Convention ribbon
- Photo without names, but developing date of 9 May 1956 on back
- Membership certificate
- Building fund certificate
- Lesson booklet dated March 1969
- Program for the Sarah Yeaman Camp, years 1976-1977
- Handwritten page in her scrapbook describing her DUP history:
“I joined the “Forget Me Not” Camp of the D.U.P in 1938. Our camp was at Springdale with Hattie Marchant as Captain. Elaine Manning was chosen Captain, but the camp dissolved soon after.
In 1954 I was asked to join the Sarah Yeaman Camp in Burley. Was also asked to be a class leader. I appreciated the privilege of giving the lessons. Also class leader in 1955. Attended first convention April 5th 1955 at Salt Lake City. Very interesting. Was pleased with the honor shown my old friend and school mate, Kate Carter, re-elected chairman of the organization. She said there were 45 living pioneers, one of which is Selena Kelsey, mother in law, at Springville, Utah. There are 26,209 members up to date.”
After reading grandma’s notes and examining the bits and pieces of her scrapbook, I had several questions:
- What exactly was the DUP organization?
- How was Grandma Kelsey involved?
- Who was her friend, Kate Carter, and how did her life intersect with Grandma Kelsey’s?
- What happened during a DUP convention?
- Who is in the untitled photo?
- What difference did this membership make in Grandma Kelsey’s life?
Second Step: Research
I started my research with the Daughters of Utah Pioneers website. There I discovered that the first formal meeting was held in 1901 when Annie Taylor Hyde invited forty-six women, all pioneer descendants to her home. In that meeting she expressed the importance of remembering their pioneer forebears and compiling their genealogies. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers began collecting artifacts and relics and displaying them in various locations in Salt Lake City. The organization was formally incorporated in 1925. The DUP constitution states its purpose as:
To perpetuate the names and achievements of the men, women, and children who were the pioneers in founding this commonwealth by preserving old landmarks, marking historical places, collecting artifacts and histories, establishing a library of historical matter and securing manuscripts, photographs, maps, and all such data as shall aid in perfecting a record of the Utah pioneers.
The organization is governed by an International Board with headquarters at the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City. DUP is further organized into companies which oversee the local camps. To join, you need to be a woman:
over the age of 18 years, of good character, and a lineal or legally adopted descendant of an ancestor who came to Utah before the completion of the railroad on May 10, 1869.
I combed over Grandma Kelsey’s application for membership. Dated 1938, she was applying for membership in the “Forget Me Not” camp of the Cassia County Company. What a genealogical treasure! She lists her direct line of ancestry back three generations, her children and their birthdates, details on each of her four pioneer grandparents and a brief history of what they did to help establish the community where they settled. Reading my grandmother’s handwritten account somehow made these pioneer ancestors more accessible. She personally knew three of them and would have heard many stories from her parents.
Having learned a bit about the DUP organization as a whole, now I needed to research Kate Carter, grandma’s “old friend and school mate. ” An internet search brought up a Wikipedia article on Kate B. Carter. I learned that she had been the President of Daughters of Utah Pioneers from April 1941 until her death in September 1976. She was a prolific writer, editor, and compiler of Mormon pioneer history. Reading the list of her compiled works, I realized I had several volumes of her series “Our Pioneer Heritage” on my shelf, most of them signed by her. Looking at the inside cover of each volume, I learned that this collection had come from a variety of sources. Purchased originally by either my Grandma Kelsey or her sister, Clara Creer Mason, some of them were then given as gifts to my mother or her sister. When my grandmother and Clara passed away, my mother brought all of the Kate Carter books home. Several years later I was the lucky recipient of the collection.
I hadn’t realized that Clara, known as “Aunt Cal,” was also involved in DUP and when I looked closely at the photo in front of the Pioneer Memorial museum, I determined that it was Aunt Cal and could it be Kate Carter? Wikipedia had no photos of Kate, and a Google image search turned up nothing. From her handwritten notes in her DUP scrapbook, I knew that Grandma Kelsey had attended the 1955 DUP Convention. I wondered if Aunt Cal had gone with her and if this picture was from that visit.
I decided to visit the DUP museum, considering that it seemed to play a role in this research. I learned from the website that they had a research area where you could request the files and photos of your pioneer ancestors. I thought they could probably shed some light on the 1955 convention Grandma Kelsey attended and Kate Carter, her friend and President of the DUP. I emailed my request and a few days later received a pleasant email informing me that they did indeed have the program from the convention and a file on Kate and offered to mail me the documents. If I didn’t live within driving distance, the mailed copies would have been very helpful, but there is just something about visiting the actual location if at all possible.
When I arrived at the DUP museum, I found my email contact and she brought out my requested documents. I’m glad I had emailed initially because finding the convention program had been a bit tricky. The articles on Kate Carter included a photo, and yes, she was in the photograph with Aunt Cal! One question answered.
Reading the history on Kate Bearnson Carter, I learned that she was born in Spanish Fork, Utah, 30 July 1892. My grandmother was also born in Spanish Fork, Utah, 12 December 1892. Both women graduated from Spanish Fork High School and later attended Business School in Salt Lake City. They certainly knew each other in high school, and quite possibly attended business school together, although I don’t have any confirmation for that. From that point however, their lives were very different.
Kate married in 1914 and had three children. She attended some early meetings of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in Spanish Fork but was not pleased with the format. She felt that the pioneer stories needed to be preserved and shared and in 1930 she was asked to prepare the first lessons for DUP members. She became president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1941 and served thirty-five years until her death in 1976 at the age of eighty-four. She wrote, compiled, and edited numerous lessons, pamphlets, and three multi-volume series; all with the intent of telling the stories of the Mormon pioneers.
Kate’s greatest achievement was the building of the Pioneer Memorial Museum. The Utah State Legislature had passed a joint resolution in 1929 to appoint a committee to find a place for the preservation and housing of relics, documents, pictures that had been accumulated over the years. The committee recommended a site on the Capitol grounds, but the initiative seemed to have died in committee. The pioneer collection was being stored in the basement of the capitol when Kate became DUP president in 1941. She plunged ahead with fundraising and the museum’s construction began in 1946. Dedicated by Ezra Taft Benson in 1950, the museum continues to serve all who want to learn about their Mormon pioneer roots.
Third step: Find meaning.
Learning about Kate’s accomplishments gave meaning to my grandmother’s written words:
“Was pleased with the honor shown my old friend and school mate, Kate Carter, re-elected chairman of the organization.”
Simply put, I could not hear one bit of envy over her friend’s accomplishments. My grandmother had led a very different life. Following business school, she had become a librarian in Spanish Fork. When a proposal of marriage came from a “dashing” bachelor she had “gone with” a few times in Spanish Fork, she took the train to Idaho and became a pioneer herself. Having left behind a comfortable home with indoor plumbing, she would spend the next phase of her life making a home out of a one room house. She wouldn’t have indoor plumbing again for over twenty years. Instead of books and culture, she started a life of homesteading with loads of babies and hard work. I think she must have felt a great deal of kinship with her pioneer grandmothers working the farm alongside my grandpa.
Despite her busy life, her love of books and learning never left her. Her involvement in Daughters of Utah Pioneers must have been an important way for her to connect with her heritage and exercise her mind. The news clippings showed that Grandma Kelsey was one of the class leaders, meaning she gave the lessons that Kate Carter wrote and published in the monthly DUP magazine. What a sweet connection between these two women who both quietly made a difference in the world.
I almost threw out one of my favorite pieces of memorabilia, thinking it was just some old magazine article. Knowing Grandma Kelsey, I should have realized she kept it for a reason. The article from Collier’s Magazine, dated 6 July 1956 was titled “Ordeal by Handcart” and authored by Wallace Stegner, one of my favorite authors. By 1956, Stegner had published several books but had yet to receive his Pulitzer Prize for “Angle of Repose.” The article was written for the 100th anniversary of the first crossing of Mormon handcart companies. The significance for Grandma Kelsey? Her grandmother, Sarah Jane Miller, had pulled a handcart across the plains as a fourteen year old girl as part of the first handcart company.
That connection gave me food for thought. I knew my grandma, who knew her grandma, who was a handcart pioneer. Grandma Kelsey’s public service in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers lasted from 1954 to her passing in 1977. Returning to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” I’m lucky indeed to have had a grandmother who recognized the importance of her pioneer heritage and who kept a scrapbook so that many years later her granddaughter could discover yet another part of her life.