Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Human Mind: As a Man Thinketh, So is He (Part 1)

Our minds are astoundingly powerful. As Latter-day Saints, we no longer have to ponder the perennial philosophers' question of "mind-body connection", having been clearly taught that our spirits are the eternal offspring of God, and that our bodies are the physical dwelling place of our immortal spirits. But do we realize just how powerful our minds are? The Guide to the Scriptures suggests that "to create" means to organize. The Lord has told us that all things must be created spiritually before they are created physically: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5). When we use our minds, as when we think or plan, we are quite literally spiritually creating reality. Studies have shown that the unconscious mind cannot distinguish readily between what is vividly imagined and what we really experience.

I believe that learning to control our thoughts and actions are of paramount importance in our sojourn here on earth. I like to think of it as proving that we can become full-fledged citizens of the cosmos who will act in accordance with eternal laws and principles, and not go about destroying creation. (And despite what the anarchists teach, creation is much more difficult than destruction!) Understanding how the mind works can help us learn to control it better. In a nutshell, “we are born with some 100 billion neurons, most of them in the brain. These specialized, interconnected cells send and receive information in the form of electrochemical impulses. Each neuron is capable of 'firing,' that is, transmitting nerve impulses to thousands of other neurons which, in turn, transmit them to others.” (Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D. HOW THE BRAIN WORKS)

When we are very young, vast connections are made between these neurons, as any possible association produces a “link’, but as we get older, the “unnecessary” ones are pruned away. The brain perceives the ones that are necessary as the ones that are used most frequently. It is not unlike the traffic patterns of a town, where what began as a mere dirt pathway, with heavy usage becomes the well-paved highway. We choose, with each of our thoughts (and actions, which require thought) to wear a groove in our mind, or to allow that pathway to fade away with disuse. This is why we are told we must “use it or lose it.” If we practice a language, or any other skill, we get better, and those pathways become great blazing freeways that are easy to use. If we indulge in inappropriate and unclean thoughts, those pathways also become very easy to access. Conversely, not practicing the piano or speaking French, or not indulging in pornography will cause those routes in the brain to become less worn and less likely to be used.

Much of what we are taught by the Lord’s servants, both in scripture and in the talks by modern prophets, is concerned with this notion of cognitive processing, and what we allow to enter our minds. We are warned against the evils of pornography and other vile sorts of communications. Our minds are very like computers: Garbage in, Garbage out. It is very tedious work trying to edit out any pornographic content we have allowed to be downloaded into our minds. And not just pornography, but any fallacious ways of thinking (read “doctrines of men”) that we have absorbed from the world require painstaking care in their deletion. This is why repentance is usually a very lengthy process, often taking our entire lifetime. And the good news is that our mind will also store good stuff! I had a professor who often said, “Repetition is the key to learning.” Each time we think about a particular idea, the pathways increase in our brain, and that information becomes easier to access. This is likely why the Lord tells us many times to “treasure up in our minds the words of life.” (D&C 84:85)

Not only do our own thoughts create these “grooves” in our minds, but those ideas we absorb, consciously or unconsciously, from the world around us affect the maps in our minds. The music we listen to, the movies we watch, the books and magazines we read, the internet “stuff” we imbibe, as well as our daydreams, fantasies, prayers, and meditations all add new layers to our mind, and affect those pathways. Some of these communiqués, particularly lyrics set to music, can enter our unconscious without the usual censors that most information must be filtered through to be stored in the mind, and are inherently even more powerful and require greater care. Each of these modes is an important part of our daily lives, and I would like to examine them individually in greater detail, to understand better how and why it is that “As a man thinketh, so is he.” (Stay tuned for the rest of the series!)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

In Living Color: PAF

Personal Ancestral File Upgrade Prints in Color
By Walter Cooley, Church Magazines

Members and genealogists using Personal Ancestral File® (PAF) Companion can now print and view family tree charts in color using the program's newest upgrade.

Examples of color-charting formats are available at

A trial version of the software can be downloaded at the "Software Downloads–Free" link listed under the Family History section at The trial version limits the number of generations that can be viewed or printed. Users can purchase full access to the trial version of PAF Companion 5.2 for $6.75 by calling 1-800-537-5971 to obtain a key code from Distribution Services.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"A conversation with Beverly Campbell"

"A conversation with Beverly Campbell" from Segullah

Wonderful interview with one of my personal heroes, Beverly Campbell, the author of "Eve and the Choice Made in Eden". She speaks of why the true story of Eve is so important:

"How can a study and understanding of Eve effect women's perceptions of themselves, and men's perceptions of women?

The story of Eden, the Garden, and Adam and Eve, permeates our literature, our laws, our societies and our response to one another as men and women, both spiritual and secular. The misperceptions are enormous and have created and continue to create not just misunderstanding but harm. Men and women alike need to understand the depth and power and beauty of this entire episode.

I was recently interviewed by a well–known radio personality who told me the insights and understanding he came to through this book had changed his life and the way he perceived and treated his wife and the other women in his life. Women have told me that this new understanding has given them the courage to move forward.

Bottom line: as we understand that Eve courageously, heroically, and with enormous generosity of spirit claimed that most precious aspect of agency, the right to exercise spiritual and personal integrity, we begin to see better how to live our lives. To choose to act or think in ways that God has counseled is to arm yourself with His power. As you choose good over evil, right over wrong, action over inaction, you open your soul to the possibilities and His power is unleashed. Weakness, powerlessness and inadequacy are replaced with strength, control and wholeness."

Read the whole thing here.
My related posts here, here, and here, and a short story I wrote as tribute to both Mother Eve and Sister Campbell's amazing book here.
As you can probably tell, I believe this message is very, very important! I am very grateful to Heavenly Father for inspiring Sister Campbell to write this book.
(Oh, and Johnna, the new site looks fabulous!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

C.S. Lewis: "Why Love is not incompatible with suffering"

From my friend and fellow C.S. fan Curt at North Western Winds:

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

The awareness of a distinction between Love and Kindness and the recognition of what it means to be the object of God's love make it easier to comprehend why Love is not incompatible with suffering. Because God loves us he will not rest until he sees us wholly lovable. From that perspective, the suffering of a creature in need of alteration is a mere corollary to God's goodness. Yet, the problem is that the perception of man's sinful condition, and hence of a real need for alteration — a thing obvious even to ancient pagans — has largely disappeared from the modern horizon, rendering the Christian call to repentance and conversion unintelligible. To talk to the modern man, Lewis insists, "Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis — in itself a very bad news — before it can win the hearing for the cure." He considers two modern developments that contributed to the rise of a belief in the original innocence: the reduction of all virtues to kindness ("nothing except kindness is really good"), and the effect of psychoanalysis on the public mind ("shame is dangerous and must be done away with"). "Kindness, he says, is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds", for we can feel comfortably benevolent towards fellow men, as long as their good does not conflict with ours. He then considers in some detail the symptoms of man's wretchedness and brings us, step by step, to an inescapable conclusion: "We are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves." And at once we perceive a contradiction.

Nothing except kindness is good? How often I've tried to cut through the modern (read "socialistic") arguments that it would be a good thing to eliminate human suffering.... "I mean, no one should have to suffer, right?" Of course we have to suffer, as it merely means that we do not always get our way. What a crazy world it would be if instead of real standards, everyone walked in their own way....

"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." D&C 1: 16

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The many faces of pride

The many faces of pride and how it destroys unity

We are often warned against the sin of pride, and with good reason. Many of the ways in which life keeps people humble have been circumvented. Few of us in the “civilized” world have to scratch in the dirt for our daily bread. Many talks, including the famous one by President Ezra Taft Benson, speak of the arrogant sort of pride. But I was not long ago made aware that pride can wear many faces, some of which, on first glance, may appear to be humility. In order for us to avoid the various masks which pride can wear, we must understand what President Benson taught was the very “core” of pride: enmity. In his words: “Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing. The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4)

President Benson also said that pride is a misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. How can that be? If we are trying to be sufficiently humble, to share our substance, and to care about others, how can we be standing in a place of pride? Easier than it sounds, that is for sure. Because the key is enmity. How often do we stand in a place of opposition to other people? Does it have to be that we think we are better than they are? How about if we think we are not as good? How about if we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves thinking that we are not as thin, clever, wealthy, organized, talented, or spiritual as other people? Is that pride? It is. We had a wonderful Sunday School teacher who pointed this out to me, and I was absolutely floored to realize this tendency was pride. In President Benson’s words, “Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us…There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up.”

In a talk by Henry B. Eyring, "That We May Be One," he said, “The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, said of those who would be part of His Church: ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine’ (D&C 38:27). …With skill, hatred, and cunning, Satan pursues his goal. It is the opposite of the purpose of our Heavenly Father and the Savior. They would give us perfect union and eternal happiness. Satan, their enemy and ours, has known the plan of salvation from before the Creation. He knows that only in eternal life can those sacred, joyful associations of families endure. Satan would tear us from loved ones and make us miserable. And it is he who plants the seeds of discord in human hearts in the hope that we might be divided and separate. … The Savior of the world spoke of that unity and how we will have our natures changed to make it possible.” He goes on to say, “…the gospel of Jesus Christ can allow hearts to be made one. Those who would believe the truth He taught could accept the ordinances and the covenants offered by His authorized servants. Then, through obedience to those ordinances and covenants, their natures would be changed. The Savior’s Atonement in that way makes it possible for us to be sanctified. We can then live in unity, as we must to have peace in this life and to dwell with the Father and His Son in eternity.”

Elder Eyring also tells us that, “The Spirit puts the testimony of truth in our hearts, which unifies those who share that testimony. The Spirit of God never generates contention…. It never generates the feelings of distinctions between people which lead to strife. It leads to personal peace and a feeling of union with others. It unifies souls. A unified family, a unified Church, and a world at peace depend on unified souls….We must speak no ill of anyone. We must see the good in each other and speak well of each other whenever we can. At the same time, we must stand against those who speak contemptuously of sacred things, because the certain effect of that offense is to offend the Spirit and so create contention and confusion. If we are to have unity, there are commandments we must keep concerning how we feel. We must forgive and bear no malice toward those who offend us. We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt. There is a protection against pride, that sure source of disunity. It is to see the bounties which God pours upon us not only as a mark of His favor but an opportunity to join with those around us in greater service.” (Henry B. Eyring, “That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 66)

Sister Pam Wilson Vandenaker, in a talk entitled “Stripped of Envy, wrote, “Envy is a form of pride…. The practice of comparing ourselves to others is usually at the root of envy. It causes us to feel that we aren’t good enough and that in order to be acceptable we have to achieve more, acquire more, or in other ways appear to be ‘better’ than others. It occurs when we do not value ourselves sufficiently as children of God and consequently feel we have to prove our worth by ‘doing’ or ‘having.’ Part of the reason envy can be so difficult to recognize in ourselves is that it often disguises itself in other feelings and behaviors. One disguise envy wears is the tendency to criticize. Another is the desire to act in a way that will provoke envy in others. The good news is, once we unmask envy and begin to eliminate it, we can begin to feel much better about ourselves and others around us.” Sister Vandenaker mentions that low self-worth and competing with others can be forms of pride. She quotes from Betsy Cohen’s book, The Snow White Syndrome: All About Envy (1986): “[many of us] ‘have inner standards of excellence and perfection that are hard or impossible to meet’ often causing emotional pain. We may have a hard time admitting mistakes and living with imperfections. If not careful, says the author, we can end up envious of those who seem to achieve more or who seem more comfortable being imperfect.” Sister Vandenaker quotes from Alma: “Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared.” We need to be stripped of envy and other weaknesses to be prepared to “stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body” (Alma 5:15). Sister Vandenaker states that “as we become free of envy or jealousy or any other weakness, we are much more enabled to acknowledge who and what we are. In the process of being “stripped of envy,” we also receive the gift of being restored to an awareness of our worth as beautiful, unique children of God.” (Pam Wilson Vandenaker, “Stripped of Envy,” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 19)

James M. Paramore, in a talk entitled “Love One Another” said that our Heavenly Father “loves us so much that He gave us His most sacred eternal truths—His commandments—eternal standards to live by…when God’s love is known and felt and His commandments followed, the results are always the same. There is a newness of life—a spiritual awakening—that comes to man, its own witness that it is true. It is never forced or brought about by fear, but rather by a bond of love that develops between our Father in Heaven and His children. It is no wonder that we are counseled to look to God and live. This love reaches deep into the inner man, removes barriers, and causes an open spirit to emerge to be receptive to truth, goodness, and change. As it develops in man, he is turned outward toward others—gradually overcoming himself. Then the miracle really happens. Men thus touched and changed by this love of God begin to look upon their neighbors with profound respect and awe for who they are, what their potential really is as children of an eternal father. As man perceives this love, he begins to overlook the flaws that make up every mortal being and to ‘esteem his brother as himself.’ (D&C 38:24.) He lifts and desires to help him whenever and wherever he can. Man’s spirit reaches out to everyone, for now there is no enmity, no envy, no restricting philosophies, pride, or vanity—even language does not separate men—there is only an openness and oneness with the Spirit and will of God. The scriptures are beautiful and clear: ‘There [will be] no contention in the land,’ ‘because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.’ (4 Ne. 1:15, Rom. 5:5.) (James M. Paramore, “Love One Another,” Ensign, May 1981, 53)

So, whether pride wears the mask of arrogance or low self-worth, envy or criticism, the effect of it is still the same: disunity. As President Benson said, “Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Now you can see why the building in Lehi’s dream that represents the pride of the world was large and spacious and great was the multitude that did enter into it. Pride is the universal sin, the great vice. Yes, pride is the universal sin, the great vice. The antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness. It is the broken heart and contrite spirit.” Let us not allow Satan to divide us. If we wish to be part of the Lord’s Kingdom, we must accord ourselves and all of our brothers and sisters on this earth with our true worth as “beautiful, unique children of God” as Sister Vandenaker said. Let us be one, with the Lord, and with each other, that we might, as Elder Eyring suggested, "have peace in this life and to dwell with the Father and His Son in eternity."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pope Condemns Homosexual Unions As Dangerous to the Family

From "Pope blasts gay 'marriage' as perilous to family unit" (By Philip Pullella REUTERS NEWS AGENCY) Via The Washington Times

ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI, in his first clear pronouncement on homosexual "marriages" since his election, yesterday condemned same-sex unions as fake and "expressions of anarchic freedom" that threatened the future of the family.
"Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex, are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man," he said.
The pope, who headed the Vatican's doctrinal department for more than two decades before his elevation to the papacy, said "pseudo freedoms" such as homosexual "marriages" were based on what he called the "banalization of the human body" and of man himself.

Banalization, indeed. Trifle not with sacred things.

Hope for the Human Spirit

From "The Cost of the War on Terrorism" By Ben Stein (The American Spectator)

On the Saturday night before Memorial Day, the cost of the war on terrorism were wearing red T-shirts. They were in a small ballroom on the second floor of the Crystal City Doubletree Hotel in Northern Virginia, within sight of the Pentagon.

There were about 250 of them. Children of men and women who had been killed in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and in training. They were maybe from age five to fifteen. They were handsome. They were pretty. They were cute. They had haunted eyes, some of them, and some of them cried. One family had five kids, and the oldest, a beautiful 15-year-old girl, could not stop crying.

They were being watched over by about thirty mentors, who were good-looking men and women from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. They serve as mentors and guides for the kids as the kids mourn their loss.

The kids had just gotten back from a field trip and were in a giddy, but still haunted mood, as they ate pizza. I spoke to them, hugged them, smeared my tears away as I could. I told them how pretty they were if they were girls and how brave and handsome they looked if they were boys.

A spectacularly cute little red-headed girl named Dawn slithered around me and pretended to be a dog to be patted. Or is it petted?

I told the kids their parents had died to save this country, to give kids in Iraq and Afghanistan the chance to choose their lives and to have the freedoms we take for granted. I told them there were not enough words in the English language to thank them enough for what they had done. For the sacrifice they had made. I told them their fathers and mothers had died doing God's work.

Then I signed autographs, mostly on the kids' T- shirts for about an hour.

I WISH I WERE ELOQUENT enough to tell you how brave these kids were and what a price they are paying. To lose a father while the rest of us complain about taxes and the stock market and the price of real estate. Quite a sight. Quite a concept.

How can we possibly repay them? How conceivably? There is nothing we can do. But be grateful and keep them in our hearts forever.

I walked with my friend Marina Malenic, ace in WMD, to a far larger ballroom, where the widows, mothers and fathers, fiancees, widowers maybe, of the men and women who were killed were gathered.

I sat with the head of the great organization, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Bonnie Carroll, who conceived of TAPS when her AF general husband was killed in training in Alaska many years ago. Maybe it was 1998. She is a pretty, extremely smart woman, with a heart as big as a Cadillac. We sat also with several women who had lost their husbands. They were all brave, all sharing their experience, strength, and hope with each other. One woman next to me said I did not need to feel sorry for her on the death of her husband in the Mosul bombing. "I got to live with him for 22 years," she said. "I was blessed."

Everyone there wore a button with a photo of the man who had died. The men looked impossibly healthy, fit, optimistic. They could not possibly be dead, and yet they were.

Several wives spoke of their last talks with their husbands, about what it was like when the Chaplain came up the driveway. Some read letters from their husbands talking about how happy they were to be helping the Iraqi children.

Bonnie spoke, perhaps the most moving speech I have ever heard in person, a difficult act to follow. She used to work with Reagan and maybe that explains her amazing ability to get in touch with truth.

Then I spoke and gave a little talk about how we could live without the stock market, could get on without Hollywood or new cars, but could not last a week without our armed forces and the armed forces could not last a week without the military family. "To most," I said, "the war on terrorism is an abstraction. But there is blood all over this room."

They gave me one standing ovation after another and I left the stage dizzy with gratitude. These women -- overwhelmingly women -- are paying a fearful price so the rest of us can get on with our daily selfishness and greed without hindrance.

So that the witches of Beverly Hills and Fifth Avenue can go on with their shopping, these women lost their husbands. Mothers and fathers were there, too. One came up to me, a crusty couple, husband a Marine, and showed me a dollar bill from his late son's wallet when the son was killed in Iraq. The edges were covered in blood.

HOW CAN WE THANK these families? How can we possibly praise enough the sacrifice they and their husbands have made? How can it ever be enough?

Yet, they have something the rest of us rarely have: meaning. They know why God put them on earth, why they live and suffer. They never doubt their worth.

Bonnie drove Marina and me back to The Watergate. I felt as if I had been with the finest people on earth that night, the ones in God's image.

Mostly, I see the dregs of human selfishness. When I am around the military -- the Honor Guard, the families, the kids, the parents, the ones who are the thin line between life and death for freedom, the ones who make our lives worth living, I have hope for the human spirit. The best of the human spirit is alive and well inside those red T-shirts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Family History Fun!

(Cross-posted to conversation.)

My patriarchal blessing very specifically indicates that I will be quite involved in family history work. And I am. It is now one of my greatest passions, and greatest blessings. But it did not come easily to me. I had some real family-of-origin issues that I did NOT want to confront, and besides, I figured poring through old dusty books was for old grandmothers in their eighties, and I had plenty of time for that “someday”.

But then something magical happened: I found out I could do genealogy on the computer! This was about ten or fifteen years ago, and there was no back then, but there was familysearch, and RootsWeb and GenWeb, and family web pages, and lots of people out there sharing what they’d found by email. It was pretty exciting, although things didn’t move quite as fast as they do now.

I didn’t want to know about my father’s family, but decided I could risk finding out about my mother’s side. I started poking around, and kept finding stuff that led me to my great-great grandparents (my mom’s paternal grandparents), who were named Alexander Moore Woodell and Martha Ann McKinnon. I saw census transcriptions for them (this was long before a couple of clicks on ancestry would reveal actual census images on demand!) that someone had hand-copied from some dusty old book that read:

1850 Census Robeson County, North Carolina
Alexander Woodall 22 M Farmer Robeson
Martha 21 F Robeson
Catharine 4 F Robeson
Archibald 2M Robeson
Lenora 6 months Robeson

I also found a marriage record for Alexander and Martha:
Bride: Martha Ann McKinnon
Groom: Alexander Woodel
Bond Date: 27 Jul 1844
County: Robeson
Record #: 01 170
Bondsman: Benjamin Pate; Lewis C Thompson
Witness: Sdh Howell
Bond #: 000118512

Now, if there’s one thing I love in this life, it’s people, and stories about people! (Ok, that’s two, and I really love a lot more than that, but they ARE very important to me!) So, in my head, I now have a story of a young couple who have met, fallen in love (cue the hearts and flowers), married and have three young children. Life for them seems quite rosy, and I like it. (Archibald is my great-grandfather, by the way, and I very much regret laughing at my mom when she used to tell me his name as a child; she was always telling me about family history back then, and she was not even LDS!)

But finding more information took quite some time. Seems there were lots of Woodells and McKinnons in Robeson County that had been mapped out, but nobody appeared to claim either Alexander or Martha. And they had just disappeared without a trace. I searched and searched, but to no avail for a very long time. Then I discovered this tidbit: (again,handcopied, but with Daniel miscopied as “David”!)

1870 Ouachita Co., AR census, pg #346B, dated 23 Aug 1870
Missouri Township, P.O. Lone Grove

26/26 Wordell, M. A. 42/F/W Farmer b. NC
Catherine 25/F/W NC
Archibald 23/M/W teaches school NC
Lenora 20/F/W NC
Daniel 18/M/W GA
Missouri 16/F/W GA
Theophilus 12/M/W GA
Evander 8/M/W AR

Wordell? Now, I’ve seen Woodell spelled many ways, but that was a new one. And where’s Alexander? And look at those kids’ birthplaces! Kept dropping ‘em out all over the place, like Gretel’s breadcrumb trail! Ok, so now I know, they spent some time in GA (1852 to at least 1858, as we can tell from the birthdays), and moved to Arkansas by at least 1862. BUT, WHERE’S ALEXANDER???

Ok, so there was a little thing called the War Between the States. Oh. Yeah. So, here’s the scoop:

Woodale, Alex R PVT, Co. G 11th Arkansas captured 10/21/64 Dallas Co., Arkansas died 01/01/65 Rem. Fever Died in Alton. IL Prison camp in Civil War

Conditions in the prison were harsh and the mortality rate was above average for a Union prison. Hot, humid summers and cold Midwestern winters took a heavy toll on prisoners already weakened by poor nourishment and inadequate clothing. The prison was overcrowded much of the time and sanitary facilities were inadequate. Pneumonia and dysentery were common killers but contagious diseases such as smallpox and rubella were the most feared. When smallpox infection became alarmingly high in the winter of 1862 and spring of 1863, a quarantine hospital was located on an island across the Mississippi River from the prison. Up to 300 prisoners and soldiers died and are buried on the island, now under water. A cemetery in North Alton that belonged to the State of Illinois was used for most that died. A monument there lists 1,534 names of Confederate soldiers that are known to have died.

I CRIED! I cried A LOT! I kept telling myself, “Peggy, they’re ALL dead!” But in my head, the story was a young couple with three sweet babies. Now, we have a 42 year old widow with seven kids (it was actually eight!) and a dead husband. Yes, I know, lots of people lost their husbands. But it was such an abrupt change. I needed, desperately, to know more of the story. And I found lots of it, like how all of Martha and Alexander’s kinfolk either died or moved away, and they moved to Georgia to be with the Clan McKinnon, and how they moved to Arkansas to be near Alexander’s family. I’ve met lots of cousins online, and it has been an amazing journey.

But, I was obsessed with Martha. What happened to her? How did she raise those kids alone, and did she remarry? I found lots of tidbits here and there, but my heart was still filled with sorrow for her. And then, I found out something wonderful! She had a brother! Ok, lots of people do, I know. But you see, what I found out is that after the war, it was hard times in Arkansas, but Martha decided to move to Texas, where her brother lived. His name was Alexander, too. He went by A.J. McKinnon (too many Alexanders!). He enlisted in the war with Alexander Woodell, but A.J. survived because he was a “surgeon”, or a medic, we might say now. And A.J. went on to become a physician, as many Scots did, and when I found my gggrandmother Martha in the 1880 Census, it looked like this:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Female W 51 NC Keeping House NC NC
Theophelus WOODELLE
Son M Male W 20 GA Works On Farm NC NC
Son M Male W 18 AR Works On Farm NC NC

What I didn’t know yet (though the information was there!) is that if I’d clicked on the “next family” button on familysearch it would have shown this family:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Male W 53 NC Farmer NC NC
Wife M Female W 53 SC Keeping House NC NC
Son S Male W 11 AR Works On Farm NC SC
Son S Male W 9 TX NC SC
Dau S Female W 6 TX NC SC

I didn’t know who this family next door was yet, but Mary Singletary (wife) was Mary Frances McKinnon, Martha’s sister! And up the road a bit was this family:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Male W 47 NC Physician NC NC
Wife M Female W 25 TX Keeping House SC GA
Dau S Female W 10 TX At Home NC TX
Dau S Female W 7 TX At Home NC TX
Dau S Female W 4 TX At Home NC TX
Son S Male W 1 TX NC TX

A.J., Martha and Mary’s younger brother, who survived the war! Maybe it is difficult to understand how YEARS of searching, and thinking of poor Martha raising all those children alone in difficult circumstances made me jump for joy to see her nestled in relative peace and prosperity, surrounded on either side by her loving family, but all I can say is that I was overjoyed, absolutely thrilled and delighted!

I still needed more details, but I started writing a novel about Martha, to account for all the information I was finding and to get the picture straight in my head. But I could find nothing beyond the 1880 Census. Until. A new cousin saw a post of mine about Alexander’s parents (still working on that!), and responded. She is also a descendant of Martha and Alexander, by their youngest, Evander. And she had some stories for me! One of them revealed that Martha was still alive in 1903. (You see, the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, and I couldn’t find Martha in the 1900, so I figured she died—I’d gotten my happy ending in 1880, after all!) Seems that Martha remarried, for the family knew her as Martha Tyson, and she moved to another town in Texas. But I can’t find her!!! I can’t bring myself to work on the book anymore, until I know what happened to her!

So, with the move to North Carolina, I figured the Lord (and Martha!) are giving me a nudge to continue the search in person, for all of my lines pretty much go to NC, and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to see all those places they lived that I’ve only read about (and imagined!).

I could have told you that Joseph Smith said, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us [as individuals] is to seek after our dead" or that he said “…in the resurrection those who had been worked for would fall at the feet of those who had done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.” But I decided that what I really wanted to tell you is that family history work is NOT work. It is FUN!! It is the best video game ever. It is why the Lord gave us computers. (I am serious about that!!) It is the best puzzle game ever. (My 23 year old INACTIVE daughter is quite addicted to it, thank God!) When the Spirit of Elijah turns the children’s hearts to the fathers, the children must reach out to each other to find all the pieces of the puzzle. Family history will write on your heart the stories of your family in a way that you will know you belong, and that you are loved, greatly, by generations of people you may not have ever met in this life, but that you knew and loved in the premortal world. And, it’s a lot of fun! Also, I don’t have to feel guilty, like when I play video games (btw, when I do, it is usually The Sims and the families I make are my own ancestors, with old-fashioned clothes and stuff!) because Boyd K. Packer said, "Every hour spent on genealogical research, however unproductive it appears, is worthwhile. It is pleasing to the Lord. It is our testimony to Him that we accept the doctrine of the resurrection and the plan of salvation." So, have fun!!
(And if you need any help, email me!!)
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