Finding a story, or how to

By March 6, 2017

Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.

Family Search Books, is a digital repository that has been held variously at BYU, the LDS CHL, and now on Family Search’s own website. The search functionality has dwindled with the moves, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource for researching Mormon lived religion.

The item of interest today is Mary Vilate Lee Romney, “My Personal History,” in Mary Vilate Lee Romney, Through the Years with Park and Vilate Romney (Salt Lake City:, 1959), 16. In her history Mary Romney narrates various life experiances, including those “shortly after moving into our home on 3rd East.” I have included editorial comments based on material indicated.

[300 E, just South of 2100 S, specific address noted earlier in the text ? moved on May 15, 1924] I was out in the back yard when Sister Clara Gerisch, Aged mother of Sister Elizabeth Perschon, spoke to me and said her daughter Elizabeth was having the Relief Society sisters come to wash and annoint her prior to her confinement and asked me if I wouldn’t like to come over and have them do the same for me. I felt this was such a nice friendly gesture and I thanked her and accepted the invitation. Sister Geneva Higgenbottom and Sister Lund were the sisters set apart for that purpose, A lovely friendship started with the two families from this occasion on. [baby Milton born on June 14, 1924 – FamilySearch]


House - Backyard

Thanks to map services like Bing, you can visualize where Mary spoke to her neighbors over the fence. This is wonderful account that helps us understand how the blessing of pregnant women in the 1920s was normative, and includes tantalizing details about how the Relief Society institutionalized ritual practice. As it was institutional, perhaps there were some official records that corroborate, or flesh out the events.

Finding in what ward a specific address resides at a specific time is somewhat challenging. Fortunately, volunteers with FamilySearch have extracted data from Andrew Jensen’s Encyclopedic History of the Church (1941) into the FamilySearch wiki and created histories of boundries within the various Utah Stakes, ca. 1930s. I started with the Salt Lake Stake, but quickly realized that the Granite Stake was the place to look, but then had to move onto the Grant Stake, which was organized in 1924. I essentially went through the descriptions of the wards listed with a map, a fairly straightforward but slow process, until it was clear that the Romneys moved into the Wells Ward of, what was at the time, the Granite Stake. Wells Ward was created in 1919.

A quick check in the LDS CHL catalogue, and voila:

Wells Ward Relief Society minutes and records, 1919-1969
Wells Ward, Granite Stake
Call Number: LR 10004 14

Looks promising. The next time I was at the CHL, I took a look. Note that now when you go in, when you are on guest wifi, or when you use the onsite computers, you can now see which items in a collection are available, and if you are lucky, which dates are covered by which filmings/reels. Note that you can only order items to the reading room from the onsite computers. In this case there were two Filming 1s, an oddity that sometimes occurs, and are actually different filmings, so I ordered both. Anne Barrett happened to be working (thanks Anne!) and suggested I start with one in particular (I wanted the earliest records, and she used some sort of wizardry to guess).

Cranking through the microfilm I landed on the first minute book. The record begins with “the first Wells Ward Relief Society meeting” on July 1, 1919. Cool. Then a few pages later:

The First Officers Meeting
The meeting was called Pres Amelia W. Wardrop Aug 28 1919 At Sister Wardrops home at 7:30 Oclock. For the purpose of considering the Relief Society of the Wells Ward

Meeting was opened with prayer by sister Wardrop. Sister Wardrop then announced the following names to perform the washing and anointing of the sick Sister Lund, Higgenbotham, Maynes. The Relief Society magazine was suggested and that every member should be a subscriber of same. Sister Wardrop being agent. It was suggested to get a sister to care of lessons.

So the first order of business at the first presidency meeting was to formalize the calls for women to administer to the sick in 1919. That is something that I did not expect, even after reading thousands of documents related to this topic. Moreover, as the bishop attended some of the early meetings it was clear that Sister Higgenbotham was Geneva Alwilda Marsh Higginbotham, who happened to be the wife of the bishop.

There is still a lot left to unpack, but I thought that the story to this point was fun enough to share.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This is great, J. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — March 6, 2017 @ 8:39 am

  2. You make it sound so easy!

    I see one other element in your story — serendipity. Because you found Mary Romney’s remark first, you went looking for the ward Relief Society records. Had you for some other reason read the minutes first, you would have been delighted with the line calling the sisters to administer, but there’s nothing about that line that could possibly have alerted you to Mary Romney’s account. And it’s the two parts together — the calling of the women and the seeing them in action — that makes the story as good as it is.

    Thanks for taking us through the process. Everybody loves a good detective story.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 6, 2017 @ 9:25 am

  3. Thanks!

    Ardis that is absolutely right. This is also the case with the names and the various spellings. After reading Mary’s account I dug around for “Higgenbottom” but didn’t find anything. I thought it was unique enough that maybe I’d catch something, but the spelling was sufficiently off as to not be useful. I’m now intrigued by the “Higgenbotham” family and maybe it is a lead that will reveal something interesting.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 6, 2017 @ 9:33 am

  4. This is great, J. Thanks.

    Comment by Ben P — March 6, 2017 @ 9:55 am

  5. A valuable description of the detail work necessary to do women’s history. (Or minority history, for that matter.) Thanks for the description and story.

    Comment by Amy T — March 6, 2017 @ 10:43 am

  6. Very cool. Thanks J.

    Comment by David G. — March 6, 2017 @ 2:27 pm

  7. Thanks, J!

    Comment by Jeff T — March 6, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

  8. Some of us “professionals” could stand to take a seminar from you, J.

    Comment by LisaT — March 6, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

  9. This is great stuff, J. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — March 8, 2017 @ 11:28 am

  10. Thanks for this!

    Comment by Hannah — March 9, 2017 @ 7:42 am


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