Writing Down Those Unique Family Stories
For Julia Redd of Monticello, Utah, family history is about stories.
Recently called as a family history consultant, Julia is less experienced in doing genealogical research, but she does know a good story when she hears one–especially when it involves a snake.
In the days before computers when her children were young, she said, “I knew family history was something I should be doing, but with seven daughters, I didn’t really have time. It was like, get all the records out, then put them away for dinner–because it takes time.”
Her outlook on family history changed when someone brought her a story about a snake.
“It caused me to think I should write down my stories about snakes. I’ve had several. That sounds silly, but it’s me, and it’s something I should share with somebody. Then the Church came out at the start of the year with families writing stories [see Family Booklet on familysearch.org]. So now as a consultant I’m encouraging people to write a story. I don’t know how many have kept journals, but regardless, write a story!”
Julia’s family has been active in family history work, as has her husband’s. She is married to Lemuel Hardison Redd IV, whose great-great-great grandfather Lemuel Hardison Redd Sr. was one of the Hole-in-the Rock pioneers in San Juan County, Utah. But the more recent family stories need to be recorded too.
The first snake story she can remember happened when she was four years old.
“We lived in what I thought was a castle on the corner in Manti, Utah,” she said. “It was an old pioneer home, and it had a little pantry in the basement. My mother told me to go down and get some fruit in the fruit cellar. I pulled the light on, and as I walked in, there was a snake sticking right out straight from the wall, looking at me straight in the eye. Of course, as a child I just ran upstairs screaming, ‘There’s a snake! There’s a snake!’ And my mother said, ‘No.’ And my father swore there was not a snake, only to say, ‘Well, if there is a snake, no wonder we don’t have rats and mice in the house.’ And they went downstairs, and I pointed and I said, ‘There–it came out of that hole!’ ‘No, we don’t have a snake.’ Anyway, some six months, seven months later, my mother went down–sure enough, it met her straight on in the face. And they called my father and the tennis coach, and they came out to destroy that big old blow snake.”
Her second snake story took place in Ogden, Utah. “My grandparents had a great big cement goldfish pond in the back of their yard. And I was balancing on the goldfish pond–I was seven years old. And this great big snake came out of the water and crossed over their yard–huge thing–and stretched out in the shade of their peony bush. I went in and told Grandma, ‘There’s a snake in your backyard.’ ‘There’s no snakes.’ And I’m sure it had come down through Ogden Canyon and just slithered down there. So I took her out there and I tried to find it, and went through all the peony bushes. She couldn’t see it, and she went back in. So I went back out and went through the peony bushes trying to find that snake. And I came probably that close to that snake. I ran back in and I said, ‘Grandma, I found the snake. Come see it!’ And I pointed to it, you know–‘It’s right there,’ short of touching it. And all I just remember is her flipping me back and calling Grandpa, saying, ‘There’s a snake–it’s a rattlesnake! Come and take care of it.’ It was a rattlesnake, all stretched out in the peony bushes. And he chopped off the head–never did find the head, but he got the rattles.”
Julia’s daughter Lucinda Redd, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, told another snake story from her mother’s past.
“So when she was young, she was playing out in the yard and found a little garter snake, and so was playing with this little snake. And her mom asked her to grab some mint–she was making Kool-Aid and wanted to add mint to the Kool-Aid. So she picked the mint for lunch for the drink, and she held the mint behind her hand and held out the snake to her mother.”
“I was just a devilish little girl!” Julia said, laughing. “And I was like 10, 11 or 12. And my father taught me how to play with lizards and snakes because he lived on the Nevada desert during the Depression, and those were his toys. So he taught me which ones were good and which ones were bad, and taught me how to hold a garter snake, and how to catch it and a lizard. So I was just playing with this little snake in the backyard and I’m going to trick my mother. As I remember, she wasn’t very happy about the trick!”
Many of Julia’s family stories go back generations. “I just found a story–it’s not online. It was emailed to my other daughter living in Nebraska. Some distant relative had come across a journal of my paternal great-great-grandfather, who actually helped and was kind to a little boy who was herding sheep, who ultimately became the Sundance Kid. What makes it interesting is the kindness that my great-great-grandfather showed this little boy, who was only 10 when he was made responsible for 200-plus head of sheep. My grandfather helped him herd them to the railroad where they could be taken. And when he got the money, somebody robbed him. So I think it just kind of sets the wrong kind of pattern for this young kid. We have a lot of family stories, and I can see the importance of putting them on the Internet.”
As a family history consultant, Julia tells people to start with a story. “Our great-great-grandfather and mother wrote letters to each other. And she would sign them, ‘Your friend Margaret.’ And she eventually got to ‘Your dearest friend Margaret.’ And he would sign them, ‘Your friend Hans.’ And I would like to see them put on the Internet because I think it would be an example to the generations coming up, of the simplicity of falling in love. They just had the utmost respect for one another. And you see the choices they made–he was a returned missionary from France. Just to read how sweet these letters are–and I’m sure their emotions were no different than ours. It’s just the respect, and the consideration and the virtue you can see in these letters that our children should strive for today too.”
“My grandpa wrote my grandma before he even met her,” Lucinda said.
“My father’s brother, Uncle Sherman, was dating my mother’s sister, Aunt Charlene,” Julia explained. “They broke up, and my parents got together. But this is the first letter that he wrote her. And not only did he write her, he drew a picture of what he imagined she looked like.”
The letter, which is posted online, begins, “Hi Marilyn, this letter may sound a little strange to you. No doubt that it will. But I’m a little confused also. True, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but my brother mentioned something about a dance, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun. Therefore, I’m writing this, if nothing more, as a letter of introduction.”
“They did date,” Julia said. “He was going to the University of Utah Medical School, and he’d go back on weekends or whatever, occasionally, or when school was out. And he would ask her to go down to the corner drugstore for a root beer. He couldn’t afford anything else. But when he graduated, he went back to St. Louis, Missouri–or maybe it was Virginia–to do his internship. Anyway, he sent her ring in the mail! Never talked about marriage, but he sent the ring, and when she opened it, Aunt Elaine was there, and she said, ‘Is this for real? Really?’ And Elaine said, ‘If you don’t wear it, I will.’ So mother put it on her finger and never took it off.”