Stories matter

Yesterday was Friday. And like many Fridays, unless there is something pressing, work is more about just finishing up a few things and getting through to the end of the day. And, like most days, I need to take a break once in a while to focus on something different for a few minutes.

During those breaks, I’ll often open up Ancestry.com or FamilySearch to see what might be there. No real genealogy gets done – just a quick look. Yesterday, though, was a bit different.

It was about 4 p.m. Nothing pressing was going on with work, and I needed a quick break. I opened up the FamilySearch website to see what new databases had been added or updated. One of them, updated the day before, is called “Utah, Obituaries from Utah Newspapers, 1850-2005.” My father’s family goes back to 1847 in Utah. (According to LDS history, my great-great-great grandfather, William Snow, and his brother, Erastus, were the first Mormon settlers to lay eyes on the Great Salt Lake Valley, two days before Brigham Young arrived and declared, “This is the right place.”) So I decided to do a quick search to see what would come up.

I entered my last name, Rands, in the database search and hit the search button. The first entry to come up was for Joseph Rands, whose obituary was dated 12 October 1875. My great-great-great grandfather was named Joseph William Rands, and he died on 11 October 1875 in Salt Lake City. So, of course, I clicked on it.

I was directed to the Utah Digital Newspapers website where an image of the original obituary appeared:

Joseph Rands, the old gentleman who recently fell from the new coöp. store, died early Monday morning. He suffered considerably from the time of the accident until his death. He leaves a large family. (“Died”, Salt Lake Herald, 12 Oct 1875, page 3)

“FELL FROM THE NEW COOP STORE”??!!

I had never heard this story before, and had to know more. I did some searching on the Utah Newspaper Database site, and found an article reporting the accident, dated 25 Sep 1875.

Joseph Rands, of the Twentieth ward, while working on the new Coöp building yesterday morning, was precipitated from the third story to the floor of the first, breaking his thigh bone just above the knee, and otherwise injuring him. It appears that while Rands was unloading the elevator on the floor of the third story and the engineer was arranging the furnace, the signal bell was unaccountably rung, and the engineer supposing it had been purposely rung, immediately lowered the elevator, while Rands was in the act of lifting the hod, precipitating him as above stated. It is probably fortunate that in falling he struck on a beam on the second story, which broke the fall and saved his life. Doctor Richards is attending the patient. Although the injuries sustained are severe they are not necessary fatal. (“A Serious Accident”, Salt Lake Herald, 25 Sep 1875, page 3)

Of the many times I was at ZCMI in downtown Salt Lake City, I never knew that I had an ancestor who worked there, let alone one that died as a result of an accident there. The sad part of the story is that this “old gentlemen” was actually just a little older than I am – 48 years old. And he did leave a large family – his wife, six living children ranging in age from 24 to 5 years. (My great-great grandfather would have been 16 years old.) Five years later, his wife would die from cancer.

So many questions and feelings are going through me as I process this new information. How did this event affect the family? What sort of pain management and medical treatment existed at the time to deal with a broken femur? What ultimately killed him? Infection? Blood clot?

I often get obsessed with “information” and finding new connections in my family tree. But stories like this shock me back into what is most interesting about genealogy. They remind me that it’s not just about building a family tree. It’s about preserving the stories of our ancestors’ lives, and knowing them as real people – not just twigs on a distant branch.

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One response to “Stories matter

  1. What an awful story—and an awful way to die. And yes, I agree—every time I find a story that reveals the person behind the names and dates, it shakes me up and makes me wonder so much more about their lives, their families, and their personalities.

    Like

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