Going through old vital and government records doesn't sound all that enticing to you? They are often hard to read and repetitive. Sometimes you get stuck and wonder if it's worth your time. Maybe it should be left in the hands of a professional archivist, librarian or historian? Maybe you think it would be really nice to have some formal training on this. What good does tramping around in the past do? Maybe the past should stay in the past? To that I can say, from experience, that people- dead or alive, past or present- like to be heard. And sometimes it's the trace records of their lives that do the first talking. They say "I was here. And I hope that my life mattered." It reminds me of one of my favorite shows I like to watch when folding laundry, The Story Trek. Does randomly picking towns and knocking on doors and asking strangers to tell their "stories" and getting a variety of strange looks and closed doors make for riveting tv? When somebody opens their mouth it does, as Todd Hansen from BYUtv's THE STORY TREK and fans know. Something about opening up your ears, eyes and hearts to the universe and saying "Here I am. What do you have for me?!" and cool things come forth. That happens to me all the time when I engage in the simple tasks that God has asked me to do.
Sunday I was challenged by Tim to do a batch of WW1 draft records in FamilySearch's volunteer indexing program. I've been indexing for about 6 years now (by the way, the way that time flies really makes me feel like a time traveler. And old.) (USA)WW1 draft records are great to do for beginners because there are about 5 records in a batch and you can get used to how different clerks write the alphabet, whether in cursive or print. They come in all different states and counties, often show birthdate and place, current residence, marital status, whether they had kids and often the name of their nearest relative. They often list basic physical characteristics and whether they desire to claim exemption. Honing in on this last question for this one batch took me on a cool journey that actually intersected with my life. In elementary school they call this a "text to self" or even a "text to world" connection. I love when stuff I learned while reading with my kids feels relevant in the grown-up world! It's like everything I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten...or while my kids were in kindergarten. Motherhood has been good for me.
Three records in a row, all with the same surname, listed being members of The Church of The Brethren as a reason for exemption from military service. This sounded like a cult or commune of some sort that I'd not heard of. What was it? I knew that Quakers and Mennonites were a few groups that because of their particular view of Christianity did not wish to use or support violence. What I found when I Googled that church was that it had roots in early 18th century Schwarzenau Germany and was an offshoot of the Protestantism of the time. Due to growing hardships and persecution, many emigrated to the American colonies and formed their first congregation in Germantown, PA in 1723. From that time, if there were wars and conflicts, the Brethren held pacifist leanings and resisted fighting and thus I saw these WW1 draft registrants claiming exemption for religious reasons.
Looking a little more, I noticed that The Church of The Brethren (earlier known as German Baptists & called “Dunkers”) currently have a historical library and while perusing through some of their online articles I found the Studebaker logo! My dad, who passed away almost exactly a year from now (see his pic above), loved cars and restoring them. His favorite ones were made by Studebaker (my personal favorite model was his gold Avanti.) The company was started by 2 brothers when their family had moved to South Bend, Indiana in the 1800s. These brothers were part of a large family who had been raised in The Church of the Brethren in Germantown, PA. I also have family ties in that town. Brethren aim to follow the example of Jesus Christ as shown in the New Testament and interpret that in action by their baptism by immersion, daily service to others and non-violent submission. The Studebaker brothers made their living after the manner of their forefathers – in blacksmithing and wagon building before building automobiles. In 1857 they contracted with the U.S. government to supply them with wagons for their latest venture, The “Mormon Rebellion”, which required a long trip out west to the Utah Territory. This venture did not sit well with one brother, Henry, and his pacifist feelings. Opportunistically another brother, John, who had just returned from earning a fortune supplying wheelbarrows to California gold miners, decided to buy Henry out and invest $8,000 in the company. Henry and his father would live out the rest of their days in their faith. The other brothers did not.
Today some members of The Church of The Brethren do choose to serve in the military. I wondered if my dad knew of this interesting connection to his favorite car company? I think he would have found it entertaining as he had joined the Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) faith as a young husband and father. I also live in a city that shares the same valley that United States Army camped (Camp Floyd) in during the “Utah War”. I never knew much about that until we moved here 19 years ago. Thus are the text-to-self and text-to-world gems (maybe I should call them "index-to-self or "index-to-world" connections) that can be found when digging a little deeper and shining a light on history…through indexing.