My Grandpa - Son of a Pioneer

Because of a weirdly wide age spread in the generations in my family, the Mormon pioneer experience is only three generations back, even though I’m only in my 40s. Perhaps this explains the nearness of these ancestors for me. 

My Grandpa Anderson serving during World War I.
My Grandpa Anderson serving during World War I.

My husband and I both have great-grandfathers who crossed the plains as pioneers

My husband’s great-grandpa and mine both crossed the plains with Mormon Pioneers when they were boys. I find this amazing. This is a remarkably close connection in both our families. There is a hundred years between when my husband and his grandfather were born.

After affluence in Denmark, when my great-grandpa finally arrived in Utah, they spent the first year living in a dugout on the banks of the Bear River. Mud dripped from the ceiling of their cave-like dwelling every time it rained. Can you even imagine that? It’s one thing to go camping and to deal with some rain, but an entire Utah winter in a mud cave? I have been told that when my great-grandpa’s mother arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, she wept. Not so much for joy and relief, but at the realization of how hard it would be to scratch a home from sagebrush, without tools or money or stores.

My husband’s great-grandparents have a similar story. They crossed from Denmark to Ellis Island and then by covered wagon to Utah. Their photos hang in our dining room, along with their young daughter who died on the journey. In their new town of Hyrum, Utah, my husband’s great-grandfather become a personal friend of the great Shoshone Chief ‪Washakie.  His son Heber had vivid and positive memories of the Shoshone tribe visiting their town and home.

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This generation meant we never got to meet our grandpas

But although these pioneer stories are close in generations to us, neither my husband nor I got to meet our grandpas, thus making them still seem distant. That is, until we heard the audio I’ll share in a minute. I always felt a bit ripped off because the other grandkids talked about Grandpa Anderson’s jolly disposition and kind nature. What would I give for a recording of his voice? How I wished his WWI journal contained more than a few sparse notes. The same was true for my husband.

Related: Voice Recording Apps Are Convenient, Create Great Memories

Hearing his grandfather’s voice for the first time

What would you give to hear someone’s voice again, or for an ancestor’s story whose life details elude discovery?

Well, a few years ago, my mother-in-law entrusted me with an interview of Milan’s grandpa, recorded in 1961 on reel-to-reel. Tin in hand, I sped to Larsen Digital to have it digitized, and when I slid that shiny CD into my player and his voice spoke into my car, I felt I knew this man.  I liked him right away.

My first impression was how soft and polite his voice was, a gentleman. He tells of the Chief ‪Washakie coming by the house for a cup of coffee and conversation. Heber describes the procession by their home when Chief Washakie’s daughter died. She had been a beautiful little princess, and the event had quite an impact on the boy.

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A story worth remembering

In the interview, we learn about growing up on a farm around the turn of the century. Imagine avalanches, the Depression, and losing his wife in childbirth. This left Milan’s dad without a mother, so common in those days. Think of it. When was the last time you heard of a woman dying in childbirth, leaving her young family? It happens, but it has become rare. The setting is Milan’s hometown of Hyrum, Utah and it paints a rich picture.

This audio is a treasure to me that bridges generations and makes me feel that someday if we get to meet on the other side, it will be a reunion and not an introduction. Recently, Milan was inspired to make this video vignette about his grandpa. I hope you will enjoy it, but more importantly that you will feel inspired to leave stories for future generations of your family to discover.

Use voice for powerful stories

This experience was long before we started Evalogue.Life, but it had such a powerful effect on me that seeds for this work were planted. So although I am a writer by nature, audio is a favorite medium for its ability to evoke emotion and memory.

Do it now, and it will be enough.

Not sure how to go about an interview? We created an easy and free interviewing tutorial here to help you with all the technical details, along with a dose of encouragement.

Are you interested in writing your life story but have some questions? We have a great resource page for family history writers here, and love to assist clients in completing this priceless process. Reach out because we would love to talk with you about your project!

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Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives. She believes that when you tell your story, it changes the ending., She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her books: How to Storyboard, and Every Essential Element. Most recently she was the writing coach of bestselling author, Rob A. Gentile, who wrote Quarks of Light, A Near-Death Experience: What I Saw That Opened My Heart.

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