There’s one in every family. The scrap saver, the photo collector, the date monger, the pedigree charter, the one who listens to the stories of the old-timers for the hundredth time without yawning from boredom. Curious about their bloodlines, and often those of their spouses, self-appointed family historians prod around, perpetually searching for the odd fact, the burial place, the missing link. They take pleasure in the villains and ne’er-do-wells as much as they do in the saints and over-achievers. Generous with their hard-won ancestral treasure, they share — much to the delight of other family historians and historical organizations. There is often serendipity in their work.
Toni Davies is a family historian marked by serendipity. In sifting through the flotsam of her husband Hank’s ancestors, she found a letter from the Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) to Hank’s grandmother, Helen Voight. The letter, written by Thomas Christensen in 1976, sought information on Helen’s grandfather, Nathan Richardson. Hank and his brothers were raised by their “Gram,” but didn’t know much about their ancestors beyond her. Toni was determined to fix that and started compiling a heritage book for Hank. The Historical Society letter was the sort of clue genealogists love to find, that niggling piece of data that breaks open the log jam and brings on a flood of new information.
Toni followed the clue and wrote to MCHS. As a result, we had our own brush with serendipity. It was April 2004 and I was up to my elbows in newspaper articles about Nathan Richardson, pulling together whatever I could find that would help me write his biography. Voluminous is not too strong a word for what I eventually discovered, however, I couldn’t seem to locate any descendants. Voila! One magically appeared via Toni’s letter.
I told Toni of our project to republish Nathan’s histories of Morrison County and sent her a fraction of what we had on Nate’s family. She responded by writing, “I feel like I struck Gold” and shared what she knew of Hank’s family. The Richardson line from past to present runs thusly: Nathan Richardson to Raymond Richardson to Marion Helen Richardson Voight to Frieda Voight Davies Friedlan to Henry O. “Hank” Davies and his three brothers.
Fast forward two years. The book is finished and a bust of Nathan Richardson was due to be dedicated by Morrison County on June 2, 2006. Tim Houle, County Administrator, asked me if I knew any of Nate’s relatives, thinking it would be nice to invite them to the dedication. A brilliant idea, but one that I wasn’t sure could be pulled off. Hank and Toni live in Utah, quite a distance to travel on short notice. Thanks to their son’s frequent flyer miles and travel arrangements, Hank and Toni made it to the celebration. Their nephew, Brad Davies, joined them.
Back and forth, the information flowed during their visit – me, grateful to be in the presence of direct descendants of a man I’d studied for three years – they, happy to see a familial resemblance in the bust of Nate and to make a solid connection to an ancestor.
And, to think, it may not have happened if it hadn’t been for another family scrap saver, one that neither the Davies nor I have ever met – Nathan’s daughter Mary. A silver candy dish here, a handful of photos there, a bandolier bag, a family Bible, some blankets and cufflinks. And, oh, that history! Nathan’s 1876 history, pasted into an old ledger book, replete with editor’s marks. Mary Richardson Harker had the foresight to donate this ledger to the Carnegie Library and it eventually found a home with the Morrison County Historical Society, along with the other sundry items that she thought to give directly to MCHS in the 1940s and ’50s.
The savers, the patient listeners, the sharing and serendipity. These are the bloodlines of the Morrison County Historical Society. With them, we can serve as a link to those who come after.
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2006, Morrison County Historical Society