Winifred Calista Welty

The History of Winnifred Calista Welty

Winnifred Calista Welty was born in 1917.

Her brief life of 49 years is not marked with notable worldly accomplishments. She had one child, my mother, Susanne Catherine Begich Westover.

Grandmothers usually play a vital role in the lives of the rising generation. Winnifred certainly made her mark in influencing her Westover grandchildren.

As her grandson this is my attempt to share her story as I understand it. I make no claim that this is comprehensive or complete. I include details shared with me by my parents and extended family members who knew her. Sadly much has been lost to time and circumstance and there are many questions I cannot answer.

Hers was a complicated and tragic life. It seems a bit unfair to see so much heaped on the shoulders of one person.

Winnifred’s trials and isolation from family complicated her situation and, as a result, my Mother’s situation as well.

It is a story of long reaching consequences. It is a tale of strange arrangements, sad realities, and difficult facts. It is one that would affect many relationships over several branches of the overall family for generations. As such we must share the aftereffects of decisions made during Winnie’s life and include some memories of some still living, including experiences of my own.

In so doing we take some risks.

Family history is sometimes difficult to recount because there are often different sides to the same story that do not get represented. In this case, some have passed on and can no longer speak. I acknowledge that new information may later surface or different details could later be shared.

The lessons learned are not only important for those who love Winnifred Calista Welty. They are vital in uniting cousins of rising generations and keeping the family connected over events long past that we can do nothing about.

This is a story of deep feelings, mistrust, misunderstanding, tender isolation and of overcoming through love. It includes elements of abuse, deep loss, and forgiveness. In the end, miracles are also part of the difficult details.

This is Winnifred’s history.

As with us all, it begins long before her birth.

~ Welty Family Origins ~

When Johan Jacob Welty arrived in America via the immigrant ship, the Ketty, in 1752 he had with him his bride, Christina. They would join a community of fellow German immigrants in an established German community in Dover, Pennsylvania. He was 42 years old.

Dover was a great place to grow things. The Germans there brought their agricultural traditions, their schools, and their churches with them. Johan – known by the American-English name, John – would farm and raise a family of six children with Christina.

A son, named Phillip Jacob Welty, would be born in Dover in 1759.

Phillip married Anna Maria Wilt around 1780 and they worked the family farm in Dover and raised four children there. Their eldest child, a son they named Jacob, was born in 1781.

Jacob Welty became the third generation of the family to take over the farm in Dover. He met a local girl named Barbara and married her around the year 1808. They would have seven children, including their third, a son, who they also named Jacob.

This Jacob Welty would continue the family traditions of farming. But after marrying Elizabeth Krigbaum in 1837 they would venture about 200 miles north to the new farming community of Lindley, New York – becoming one of the first settlers in that area.

Jacob and Elizabeth would raise a family of nine children, many of whom lived well into the 20th century. Among their number was a son they named George – an old Welty family name from Germany – who would spend the entirety of his life in Lindley.

George Welty, who was around 18 years old at the time of the Civil War, likely served in the Yankee Army. He married as the Civil War ended in 1865, having survived the entirety of the war. His bride, Maria Sarah Weldon, was the daughter of Harvey and Betsey Weldon, prominent local citizens with a long family history in southwestern New York state.

George and Maria raised eight children and, like the five previous generations of the Welty family, they taught them all to farm. But their youngest son, named Alfred, born in 1893, was no farmer.

Alfred, as an adult, was one of the few Welty sons who did not continue the tradition of farming. He took a job in the near-by community of Corning, at the Corning Glass Works, as a glass gatherer.

~ Alfred and Susan ~

It is believed the Carson family came from Ireland around the 1820s. John Carson, a son of Samuel and Mary Carson, likely came to the United States as a child. He married Elizabeth Hyatt around the year 1825 and with her would raise a family of six children.

Their second son, named Erastus Carson, was born around 1830 and would serve in the Civil War in the 1st Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the Lincoln Cavalry, from 1861 to 1865. Injured in some way during the war, he returned home and married Elizabeth Coolbaugh, in 1872.

Their second child, a son they named Kit, was born in 1876. Kit was raised a farmer and is mentioned in local newspapers over the course of his lifetime for his achievements and community involvement. Kit married Effie Groom and they raised a large family of twelve children. Their eldest, a daughter they called Susie, was born in 1898 in Corning, New York.

At some point Alfred Welty and Susie Carson met.

They married, in Corning, on November 24th, 1916. Susan Catherine Carson was 18 years old. Alfred was 23.

Alfred and Susan Carson Welty

Alfred and Susan’s Wedding photo

On April 25, 1917, their first child, a daughter, was born. They named her Winnifred Calista Welty and called her Winnie. The next year, on November 8th, 1918, another child, a son they named Norman Francis Welty, was born.

~ Troubles and Tragedy ~

Alfred and Susan’s wedding was a well-attended family affair held at the home of Kit and Effie Carson. The world was already embroiled in World War I and forces were galvanizing in the US at the time of the wedding.

Alfred, being of age and unmarried, was exempted from the draft. His draft registration clearly shows he had a handicap in a crippled arm. It is not known if this was the result of a birth defect or of some injury:

Alfred's WWI Draft Registration

The Welty family had some military experience. Alfred’s father, George, as noted above, served. George’s younger brother, William, born in 1843, is on record enlisted in the 107th infantry.

In investigating the other Welty family members of service age during the Civil War two things stand out: nearly all served and many suffered significant aftereffects of that service.

Some of the same can be said of the Carson family as well, although evidence suggests not quite as many Carson family members served in the war. The Civil War was a game changer in many ways for most. For the Yankee residents of New York state the war was long and terrible. Hardly any family was unaffected.

For George Welty and his bride, Maria, growing their family on the rural landscape of Lindley, New York carried on the traditions of earlier generations. Surviving records show a family striving to endure the rigors of farm life. George would appear in the news for having suffered a broken leg due to a chain that broke while trying to remove trees. When George’s father, Jacob, died in 1900 it was George who administered the estate and officially inherited the farm he had long worked.

Alfred Welty was born in 1893 when his father, George, was 52 years old. In census records of the 1890s and early 1900s Alfred was shown as a farmer rather than as a student. Local newspapers often noted the workings of the Welty farm and the travels of George Welty who continued to work it well into his 70s.

Alfred did attend school as a child. But better than 20 years separated Alfred from his two eldest brothers. Alfred left after as his father died in 1913 – the family farm by then likely fell to one of his older brothers. Alfred took up residence in the nearby biggest city of Corning, New York – home to Corning Glassworks.

Corning Glassworks

It is unknown how Alfred and Susan met.

Susan was the eldest child in a prominent farming family. She attended this high school:

Corning High School

Susan was barely 18 when she married Alfred.

World events seemed to swirl around their lives as a young family. When Susan became pregnant with their second child, Norman, the Spanish flu epidemic was raging.

As soldiers returned home in 1918 they brought the flu with them and it tore through North American communities. Norman was born on November 8th and barely a month later Susan succumbed due to the flu.

Alfred had to carry on.

Census records indicate that he lived in the same house but took on a housekeeper with a young child to help with the children. Here is a surviving image from that time period of Alfred with Winnie and Norman:

alfred welty

Alfred Welty, in the spring of 1919 after the death of his wife, Susan

Alfred survived for four more years when, near the anniversary of Susan’s death, he too passed away.

His obituary says he died of “four weeks illness of complication of diseases”. That cryptic phrase was used at the time to artfully say it was possibly an unnatural death. No official death certificate has been located. Alfred was just 29.

The family struggled to know what to do with the children. For a brief time, as indicated in state and federal census records, it is clear the children were passed around some between the Welty and Carson families.

Ultimately Norman was sent to live with “Aunt Emma”, who was Alfred’s oldest sister. She was 50 years old and married to a man named Benjamin Edwards at the time.

A state census from 1925 shows Norman still with Aunt Emma but she was no longer married. Benjamin shows up with another wife at a different address. Emma is 57 and Norman is 6, and they were living as boarders with a man named Blencow. Emma and Norman would later board at the home of Emma’s sister, Glenora, and her family. While living there Emma passed away in 1937.

Emma Welty

Aunt Emma

For Winnie the story is a little different.

She was sent to the family of Willis H. Welty, Alfred’s oldest brother who was a farmer and the likely heir of the farm run by his brother George and their father, Jacob. Willis was married to Lydia and they had a family of several children. This is an image of that family likely taken several years before Winnie was born:

Willis H. Welty Family

It was in the home of Willis and Lydia that Winnie would spend her childhood years.

Most census records list her as a niece. One record shows her as a maid, though it is unknown if that was a mistake. In later years Winnie would not have many positive things to say about her growing up years. Nothing has yet been found of her academic record, though she clearly attended school.

Of note in this image is the boy in the back, Lawrence Welty. Lawrence was one of the only members of the family that remained in contact with Winnie after she graduated from high school and set out on her own. He was noted by Winnie for his kindness. Many years later, in California, my parents would meet “Uncle Lawrence”, and they too recalled his kindness.

The only other member of the family Winnie kept contact with was her brother, Norman. Here they are shown together as children, likely on the farm of Willis Welty, and maybe around the time that Alfred died:

Norman and Winnie Welty

What do we know about the upbringing of young Winnie?

Not much. She was cared for, as you can see from these surviving images:

Winnifred Welty

Winnifred Welty

The full story of her childhood likely went with her. My mother was told by Winnie that she had an unhappy childhood due to abuse. What kind of abuse is not known. We do not know who her abuser was.

All we know is that she developed a keen distrust of family during her growing up years.

She left western New York as soon as she could after high school, taking nannying jobs with families who could provide her income and a roof over her head.

She never returned Corning.

And, other than Lawrence and Norman, she never had another contact with either the Welty or Carson families for the rest of her life.

~ Work, Marriage and Motherhood ~

In 1940 we find Winnie in Scarsdale, NY – hundreds of miles away from Corning, working as a maid in the home of a family named Allston. How long she worked for them is not known. What is known is that by the winter of 1943 she was working in New York City as a receptionist.

Carl and Winnie

In the building where she worked she met a man named Carl Begich. He was an aspiring journalist. They began to court, fell in love and got married in May 1942. On January 11th, 1943 – Carl’s 24th birthday – my mother, Susanne Catherine Begich was born.

From the very beginning Winnie and Carl called her Cathi. The name had significance to both of them. Catherine was Winnie’s mother Susan’s middle name and also Carl’s mother’s given first name.

Thrilled as they were to begin a family, due to the war and world circumstances, it could not last. Just over a month after the birth Carl enlisted in the Army (that story can read in his history).

The Begich family hailed from Minnesota, a place where Winnie had never been. It is not known if she ever got a chance to visit there but she did at least get a chance to meet one member of the Begich family – Uncle Pete, Carl’s brother, who had come to New York around the time my mother was born.

The Army had plans for the talents of Carl Begich and it was thought for a time as he went through basic training he would be based on the East Coast for at least the first part of his service in the war. In his letters we read how Carl and Winnie discussed a possible move.

But those plans changed quickly when Carl received word he was to train in California. So certain was he of these new plans he asked Winnie to pack all she could with the baby and head to Northern California, where he would soon join her. So she went, at the height of the buildup to the war, and found a little place to stay in Port Chicago, California.

Carl never made it there.

Instead his orders were changed and he found himself sent to England, where he was put in a radio squadron. From 1943 to 1945, he wrote letters home detailing what he could of his experiences and writing of their future plans as a family. None of Winnie’s letters survived the war.

But reading from Carl’s letters we get a good idea of the stages of growth the baby experienced and all that Winnie was enduring as just one of many lonely military wives.

Carl wrote some cryptic letters in the winter of 1945. Clearly the war was coming to a close but his service, he indicated, would likely go on after the war was over. By this time he was working in military intelligence and his working future was completely up in the air. He told Winnie that if she received word that something happened to him she should not believe it.

In June of 1945, weeks after the war in Europe ended, she received word that he was missing in action. So did Carl’s family in Minnesota. Just weeks later, they were told that Carl had been killed in action (non-battle). Because of all the mysterious circumstances, and all the cryptic references from his letters to both Winnie and to his family, nobody could believe Carl was gone.

Carl’s father, Michael Begich, wrote letter after letter to the War Department seeking information of what had happened to him. It took years for a response and answers never really came to give his family closure. For Winnie the situation was even more complex.

What was she to do now? There she was, thousands of miles away from the home she grew up in, and she had nowhere to go and no one coming home to her.

There was an awkward exchange of letters between Winnie and the Begich family.

The Begich’s had suggested she consider bringing the baby and moving to Minnesota, where she would be surrounded by family. When she coldly rejected that suggestion the Begich family struggled to understand. More letters were sent, each rising in tension as rejection seemed to be the only reply.

My mother told me that Winnie later explained that she did not want Mom growing up as an “orphan among family members”. Winnie felt it best to carry on in life as a single mother than to expose young Cathi to family she didn’t know or, for whatever reason, couldn’t trust.

Trust was really at the heart of what Winnie was feeling and it came because of nothing any of the Begich family had done. It went all the way back to Corning and the family Winnie had known there.

~ Starting Over in California ~

Cathi was Winnie’s family now. And life needed to be lived. As the men returned from the war in 1945 and 1946, Winnie met another, a man named Pascal Henry Caldwell.

As a person he could not have been more different than Carl. He was physical – a simple red-neck farmer with a huge smile, from Louisiana. Like her, Pat Caldwell had a difficult past with family and a future without them.

Where Winnie and Pat Caldwell connected was this: both had been severely traumatized by the war. They married in the Spring of 1946, taking this picture with young Cathi as they began their family life together:

Caldwell Family

Pat accepted an offer from the government for a civilian job as an electrician while they provided him with training and certification. California would be their home. They purchased a house on Detroit Avenue in Concord and would spend all of their years together there.

For all Cathi knew, Pat Caldwell was her father. Then she went to school, where she heard the Begich name for the first time. That impactful moment on the heart of a five-year-old created something of greater bond between mother and child. Winnie did not want Cathi to experience the pain she had in losing both her parents. She wanted to be honest as much as she could as the struggles Cathi might have with identity would surface.

Those things came to bear soon enough. Mom did not know this strange name, Begich. She didn’t want that name attached to her because her Daddy was named Pat Caldwell. Winnie quickly instructed the school to remove the Begich name from Mom’s records.

Sometimes other life lessons were tough for mother and child.

Mother tells me of the time when she was quite young, maybe 8 years old, when she decided to steal one of Winnie’s cigarettes. Her mother caught her in the act and sat her down right away.

Winnie lit up another cigarette and gave it to Mom to inhale. Then she held up a handkerchief and had Mom blow smoke through it. The white hankie turned yellow.

“You see why you can’t do this?” Winnie asked her. Mother later reflected that it seemed her mother was pushing her to become better than she was. “Mom always said I was better than her and could do more than she did.” Mom shared.

Mom also described how Winnie and Pat worked together to make life enjoyable for her growing up.

They supported all her efforts in school, took her on vacations, went camping, hunting and fishing. Mom told of the patience of her Dad when he hosted a barbeque for a pack of 10-year old girls who had come to celebrate Mom’s birthday. All this could be described as normal family life of the 1950s.

But beneath the veneer of normalcy resided a struggle with Winnie and Pat that made things difficult. Both had problems with alcohol.

Frequently mother would return home from school to find Winnie drunk, unable to function. Mom said she would have to straighten up the house, rush to fix dinner and make her mother presentable for when her father returned home.

Pat Caldwell worked at the Naval base. He started early in the morning, then on most days went to work part time as a county sheriff deputy in the late afternoon and evening hours. Once off duty from either job he would frequent a local establishment and drink with friends. It was not unusual for him to come home inebriated.

The combined forces of two drinking parents created many difficult situations for my mother.

It took her years to realize that both of her parents were suffering from aftereffects of their war trauma and family situations. Alcohol was their coping mechanism.

All she knew was that her mother was a very sad drunk and her father was a mean one. There were threats of violence, lots of family tension and frequent outbursts.

If dealing with their lack of sobriety on an individual basis was not bad enough dealing with moments when Winnie and Pat would drink together was worse. This usually happened during holidays and gatherings. Because of this my Mom grew up with a distaste for Christmas and birthdays.

During my mother’s teenage years she kept herself active in as many school endeavors as she could. While of course there were sober moments in the family’s daily life, and her parents remained supportive in her activities the alcoholism was ever-present.

My father entered the picture during the final two years of high school in my mother’s life. He would witness some of the trauma in the Caldwell home. For him, coming from a home without those issues, he found it difficult to connect with his future in-laws.

Pat Caldwell scared my father. He was a big man. He was a quiet man. He was a serious man. And when inebriated he was to be feared. Winnie Caldwell scared Dad too, but in a very different way. She did not trust him with her daughter and she told him that. He wanted to be trusted, and liked, but she questioned his intentions.

When my parents rushed to Carson City – the same place where Pat and Winnie went to when they married – they found that my mother was too young to get married without parental permission. Mom was still 17, having just graduated from high school months before.

So they both called home to Concord and sought out both sets of parents. Seeing that their minds were made up, both the Caldwells and the Westovers decided to come to Carson City to see my parents married.

They traveled together, having just met each other for the first time. In sharing this story with me Dad openly wondered what the conversation in that car was like for these two couples who had so little in common – other than their teenage children marrying each other. I share this part of the story of my parents here because it is insightful into the history of all the individuals involved.

Whatever happened in that car, and whatever ensued once the marriage happened in Carson City, it changed roles and relationships.

Months later, after my parents had moved to Provo, Utah, where my Dad was attending BYU, Winnie travelled to be there at the birth of their first child. My parents were living in a rented hotel room, having arrived too late to secure a house or an apartment at the start of the new school year. Winnie took an adjacent room while the days passed for the baby’s arrival.

After my brother was born my Dad was working as an usher at a theater. He was concerned because he was uncertain what Mom and his new mother-in-law knew about caring for a baby. He at least had some experience with siblings. But Mom was an only child and, to his knowledge, Mom was also the only baby Winnie had ever cared for.

Dad got home from work and wandered into Winnie’s hotel room where he found them in the bathroom, on their knees, bathing the baby and having the time of their life with the task. He quickly realized he was the real rookie in baby care as he watched mother and grandmother coo over my brother. The moment was one of many perspective-altering situations Dad would witness.

~ Later Years ~

Grandparenting came natural to both Winnie and Pat. We, as grandchildren, called them Nana and Bumpa.

In the coming years of the early 1960s they relished their roles with the grandchildren. They became hands-on grandparents. They embraced each one of us, played down on the floor and in the dirt. Grandparenting gave them great joy.


Nana and Bumpa

For my father, these moments cleared the clouds brought on by alcoholism in his in-laws. He gained greater respect for them. For my mother, the impact was greater. She too saw something different in her parents, something she never got to see much or could remember as a child.

Mom told me of the time when my older sister was born and how having a girl seemed to affect Winnie. Nana really wanted Mom to have a girl. As Mother explained this to me, Nana was anxious to have granddaughters who could be strong and independent.

When my parents married there were many gifts given to help them set up house. One of the more significant of those gifts was a maple hope chest Nana had purchased with trading stamps.
Because of her problems with alcohol Pat would not give Winnie cash to run the house. He was afraid she would spend it all on alcohol. So she saved up green S&H trading stamps she collected when they would go out to buy groceries together. Years of saving these stamps allowed Nana to purchase the hope chest.

That chosen hope chest and what it represented to my Mom was the center piece of a new bedroom set my parents purchased after my sister was born. Because the hope chest was maple they wanted the rest of the bedroom to match. They purchased a maple canopy bed with matching nightstands.

When Nana saw this she cried. She felt the bedroom set was worthy of her daughter and granddaughter, who she felt needed to be treated as queens.

Dad told me in later years this was an event that changed things a bit between him and Nana. Earlier there were many things that happened that challenged him. One time came when Nana asked him to stop by the liquor store and bring her home a bottle of wine.

This was something Dad had to refuse to do. She was angry at that refusal and called him something of a prude.

He said he tried to defend himself by saying he was raised without alcohol and that being associated with it at all would affect how people would look at him.

Nana responded by saying that what other people might think was different than what other people actually do think. She admonished him to be worried about what all people thought not just people who were like him.

Dad said it was likely the first time he ever really felt mothered by his mother-in-law. It was a teachable moment because Nana didn’t hold back. Like the lesson of the cigarette when Mom was a child it was a moment where her own weakness was set aside for a higher idea. Dad described Nana as fearless when correcting him – and then fearless in showing greater love after the altercation was over.

Dad told of another time when Nana went on a summer vacation with them in 1963. The trip included stops in Disneyland in Southern California, Las Vegas, and later in Yellowstone.

Along the way they would stop in Gunnison, Utah to visit Uncle Gerald and Aunt Milda’s place to pick up a boat motor for a visit to Fish Lake.

Upon arriving in Gunnison Nana refused to get out of the car. She had no interest in meeting any family.

Anyone who knows Uncle Gerald knows there was nothing to fear. But Nana didn’t know Uncle Gerald, she only knew he was family and then not to be trusted. Dad had only heard whispers of these feelings from Nana and simply could not understand it. Dad and Mom went into the house and in a short time Uncle Gerald came out to the car.

Because it was hot, the car window was open. So he leaned in and chatted with her as only Uncle Gerald could. Mom told me that Nana was charmed and laughed and briefly conversed with him. But she still refused to get out of the car or get any closer.

Despite these kinds of things it is important to note how the Caldwells and the Westovers came together to support my parents.

That first semester at BYU proved to be too financially stressful for my parents. Dad said they returned to Concord, with himself feeling like quite a failure. As he discussed his options with my mother, and later with my grandfather, it was determined that my Dad should get a job right away and that a home somehow would be secured for our family.

Both sets of parents stepped up to help in significant ways. Both contributed cash for the down payment on the house on Crawford Street in Concord, situated between the grandparents’ homes on Detroit Avenue and Peach Place in Concord. My grandmother returned to teaching in case help with the house payments was needed.

Dad enrolled at Cal State Berkeley. It took him until 1968, holding down several jobs and getting help from both sets of parents the whole way in order for him to graduate. These combined family efforts – made for the good of our family – created a level of mutual respect between the Westovers and the Caldwells.

My Dad told me that how his parents handled the situation with Pat and Winnie Caldwell went far in helping him to adapt to his in-laws. He recalled the time when he converted the garage of the little house on Crawford street for an office where he could study. Both Dads had ideas, suggestions and a hand to lend in getting the project done. Both helped.

A question arose about flooring. Dad had one idea on how to do it. Grandpa had another and as they discussed it things turned into something of a debate. Bumpa walked in during the middle of the conversation and could quickly see where it was going. He gently sided with Grandpa and, Dad said, he encouraged him to apologize. He quickly did. However, Dad said the real lesson wasn’t in that he was wrong but in that the look on his father’s face was one he could never forget. Dad said Grandpa was shocked at what Bumpa had said and done. Grandpa, for whatever reason, didn’t think Pat Caldwell liked him much.

In later years, as I would spend time with my ill Grandma Westover in her final days, I asked her about my other grandparents. She told me what wonderful people she thought they were. She said that Nana and Bumpa had treated her and Grandpa like gold and she knew they loved us.

Family Picnic

Mother, too, talked about how her parents and my Dad’s parents were thrown together and how different they were from each other. Mom said that when I was born both sets of grandparents appeared at the hospital at about the same time and how it seemed surprising to her when Bumpa reached out to shake Grandpa’s hand and say, “Congratulations”.

That little exchange surprised Mom because it was a moment they shared together as grandfathers. They had little else in common but they shared that and it gave her joy to see them so happy together.

My mom was there when Grandma Westover passed in 1987. It was a difficult situation for Mom. One of the first people she talked to after speaking with my father was Bumpa. He later told me it was one of the few times that my Mother had initiated a phone call with him. Mom told me that in that phone call that Bumpa was sad because he loved Grandma. He called her a great lady.

Such declarations were not easy for a man like Pat Caldwell to make.

~ Reflections of Others ~

My memories of Nana are very few. I was just four years when she passed away. In watching my wife now with our grandchildren I’m reminded of those memories I of have of Nana.

She was always so gentle and happy with me and, like my own small grandchildren now, there’s a magical connection with an engaged grandmother. That is why in later years, as I learned of her history, her personality and characteristics, I was stunned to learn some facts about her.

The first was her physical size. As a small child, looking up at her, she was as any other adult. She fawned at me from above. But she was only 4 foot 10 inches in height – a tiny woman. Of her surviving things a size six pair of heels give us a physical reminder of her petite frame. This was hard for me to imagine.

Winnifred Welty Begich

The second thing that is difficult for me to grasp about Nana is her demeanor. She has frequently been described to me as sad. In today’s terms you might say she suffered from depression. My memories are always of her vibrant smile and that deep dimple and sparkling countenance.

Nana and Debbie

Mom would tell me that Nana would always say that I have “bedroom eyes”. To me, this gushing grandmother was nothing but smiles and love. My older siblings have the same recollection, though my older brother has much more detail he shares of conversations and experiences with her.

Nana, I think, was something of a tomboy growing up because she seemed very comfortable in a boy’s world of sports, adventure and getting dirty.

But I think most telling in history of Winnifred Calista Welty would be her feelings about womanhood.

Whatever her experience as a girl growing up she was intent on instilling in my Mother the necessity of strength, willingness to face things independently and to shake off the bad things that happen.

Mom felt her real connection with Nana expanded when she became a mother. It gave them something more in common as women. While “family” on a broad scale was something to be avoided in the eyes of Winnie Caldwell, “family” as it relates to children required fierce loyalty and devotion.

When Mom was pregnant with Jay, my older brother, Nana took her aside to lecture about how that child developing within her would forever be a part of her. “You share blood”, she would say. “You are forever connected”.

Mom and Nana 1963

With each pregnancy Nana seemed to reinforce the bond between mother and child. In fact, with each passing pregnancy Mom said she found more love and connection with Nana. For Mom, having someone to share the tears and joys of nurturing children helped her understand Nana more.

That connection made Nana’s final difficult days very hard on my mom. They grew very tender as their relationship seemed to soar with each new grandchild and yet suffered with the ongoing issues with alcoholism.

Nana never got a handle on it.

In the spring of 1967 at the age of 49 she went into the hospital with liver failure. She passed on March 7th. My mother was 24 years old and Nana’s passing devastated her. For years afterwards my Mom would tearfully account for the many ways her mother was her best friend and confidant.

Other members of the family have lent their insights about Winnifred Calista Welty to me.

In the early 1980s, as I was assisting Bumpa in clearing out his properties as he was leaving California to return home to Louisiana, he declared his love for Nana in a very rare moment of spoken expression.

I was actually trying to get details from him about his war experience. He experienced many difficult things during his time all over the Pacific in the Navy during the war but he would never tell me exactly what happened. But in discussing his decisions in coming home, meeting Nana and settling in California he said “she understood everything” and that he really, really loved her.

Knowing him as I did that was an amazing statement.

In my mother’s later years, when health challenges frequently put her in the hospital, Mom would often bring up memories of her mother, even though Nana had been gone for more than four decades. During a hospital stay in 2012, when Mom suffered from something they call hospital delirium, I witnessed Mom hallucinate a scene where she saw Nana.

It bothered me to witness this and I later asked the doctor about it. The doctor explained that while the circumstances one might think they experience with this condition are usually nonsensical the people they see in these visions are typically people of great importance. The doctor asked me to describe what Mom said she saw and I told her about Nana. She was dumbfounded to learn that Nana had been gone for so long. “She must have been a very central figure in the life of your Mother,” the doctor told me.

Even my Mother’s final days, when more lucid experiences that come when the veil is so thin, she described seeing her mother reach out to her with open arms. When this experience happened my sister emphatically advised Mom to “Go to her, Mom – it’s okay”.

Mom’s arms were outstretched, a smile was on her face. But she leaned back, put her arms down, and simply said, “Not yet”. Hours later I asked Mom about it. Yes, she told me, it was real and “Nana looked so good”. Then mom shared something I never knew. “She has been here the entire time. She already knows everything about us. Nana only left her body behind.”

This explained during so many of my growing up years why Mom usually spoke of Nana in the present tense.

When I was 8, my little sister was born. She came several years after Nana had passed. I recall my Mom talked about my little sister’s dimple, a feature she shares with Nana. Mom said that dimple came from when Nana kissed her in my sister’s pre-existence. It was a simple, serious declaration – not a wistful wish or a sentimental memory to my Mother.

I can recall rainy spring days every year when my Mom would get very quiet.

I would ask her what was wrong and she’d say, “This reminds me of the day my Mom died”. That was about as down as my Mom seemed to get when speaking of her mother. Often, Mom talked about her in brighter terms and in a more present way.

As a teenager I experienced an event that made me very sad. When something bad happened to me, Mom would always remind me that “Nana would not like to see you sad” or “Nana doesn’t think bedroom eyes should cry”.

My mother’s journey in exploring the family history of her parents began in the early 1970s. After I served a mission and returned in 1984, I accompanied my Grandma Westover to the new family history library in Salt Lake City. She showed me how to look up names and how to operate a microfilm viewer. Grandma also very wisely admonished me to work on my mother’s family lines because Grandma knew they needed a lot of work.

So I called my Mom to ask where to start and she gave me some information she had about the Welty line. I came out of that week in the library with several paper copies of records Mom did not have, a fact that enthused her.

Based on that experience I made the decision to make a trip to Minnesota in an attempt to meet my great Grandma Begich, Carl’s mother. My cousin Bunni and her father, Uncle Pete, were very supportive.

My Mom, however, was reticent.

While she feared rejection of me her greater concern was a lingering anger against Nana. Mom was not sure if all the bad feelings over what happened so many years before had subsided.
I did not get to meet Great Grandma Begich, it was simply too much for her to handle. I was not there to hurt her and I told Bunni and Pete how much I appreciated their many efforts to make it happen. But I heard nothing but kindness from all the Begich family when it came to feelings about Nana and my mother. They did not understand and expressed that but at the same time they also, after all those many years, expressed great compassion for both Mom and Nana.

The many kindnesses shown to me on that trip, and the photos and memories I was able to collect of Grandpa Carl, did a lot of good in building love with those of us who came after it all happened. What I learned of Grandma Begich sure seems to fit with what I know of my mother and of Nana. Now that they are all on the other side, I wonder what that first meeting between them looked like.

The commonality of children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren between them all has to be something of great joy to them all. Grandma Begich’s history, which still needs to be written, shares much with both Nana and Mom. She too was a woman who had to overcome great loss to raise a strong family of great love and tradition.

I know for Nana that reality, and the memory of it, was something of greatest concern to her. Mother, and by extension, the rest of us, was the focal point of Nana’s life – her greatest accomplishment. Despite the great trials and her own weaknesses it was her life’s work. She took it seriously and did her very best.

When Bumpa told me, back in 1982ish, that he loved Nana he used a phrase I didn’t account for much significance at the time. But I wrote it down, thinking to ask my Mom about it later. He said, “She was feisty with me about your Mom. That was one way she told me she loved me.”

When I asked Mom about that – and it was before Bumpa died – she cried.

Mom shared that in later years, after Nana had passed and Bumpa had gone to AA meetings to overcome his battle with alcoholism, he was moved to seek her forgiveness.

That too had to be a hard expression for a man like Pat Caldwell to make.

Mom and Bumpa became very tender with each other as the years took their toll on him. I asked Mom if Bumpa ever told her about his love for Nana. She said he never used the words, not with her. But Mom was clear to me that he showed it to her, over and over again. She had no doubt of it.

Nana and Bumpa were good people.

I know my Mother would want anyone reading this to know that. She charged me with conveying that in our family history efforts. But I think their ultimate actions, and many great sacrifices, say it better than anything I can share here.

When Bumpa died Dad said that “he lived his life in crescendo”. I think that can be said of all those associated with the Winnifred Calista Welty story.

Nana did not give up entirely on her New York family. Two individuals remained in contact with her.

Her brother, Norman, served in WWII. Grandpa Carl’s letters mention attempts for the two of them to meet up somewhere there in Europe, though they never could find a way to find each other to make it happen. There were letters. Clearly Carl and Norman were acquainted with each other.

Norman Welty

Uncle Norm was a racer. He was always fiddling on cars, is what I’m told

When Uncle Norm came home from the war he too married and raised a family. Letters and phone calls between Winnie and Norm occasionally happened. When my Mother married and started our family every Christmas featured a Christmas card and a Christmas package from “Aunt Eris and Uncle Norm”.

Those simple efforts were a vital connection for Mom and, by extension, for us. In later years when work travel took them to New York, Mom and Dad were able to make a visit there in Montour Falls. They were folks who were so often welcoming and loving.

I mentioned Uncle Lawrence above. He was the older brother figure in Nana’s childhood, as the eldest son of Willis and Lydia Welty.

As I understand it, his own life journey took him to California as well during the war and he visited with Nana and Mom several times. In later years, when we were little, he became acquainted with Dad and for us he built a wooden rocking horse which my Mother painted. It remained a fixture in our home for many years.

Tragically Uncle Lawrence died on the day of his mother’s funeral, in a terrible car accident. So we never got a chance to know him. But he made an impression and he was spoken of with great kindness by Nana.

Mom says that Nana rarely spoke of her childhood or where she came from. Ironically, much like Grandma Begich had to do with her feelings about Grandpa Carl, Nana had to push those memories out of her mind and leave them far behind.

One of the elements these great women – my Mother, my Nana and my Grandma Begich – share in common is unbearably hard things they had to face as mere children. Each lost a parent while very young.

Words were not there for them to express how much that affected them. It was not unkindness on their part in going silent in later years over such pain. It was their love, for past in their parents and for future in their children and grandchildren, that helped them overcome.

If I could have an adult conversation now with Nana, and maybe someday I will, I would tell her that despite it all she did overcome. She was successful in her best efforts. She got past all that she had experienced and she did very, very well.


Lessons from My Dad

Today is my father’s 81st birthday. Well, it would have been. Dad passed in November 2021.

I have not yet published the history he was working on because it is not complete. I am finding that it is difficult to finish what he began.

So many times I heard Dad say, “We need to make a record!”

But the record of his life story is one I feel I just need time – and likely a lot of help – completing.

But I will take the occasion of this 2nd missed birthday since his passing to put down on record some thoughts that are important to me.

Grief is a process — one I have thoroughly experienced since Dad passed. It is normal. It is, in my view at least, just another level of love that is hard to put words to. I experienced this with my Mother, too.

For months after her expected passing I was weepy at times and caught by surprise at other times when her memory came up. For whatever reason I have found it difficult to visit her grave.

For a guy who loves cemeteries and celebrating family I just haven’t found much to be fond of in visiting where Mom is laid to rest.

I must confess that I haven’t been back there since Dad’s funeral either.

But part of the grieving process is letting go of certain things and I hope to do that as I “make a record” of my time with my Dad at the end of his life.

I’ve detailed some of the circumstances of ending up there at Dad’s house in this post. I won’t cover that ground again.

I’ll just say it was never a plan any of us had where I would be a caretaker for Dad.

I don’t know, really, what his plan was, frankly. I don’t think any of us give much thought to being old and dying. Dad certainly never felt that was where he was at on his journey.

But in the fall of 2020 we had a brief conversation about moving forward.

I basically said, “Dad, either I live with you or you come to live with me. But you just cannot be alone any longer.”

To my great surprise, Dad agreed.

I can recall discussing the time Dad had with my grandfather in his final year. He told me about having to talk to Grandpa about giving up his car keys.

Grandpa just wasn’t hearing it. He fought against the idea that he might be a danger, that he could not see well enough to drive and that the car had sustained significant damage due to hopping curbs and cutting corners.

Dad told me he didn’t want to be that way when one of his children had to have “the talk”.

But I know Dad never really thought about the time when it would happen to him. For a planner, this was just not something he had planned for. And neither did I.

But I kind of marvel about how it all came together.

It happened during the pandemic. It happened at a time when my wife was experiencing a similar situation with her parents. It happened at a time when I had adult children living in our home who could take care of house so I could be away. It happened right after I started a new job and they were open to the idea of working remotely due to Covid.

We decided to stay together in Dad’s apartment because Dad’s doctors were so close by and every doctor appointment would mean a 100-mile drive if he came to my already full house in Cache Valley.

It was a kind of obvious decision. So I moved in and just like that our lives became embedded in each other.

We had already been through the Covid thing with Dad. Though vaccinated his journey with Covid was complicated by his cancer.

In late September 2020 he was trying to get in to see his doctor and they required a Covid test. He took it and on the day I arrived he was informed he tested positive.

He had zero symptoms and felt fine. However, because he was a cancer patient, they wanted to see his lungs and sent us to the hospital for X-rays. I took him there and hours later we were dumb struck to hear a doctor there explain that Dad had double pneumonia.

While Dad had no symptoms at that time the doctor predicted that within days he would be suffering and, boy, was he right.

The doctor had ordered an oxygen tank and told me to put Dad on it at night. I did that but by the time that weekend rolled around he was on it 24/7 and Dad was as sick as could be.

This is really where my caregiving journey began.

I’m not the caregiver type. My sisters largely took care of my Mother and I assisted at times only when Dad would call to have me come help move her when she could not help move herself. Considering all the intimate care my Mom required I never considered myself an active participant in that mostly because that just wasn’t work I could do.

But here I was with Dad and the first real crisis I faced was getting through Covid. As many others experienced, Covid was many and different things to different people. In Dad’s case, it was difficult for me to understand all the dynamics presented with his cancer and how Covid acted with it.

He ended up in the hospital with Covid for a few days and I can recall those many hours being deep in research trying to understand the cancer my Dad had.

He passed out twice during his run with Covid. Was that Covid or cancer? What caused it? How could I ensure he wasn’t standing when these episodes would hit when he passed out? Would Dad go through covid and cancer only to lose his life to banging his head due to a fall?

The first time it happened he was in the bathroom. He had washed his hands and was making his way back to bed with his walker and he kind of leaned to one side.

He said, “Jeff, you better get over here-“ and down he went. I got there only to save his head and shoulders from hitting the floor. That experience began a routine of me talking to him every time he would black out. Sometimes he was out cold and could not respond. He’d be breathing and I’d feel he was safe, but I’d have to wait a minute for him to come to.

Other times he would not be able to see or move but was still with it enough to respond. He would always say the same thing, “I’m here – hold on.”

Now, one thing Dad and I discussed at other times about his history is that he didn’t want his cancer to define him. I am pleased, after all these months since he passed, my memories and feelings for Dad really have little to do with the disease that ultimately took him. But I feel there are valuable lessons to be had from the last 18 months of his life and the cancer was pretty much the center of everything. It limited him and it freed him, all at the same time.

Whether God intended him to change as a result of cancer is something we’ll never know. But I do know that Dad experienced worlds of change during that time and I think it is important to note them in his history.

When he had Covid I felt a need to give Dad a blessing. But, not wanting to expose anyone else to Covid, I called my Bishop for advice. He told me he felt I could give Dad the blessing alone.

Within minutes of that conversation there was a knock at the door and there stood the Harrisons, my Dad’s ministering couple – all masked up and holding yet another goodie plate. Dad had called them telling them not to come over due to covid. So, of course, they came.

Brother Harrison is retired military, a full bird colonel. He’s about as solid as they come and I told him immediately about wanting to give Dad a blessing without passing along Covid.

Brother Harrison said he understood but, as luck would have it, they had recovered from Covid and he would gladly assist.

So right then and there we gave Dad a blessing.

My experience in giving blessings with pretty extensive, but most of the time I gave those blessings with Dad and for other people – many times for my Mom. I was nervous but felt compelled to bless Dad that he would recover from Covid and he would have time to do the things he wanted to do.

I can recall afterwards thinking, “What did I just say?” but Brother Harrison put his hand on my shoulder and said, “That was the right thing, Jeff. You got it exactly right.”

And Dad did recover from Covid.

I had no expectations going into living with my father because I never expected to do it.

Several things took me by surprise, the greatest of those being that my relationship with my Dad went to a whole new level. Part of that I think is because we had reached a plateau of sorts in our roles. We were, at this stage of time, similar in that we were both sons, husbands, fathers and grandfathers. We likely had more in common that we ever had before.

That led us to talk frankly, candidly and more importantly, constantly.

Dad’s cancer and how we dealt with it all was kind of a common denominator for all our conversations. He knew he was dying. I knew it. We didn’t shy away from it.

We also didn’t dwell on it. Things were always very positive and forward-looking with Dad. Always.

Six months after my mother died, my sister and I listened to a surgeon after nearly 9 hours of exploratory surgery try to explain my Dad’s cancer. That is when I realized Dad was dying. The doctor gave him five years. That was in 2015. Here I was with Dad in late 2020. His time was short.

Though we didn’t really bring it up the cancer and his mortality became a kind foundation for a lot of our conversations.

In the previously mentioned post, which talks a little about Dad’s broader discovery with family history, we often wandered into discussion of the post-life experience and who Dad would meet there. We had discussed it in the past in regards to my mother, who must have had reunions we can only imagine.

These were hopeful things for Dad, not only to be in presence of his parents and other loved ones again, but to meet some of the heroes of our heritage that passed before he was born.

One such individual is Albert Smith, his paternal grandmother’s grandfather. Albert’s life story is presented in this post.

Dad and I had worked for a few years on a still-uncompleted video project of Albert’s life. For Dad, it had become a tender tale. Dad very much wanted to meet Albert.

These deep-feeling conversations with Dad are some of the most precious to me. Dad was not one to get weepy but he would when discussing individuals he admired.

One he admired more than any other is my Mom.

I was there with Dad in the weeks and days after Mom’s passing. Although we all knew Mom would be leaving I was shocked to see how much it threw Dad. He literally did not know what to do with himself when she left.

During my time with Dad we talked about Mom more than any other person.

We talked about their courtship, their first years together and the many miracles of my Mother’s life that came in overcoming the challenges of her youth and the things she had to accept in marrying Dad.

Perhaps if only because he had nobody else to confess to Dad unloaded his private grief and regrets about his relationship with Mom from different parts of their lives.

These sacred moments were of a nature I cannot completely share. He did not have to share those things with me.

But we also shared my feelings about Mom, and experiences I had with her he knew nothing about. It was liberating in a way to be able to share things about Mom that Dad knew nothing of.

One of the things I have not publicly shared of my time with Dad was Mom’s constant presence in that house. It was a palpable thing, to me, and I told Dad often when I felt her influence.

In October 2021, our daughter was expecting a baby and she wanted her Mom home for the birth. Sandy was again out in California and, as was our routine, I had my sisters care for Dad while I ran out there to bring Sandy home over a weekend.

It was a Friday night, after work, and I was rushing to get on the road so I could get back as soon as I could. My sisters were coming over, and bringing food, so I knew Dad was in good hands. But I was out of time and things were undone, such as the dishes.

Dad told me not to worry about them. He said he would do them, which was a ridiculous idea.

I toyed with texting my sister to ask her to do them and as I was entertaining those thoughts I heard my mom in my head say, “Get in there and do them, young man”. I simply could not leave the house without them done, so I did them.

Dad heard the water running and said, “What are you doing?” I told him that Mom told me I couldn’t leave without doing them and he laughed. “I’m serious, Dad”, I said.

“I know,” he said. “I feel her here too.”

Dad never had profound spiritual experiences. Ever. We talked about that a lot. My Mom had a lot of them and I think it bothered Dad a little that he never did.

In fact, Dad confessed to me during one of our conversations that he knew at about the age of 10 that Joseph Smith was a prophet. He didn’t read about it, he didn’t have a vision or any kind of experience. He just knew.

From the very beginning, Dad said, he felt what he was taught by his parents, primary teachers and countless others he associated with at Church was right and true.

That is a spiritual gift, as valid as any gift my mother had with her many manifestations as a convert to the Church.

Mother’s living and dying experience showed us how close the other side is as we prepare to leave this life. I think each of us as her children saw moments of these during her final days. Dad had no such experiences, though he really wanted them.

I know this because he would have told me if he had them. I often asked him and he always said no – no dreams, no visits, no visions.

Were there things I learned from my father I did not know during these days? Yes, there were many.

I will share them as I tried to record them – as each of these histories that Dad was working on somehow gets finished.

I cannot write them as he would have.

We talked about this too. Dad always claimed I was the better writer but Dad is a better organizer of thoughts. Some of what I have from him are just outlines, but they are brilliantly organized.

These days I don’t think of Dad very much as a man with cancer. In fact, I can hardly think of Dad as being passed on. He’s very much alive to me.

In recent weeks, as I have tried to find motivation to step up my family history efforts again, I have come to two unexpected decisions about the direction I am going to take. I won’t share those decisions yet but I will share that I know when my Dad is with me on something.

During our time together we came to think similarly, especially when a decision needed to be made. I learned that part of caregiving with Dad was to not make decisions for him. I learned to just accept what he wanted, especially as it related to his health.

On the night he died the last person he spoke to was Joann, who had called to check up on him. They had a really good conversation and later Joann told me how surprised she was in the strength of Dad’s voice. But not long after they hung up Dad got really sick – as sick as I had ever seen him.

He was just two days away from his final treatment and these were always days of anxiety because his “episodes” were more frequent and dangerous. I gave him injections, which helped him through these episodes, every six hours.

As I was giving him his 9pm shot he was holding his hands on his chest. I asked him, “Dad, what are you feeling?”

He said, “I don’t know. This feels different.”

“Are you having a heart attack, Dad?” I asked, knowing this would likely happen at some point because the rush of hormones caused by his cancer would damage and weaken the heart suddenly.

“No, it’s not that” he said.

Within a few minutes the shot did it’s thing, and he seemed recovered. He fell asleep as I watched him from the chair in the corner of the room, listening to his breathing. In about an hour, Dad woke up and wanted to use the restroom.

So, as was our routine, I positioned his walker by the bed, he stood up, and made his way into the restroom. He was in there only a few minutes and I heard him pound on the wall.

This was also a routine we had long established. That pounding on the wall happened when he was starting to black out and couldn’t use his voice to call me. I ran in there and caught him at the last second, just before he went down. He came to, and we were able to get him back to bed.

“Dad,” I told him. “No matter what, you need to let me be with you the next time you get up, okay?” He nodded, then said he was okay and fell back asleep.

Around midnight I heard him get up. I went running back to the bedroom and again caught him just as he was going down. When he came around again, I said, “Dad, we agreed you wouldn’t try to get up without me.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot.”

Just after he said this he started to flush again and I had to lift him back into bed. Even though it had been only three hours I was told by the doctor that in a moment of distress I should give Dad another shot. He was clearly in distress to me so I gave him another shot. Dad came to as I was finishing.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Again, Dad was clutching his chest, and he was breathing heavily.

“Dad, do I need to take you in? I think you’re having a heart attack. Should I take you in or call 911?”

“I’m not going back there, son. Not ever. I’m fine. I’ll sleep.”

Those were his last words to me. The shot stopped his distress and he stabilized and fell asleep. I stayed in there until 1:10am and felt pretty confident he was safe.

So I laid down, setting my alarm for 3:00am to give him his next shot.

At that time I found him – gone.

He had gotten out of bed, went to the bathroom, and had his walker up against the side of the bed. I think he died as we all imagined he would – on his feet. He had fallen to his knees and was draped over the front of his walker, his long arms stretched out on the bed in front of him.

I immediately called 911 but I knew he was gone. I knew. I did everything they told me to do and within minutes the apartment was filled with first responders.

When the first of them arrived he offered to take over CPR for me and it was only then that I realized Toby was still in his cage, literally a foot from Dad’s head. He had witnessed everything and never made a sound. I picked him up, crate and all, and took him out to the other room. It was out there that I heard the lead first responder ask if Dad had an advance directive, which I had forgotten all about. I answered yes, they read it and they stopped working on Dad.

I was in shock. I should not have been, but I was. I never had a feeling that Dad would leaving so soon. But as I spoke with the medical examiner, explaining what I could of Dad’s condition and medications, I came to accept things in a very clinical sense.

Of course it was the cancer. Of course it was a heart attack or a massive stroke or something. Everything I had learned about how this cancer took lives had passed right in front of me.

As the first responders packed up their gear, the police officer assisting had called the mortuary and they would come soon to pick up the body. They all left and Toby and I were alone, with Dad’s body back on the bed. Toby jumped off my lap and headed back towards the bedroom – then stopped when he got to the door, hung his head and slowly walked back and jumped in my lap again.

The mortuary came, and in a scene reminiscent of my Mom’s passing, they left a rose on the bed as they took the body away.

It was only after they left that I completely lost it. I let out a cry from deep within as Toby tried his best to comfort me. That sacred moment of mourning was necessary and I knew Dad was there for it. I don’t know how I knew it. I just did. I know my Mom was there for it, too.

All that I thought, all that I felt, all that I had been through not only that night but for those many months with Dad were important and special and tragic and life-changing for me.

For days, weeks and months afterwards I gave in to so many thoughts holding myself responsible for Dad’s experience that night.

I couldn’t escape it.

I should have seen the signs, I should have taken him in, I should have done whatever different so that the outcome could have been better.

Slowly I came to realize it couldn’t be better. Dying is part of living. We all go through it, however differently.

That Thanksgiving, that Christmas and that long winter were not easy months for me. I prayed for relief from the guilt.

Then Dad gave me a reminder from the other side.

Sandy’s Dad was in the final months of his life. He was fighting dementia.

Sandy had become very tender with my Dad in his final months. She would come home but stay with me at Dad’s place – so she was never really “home” during the past couple of years. She wanted to support me, yes, but she also wanted to help Dad in any way she could. For Dad, that meant food, even though most foods Dad had issues digesting due to his illness. But Sandy would bake and if it was cookies or pies or meals of any kind Dad loved the love put into the food.

Dad gushed over her, almost to the point of embarrassment at times. But he really, really loved her for being my companion. He knew the purity of her heart. Those months with Sandy coming in and out were precious to us all as it gave us opportunities to share with each other that life previously had not. In Dad Sandy had another she could confide in about her own father. These two men could not have been more different. But Dad knew what Sandy’s father meant to her and honored it in a way that Sandy needed.

Sandy would sometimes hear the conversations Dad and I would have and she’d just listen knowing we were having never-to-be-had-again moments. It was a sacred time with a lot of love.

Part of that love came from Sandy’s Mom, who would send a card now and then and, when I would go to California, she’d look me in the eye and say, “Jeff, how is your Dad doing?” I tell her the latest and she’d always say, “You tell him we’re praying for him and that we love him.”

Dad would do the same. Constantly. In fact, Dad would say he could little complain about his trials since Sandy’s Dad was having it so much worse. It meant a great deal to me to hear those prayers and feel that support going back and forth.

Several months after Dad passed Sandy again headed out to California. Her Dad had progressed to the point where each trip she didn’t know what she would see once she got there or if her Dad would even be there when she returned. Every trip was a heartache, coming and going.

At one point, some tough news arrived and Sandy was distraught. It was during this moment I came to understand that maybe some of what I went through with my father would be of service to my wife as she experienced things with her Dad. In that moment of contemplation, I felt Dad’s presence. I have felt it at other times too, always around one family situation or another. The connection I felt with Mom while with Dad was familiar and now I feel it with Dad, too.

Sandy’s father passed in September 2022, about ten months after Dad died. And, yes, I can not shake the grief my dear wife still deals with but I can understand and listen as she works through it.

I cannot help but think of these two family patriarchs – her Dad and my Dad – now on the other side. They share grandchildren. They share Sandy and me. Of course they remain concerned and engaged.

Do they influence us, as they say our ancestors do? Are they embedded in our lives, as they say our ancestors are?

My answer is yes. My Dad is still my Dad.

I know these two decisions most recently made in relation to my family history work are something Dad is aware of and approves of. I have felt the presence of both Sandy’s dad and my dad as we have gone through some new trials these past six months as well.

The point I guess I’m trying to make in more than 4000 words here is that my Dad’s history isn’t yet complete. He’s still making that history. And we are as well adding to his history by the things we do as his family.

Dad’s birthday is just a marker on a thing of this world. Where he is now I’m not even sure that date carries any meaning.

But I like marking his birthday. It’s a happier marker than recalling the day of his death.

Well, what happened that day and the months leading up to it have now been sufficiently recorded. Additional memories may still come up, of course. But the tale has been told and we can focus going forward on how he lived.

For that I am very grateful.

Ancestor Christmas Tree

My Ancestor Christmas Tree

As a year-round Christmas enthusiast the Christmas tree has long been more than just a seasonal thing for me. In fact, when the season comes around I famously put up several trees in our home. I just love them.

A few years back one of my friends in the Christmas community featured in an episode her podcast the idea of an Ancestor Christmas tree. It was a thought that immediately resonated with me and after hearing it I decided to put up an Ancestor Christmas tree as soon as I could.

Well, life got in the way. And it wasn’t until this year after my dear wife expressed a desire for a new flocked tree that I made up my mind to do it.

On a whim, shortly after Thanksgiving, I quickly ordered some prints made of about 50 collected ancestor photos. Then I ordered a number and variety of photo ornaments and within a week or so I had enough to get started on my Ancestor Christmas tree.

As it started to come together I was kind of surprised at how I felt about it all.

Ancestor Christmas Tree

The ornaments are all ordinary and yet completely unique. Each one features a smiling face and a different story.

As we trimmed pictures, assembled the ornaments and hung them on tree it slowly dawned on me what we were creating with all this: my family’s faces on a tree is the ultimate symbolism of Christmas.

The Christmas tree, you see, is celebrated around the world. People with and without faith all have Christmas trees. Even those who are not Christian have Christmas trees.

What many do not realize is that the Christmas tree, whether you buy the idea of pagan origins of it or grasp the Martin Luther tale from old Germany, is not just a symbol of Christmas.

The big symbol here is the tree. The size, type, shape or color of the tree hardly matters. It is the tree that makes for the more universal symbol.

The tree has been embraced by world religions for eons as a symbol of eternal life and God’s love. The Bible says there is no greater gift than God’s love.

So to have one of my trees filled with the faces of family suddenly brought the symbolism of it all to mind and it has made for a powerful seasonal statement in our home.

We did discuss this whole thing with a few of our children during the season over phone calls and emails. They teased me, as they often do with my many Christmas and family history pursuits. “What are you going to call it, Dad?” one daughter asked. “The Family HisTree or the AncestTree?”

I can take this kind of teasing. It’s the best sort.

As family and neighbors would come to visit they came and stood before the tree. Looking. Searching. Seeing things no other tree in our home could offer.

It was especially gratifying for me to see my children and grandchildren stop and look.

“Grandpa,” a grandson asked, “Who’s that?”

While it was never my intent to make our Christmas tree an object of family history I am thrilled to have such a question asked.

But even setting all the reactions of others aside I have to admit to my own unexpected reaction to it all. As the tree came together I was overcome.

Gratitude was the first thing I felt. Of course, longing for their presence again, especially in the case of my parents, was unavoidable.

I know every individual on our tree and their stories.

Seeing them as we decorated the tree brought them home to me for Christmas.

I felt the presence of some as I had all these thoughts and never in my life had decorating for Christmas been so personal.

Of course, this will be a tradition going forward. But we’re only beginning to see what we can do.

It became clear, right away, that I need to put names and dates on the back of each ornament.

Likewise, I need to plan for time to tell stories at Christmas as these ornaments are explored.

It will, ironically, become a living Christmas tree. I don’t see that it can ever be “finished” and I don’t see how we can avoid mixing in photos of the living to mingle with the images of the dead.

After all, the overwhelming reaction upon close examination of the images was how much someone from our family past resembles members of our family now.

Another idea that occurs to me is that I need to duplicate these ornaments and give them to our children so they can have their own Ancestor Christmas tree.

It’s a personal and powerful gift of family that is entirely unique.

I look forward to seeing how we can make this new tradition evolve in our home.

Over the years I have slowly added some favorite images of ancestors on the walls of our home. That effort will continue.

But to celebrate them all – both my family and those of my wife – together in one honored spot in our home as a Christmas tree every season is something I view as a gift to myself.

It is a reminder of all those who came before that made our modern life so possible.

It is a connection of sorts too, because they all had Christmas trees once upon a time.

This tree went up just two months after the passing of my father-in-law, Sandy’s Dad, Gary Gillen.

There are three photos of him on our tree – once as a baby, as a young man and as a grown man.

It was a tender thing to remember him this Christmas, knowing how many Christmases of the past we were together.

My Mom, who was an avid Christmas decorator and the creator of so much Christmas magic during my childhood, was present again for Christmas this year.

So too were her parents – all of them. And my Dad too, along with his parents.

We spent this Christmas together.

And we will spend every Christmas together again going forward.

Family history is a gift.

Willis Welty Family

The Value in Re-Plowing Old Ground

It has been an interesting time for working on family history.

The part I like least about this work is prospecting for data – finding the names, dates and places necessary to fill out the tree.

That’s ground-floor stuff and I’m much more of a storyteller. I want to know what’s beyond the data with each person.

I got a message a few weeks back from my niece Michaela asking if I had any more female names for baptisms. As it turned out I was fresh out. She will be going for her own endowments next fall so until then she’s limited in what temple work she can do. So, for her sake I decided to see what I could find out there in the part of the work that’s not my favorite.

I’m glad I did. From it I learned more of the story.

~ Going for the Low Hanging Fruit ~

In all the recent work on my step-grandfather’s line – that of Pascal Henry Caldwell – I assumed I would find a lot of work on his family. After all, it now stretches back to the year 1100.

But that Caldwell family must have a lot of people out there working on it that I do not know about.

Not only did I find the data but I found lots of temple work that has been done over the past several years.

The Caldwells were not the low hanging fruit I thought they were.

So I went back to my mother’s line to see what had changed. Due to the pandemic and the situation with my Dad it’s maybe been three years since I’ve been down in the weeds on my mother’s lines. There was enough there – and still is – to keep us pretty busy.

What I noticed right off is that others have really stepped up in the time I’ve been away. In fact, I would wonder what my mother would think today if she saw how things have progressed since the last time she was able to look at it herself.

Of course, what I was about to learn is that she knows it all without being here.

She woke me up one night this week. It was her voice I heard.

~ There’s More to the Story ~

I had a long session on Family Search and Ancestry on Wednesday. I had decided to go back to some familiar names to find out where we stood on completing their temple work and what additional records we could attach to names.

When I attended Roots Tech I listened with interest to hear the numbers from Family Search and Ancestry about records they have added since the last Roots Tech was held. Billions and billions of records are added each year from sources all over the world.

I have noticed the last several years that military records have been added in abundance. And, of course, the 1950 census was just released and I wanted to update information from any family who participated in that event.

It was a long day that resulted in many “new” records being added but nothing that changed the outcome in temple work or new family discoveries.

I had a nagging sense, however, that I was actually doing something useful. That something was going to come of going back and adding records to names that technically didn’t need them.

I hit the pillow at about 1:00 am, exhausted, and slept for about 90 minutes. Then, in a dead sleep, I felt a poke on my shoulder and my mother’s voice said “John Jackson”. And that was all.

In all my years of working family history I can claim to have had feelings and promptings to something I needed to do.

But never have I ever felt anything so specific.

So I immediately got out of bed and began a search for John Jackson.

Of course, I assumed that was the entirety of his name.

There are a billion John Jacksons in the world but none that I could find that tied to my mother’s family.

I was momentarily confused as I tried to think through the problem. Then it dawned on me.

I wasn’t looking for a man whose last name was Jackson. I was looking for a man whose first and middle names were John Jackson.

In about 30 seconds I found him – John Jackson Carson, who lived from 1858 to 1924.

He was the son of Erastus Ulysses Carson, who had two families with two separate wives. We knew about John Jackson years ago and did his work, along with all of the other children of Erastus and his two wives.

What we did not know what that John Jackson, like his father, had three wives. He had children with each of them. The reason we didn’t know this before is that the records showing all this were not available the last time any work was done on John Jackson Carson.

In fact, some of the wives and children fell under the 110-year rule, meaning they might have been discoverable in some cases but we could not do their temple work.

Between the combined new record resources of Family Search and Ancestry, we have now a more complete story of John Jackson – and his 8 children from his three wives.

All of John Jackson’s children are now on the other side. Many of their records are now available. He has grandchildren and great grandchildren still living all over the country.

~ More to Every Story ~

John Jackson’s new discoveries made me question everyone on my mother’s lines. So I went back, straight to my grandparents, and began just adding what new records I could find.
Most yielded nothing new.

But, as I got past that great-grandparent level – say from 1850 to 1920 – I started uncovering a lot of new people. Wives added, children born, etc. The make-up of some family units changed dramatically.

For example, Aunt Glenora Welty, my great-grandfather’s sister, has been for years a kind of lost person.

All we had of her was a record of her name from the 1870 census when she was a year old and ten years later from the 1880 census when she was 11. That was enough information to get her baptized and sealed to her parents.

But as is often the case with female records, it ended there.

From years back I can find online inquiries from my mother asking for help in trying to discover whatever happened to Glenora. I spent considerable time about 6 years ago on Glenora and got no further than my Mom did.

But after John Jackson’s discoveries I decided to give it another go and in 20 minutes I was able to finally get somewhere.

Glenora married in 1887 at the age of 18. On the wedding record, which I think may have been available for years, they spelled her last name as Kelty instead of Welty. Her parents were not listed on the marriage record, as was common at the time.

Glenora was an usual name at the time and evidently she never used it after marrying. Every new record I found of her she is listed as Glenna.

In fact, thanks to all these new records I was able to find a brief obituary about her in the local paper:

Glenora Welty Lohman

Of course, discovering this entire family of nine people led to other stories. Glenna had a daughter named Eleanor Beatrice Lohman who never married. She died in France in 1958.

That was a curiosity to me and I wondered what happened.

Turns out, she was in France working as an insurance clerk and while there she died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. When a foreigner working overseas dies there is a report made to send to the family – and that report is accessible now through Ancestry.

Another good reason to plow over old ground is to discover what other family members (most you likely don’t even know about) have added to either Family Search or Ancestry.

Someone at some time posted this image of my great-grandparents, Kit and Effie Carson (Kit was John Jackson’s half brother):

Kit and Effie Carson

That picture means the world to me. My mother did not get to know her Carson family growing up because her mother did not get to know the Carson family, their stories or traditions. To get anything this intimate is very significant to me.

That wasn’t the only family photo I recently discovered. Below is a picture of the Willis Welty family around the year 1915 or so. Willis is Glenora’s brother. Why is this important? Because when my grandmother – Winifred Calista Welty – was orphaned by the deaths of her parents it was with this family that she lived for a long period of time:

Willis Welty Family

Can you see why continuing to look for people we have found adds to the story? When my Nana died in 1967 my mother was only 24. She had nothing of her family that was known. Since that time we have been able to piece together their stories as every new record, photo or story is added.

I’m not done discovering things as I work through ground that has been plowed before.

In fact, I’m finding that I can get 20 to 30 records I can attach now to people who have lived in past 150 years on average. Not every person – but a great many.

This has me motivated to keep working on names we’ve already worked on before. There are stories to uncover in names we have already known about and perhaps have done the temple-work for.

It is good to learn more of their stories.

My Cousins

My Cousins, My Neighbors

Years ago, when we moved into our present home, we met the nextdoor neighbor over the fence. As we introduced ourselves to each other this new neighbor, Lynn Bates, he excitedly responded to my last name, Westover.

“Do ya know any Westovers in Rexburg?” Lynn asked me.

Over the years we grew fond of Lynn. He was in his golden years, often didn’t feel well and he could be a little gruff.

Lynn Bates

But he was always so very kind to us and he took a shine to my dear wife, who just loved him. As usual, she always saw a bit of her Dad in a guy like Lynn, and because of that they seemed to hit it off. I know he adored her.

Lynn was born in Rexburg and had a few Westover friends there. I wasn’t able to relate to any of the Westover names he shared because all my Westover experience in Rexburg is buried in the past of family history.

Lynn was a very smart man, I believe he worked for a number of years as a project manager or engineer for Space Dynamics. He also owned a local business, a flower shop, I believe.

But when we met him he was very retired. He worked endlessly in his garden, where he and his wife great beautiful things and he had a ride on mower he would use to mow both of our yards.

Having Lynn nextdoor was like having a another parent. He would joke with us, scold us, and give unsolicited advice.

One of the things I do that drove Lynn crazy was to keep my Christmas tree up. He talked about our Christmas tree in the window of our house on Main Street long after Christmas was over.

That was because I had a little rule I never told him about.

I told my wife that every time he complained about our tree I would keep it up another two weeks. One year he brought it up so often the tree was up into the month of June.

Lynn passed away here a few years ago and the house next door was sold.

But Lynn’s son, Ryan, and his family literally live behind our back fence, and we have remained friends. Ryan serves in the bishopric in our ward and his kids and our grandsons have played together.

This week at Church, Memorial Day weekend and the fifth Sunday meeting led by the bishopric, saw Ryan give a brief presentation about using Family Search.

During the course of the class he had everyone pull out their phones and give the “Relatives Around Me” feature a spin. I always love when this happens in a Church meeting because there is always a little buzz that goes up as folks discover things they didn’t know before.

Sure enough, the entire energy in that very packed room sparked with this activity.

I was part of that buzz as I discovered that Ryan and I are fourth cousins. He too is a grandson of James Chauncey Snow. Which, of course, means that Lynn was as well.

So, as it turns out, Lynn was asking about the wrong branch of the family. How I wish he was here for me to give him a hard time about that.

Now I ask you, once again, is this just a coincidence?

You move into a new home and next door there is kin you don’t even know you had. What are the odds of that?

James Chauncey Snow was one of the many dynamic sons of Gardner Snow. As was the case with Gardner Snow, who was an early Church convert, James C. is mentioned in various bits of Church history.

He led his own pioneer company west and was assigned to live in Provo, where he was put to work as Stake President. We have written a little before about some of his places in our family history, notable in this feature titled True Love and Plural Marriage.

James C. was also married multiple times. As is the case in many of our LDS ancestors from this generation, we find family descended from a common ancestor like James and one of his wives.

Ryan and Lynn are descended from the union of James C. and his first wife, Eliza Carter. James and Eliza had 10 children together. I am descended – as was my father – from the union of James C. and Jane Cecilia Roberts, who produced 11 children.

These two families of James C. Snow has likely produced thousands of descendants at this point in time.

But here’s a curious fact, to me: Ryan in the third person in my ward who I’ve been able to identify as family through our family history work. James C. Snow lived from 1817 to 1884 – and yet here we are, two of his grandsons – living back to back here in Smithfield Utah some 140 years later.

Another neighbor and ward member we have discovered as family is Judy Fornefeld. Sister Fornefeld is a descendant of Edwin Ruthvin Westover.

Another neighbor and ward member is Merlin Humphreys, who is a grandson of Andrew Franklin Riggs. Brother Humpheys even looks like a Riggs.

I did not have time during class yesterday to explore every connection during the Relatives Around Me activity. At last look there were 21 total connections in that room and most of them were showing as 9th and 10th cousins, which means we shared ancestors from the 1600s.

But isn’t it curious enough to see that right here in Smithfield, in just the few blocks that make up our ward boundaries, we have the Westovers, Snows and Riggs all represented and connected?

Is our placement here on earth such a chance thing? Is there purpose in these, uh, coincidences?

Another thing to consider: all of us here, cousins in very close proximity, can do no more temple work on these lines. These ancestors did all of their own work or others who came before us saw that it was done before we came along.

So what then could be the purpose of us finding each other and sharing our family connections?

The business of “turning hearts” is a complex one.

Joseph taught: “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”

As I have pondered this over the years it strikes me that the connections I am discovering with family everywhere is essential to my understanding of the doctrine of the family. Our ancestors – those of me, of Ryan, of Judy and of Merlin – are all working on our behalf.

What does that mean? For me, it means my children and grandchildren.

These connections form bonds across the generations. They build testimony, which leads to covenants. Covenants lead to gospel living. Gospel living leads to personal salvation. Covenants lead to family exaltation.

The work of our ancestors, all on the other side, is a sacred thing and they are active indeed.

This Memorial Day weekend, as we celebrated the life of Aunt Evie and as I once again traveled with my grandsons to local cemeteries, I have once again been reminded of really how small the world is in relation to families.

I took the boys to the Logan cemetery, where they have been before. Damon is 9, Jax is 6. It’s a great activity for two very active grandsons and we have loved doing this together.

One of the graves we usually visit is that of Byron Snow, who lived his life here locally in Cache Valley. His grave is always a little tricky to find. He’s buried in his wife’s family plot. Their name is Dunn. And the Snow headstone lies flat on the ground.

Jax, who is a beginning reader, was anxious to be the one to find Uncle Byron’s grave, because “Snow” is easy for him to read. So I pointed us in the right direction and we hiked to that part of the cemetery and Jax went to work trying to find him. Soon, he did.

We placed the flowers and talked about it a few minutes. Then we took a picture.

Jax and Damon

Jax and Damon at Uncle Byron’s grave

As we started to walk back to the car we passed an older lady who was pulling flowers from the trunk of her car. If you know my grandsons you know they don’t need to know a person to talk to them. They are very friendly and quite forward.

In passing this lady Jax said, “Hey, we just found Byron Snow!”. The lady looked up, a little startled. Then, seeing Jax was really just a little guy, she smiled.

“You did?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jax said. “I found him. He’s right over there.”

Then the lady surprised me.

“Did you know I knew Byron Snow?”

Now it was my turn to talk. “You did?”

“Yes,” she said. “He was my stake president”. Jax, hearing that turned to me and said, “Grandpa, he’s a president TOO?”

We had a delightful visit with this new friend, who seemed to thrill in her memory of President Snow. She was little at the time, and didn’t know him on a personal level, but she knew him. What a thrill it was to meet her, just because of that.

We are all learning through these connections and these coincidences.

Lynn Bates, my old neighbor who I liked to antagonize with my Christmas tree, is now on the other side.

His family is my family, at least in part.

What hand has he played in his short time on the other side in bringing our families together?

I love Lynn Bates. That sour, grumpy, surly, and beloved old neighbor is my cousin.

No wonder I love him.