The Following is a Family History story that President and Sister Bradford recently experienced:
The purpose of this memo is to make a record of the tender mercies of the Lord and of what we consider to be a miracle that we experienced while on a family history trip to look for some of Margie’s ancestors. The Lord truly was good to us and led us to extended relatives who were able to provide us with many more names for whom we can perform temple ordinances. The miracle that we experienced was being led to the grave site of a little girl (Margie’s first cousin once removed) who lived just over two months and who had not been identified in any of the family records made available to us or that we have seen.
Some background of the experiences that we had on this trip is necessary to appreciate the tender mercies of the Lord in our behalf. For many years, Margie and I have been searching in vain for information about Margie’s mother’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Fields, his wife, Louisa, and his parents and siblings. We have been to various stake family history libraries, to the Church Family History Library and worked with friends who are genealogists and spent many hours by ourselves looking through all kinds of records. All of these efforts were unsuccessful. We suspect that one of the reasons we were having no success is that neither Tennessee nor North Carolina required the filing of birth or death records prior to 1914. This has really proved to be a problem in our research of this family because they were all born, lived and died in North Carolina and/or Tennessee.
One of the people who helped us in our efforts was Chuck Call. Brother Call has written books on genealogical research and was living in Nauvoo while we were serving a mission in the Nauvoo Temple. Brother Call would meet with us privately in the Nauvoo Family History Library on Sunday afternoons when the Library was closed to the public. As with prior experiences, these efforts with Brother Call also were unsuccessful.
Brother Call and his wife made a trip while we were in Nauvoo to some places in the south. While on his trip, his research identified a man by the name of Richard Fields who had a son by the name of Thomas, whose date of birth was close to what he estimated would be the date of birth of Margie’s great grandfather, Thomas Fields. But he could not verify that the Thomas Fields, the son of Richard, was the same Thomas Fields who was the father of William Thomas Fields, Margie’s grandfather. If that fact could be confirmed, Brother Call’s efforts identified four generations of Margie’s family for whom we had no records. Brother Call told us that he had come to a “brick wall” in his efforts to determine if Thomas, the father of William Thomas was the same man as Thomas, the son of Richard Fields. He told us that the only way we could resolve that question was to visit Kinston, North Carolina, and find records of the family in the history records in the city. It was this suggestion that prompted us to make this trip.
While preparing for this trip, we contacted the Heritage Place in the Lenoir Community College in Kinston, North Carolina. The head librarian there (Ranita Gaskins) was very helpful. In preparation for our visit, she pulled all of the records in the library dealing with the Fields family who lived in Lenoir County, North Carolina and had them waiting for us.
We arrived early in the morning and spent the day pouring over all of the books, family histories, transfers of deeds, tax records, wills, newspaper articles, cemetery records, family Bible entries, census records, obituaries, and many other similar records that were in the library. Many of these items had been submitted to the Heritage Place by two spinster sisters, the primary one being Ima E. Mewborn. We mentioned to the librarian that we would like to make contact with these two sisters; we learned that one is deceased and the other one has Alzheimer’s.
Many of the records that we reviewed came very close to resolving our primary question about the “two Thomases.” But none of them were definitive. Indeed, there was one family record of Richard Fields where all of his children were listed together with the spouses and children of these children. I believe this family record was prepared by Ima Mewborn. Unfortunately, neither the spouse nor any of the children of Thomas, the son of Richard, were mentioned in this record. Our searching could have ended if Ima had shown the spouse of all the children in the family rather than just some of them. This was the primary reason we wanted to speak with Ima Mewborn.
After spending the greater part of the day pouring over all of these records we had a lot of information and we learned a lot about the Fields family that lived in Lenoir County, North Carolina, but we were not any closer to solving the problem of the “two Thomases.”
The librarian on staff the day we visited Heritage Place (I think her name was Ruth) was very helpful to us and she shared our frustrations with us. After we read everything and looked at everything that was available to us at the library, we made copies of many items and decided to conclude the day by going to the Maplewood Cemetery to look at the grave of Margie’s great grandfather, Thomas Fields, the only member of her family (that we knew of) who was buried in Kinston.
As we were preparing to leave, the librarian said something to us like this, “You know, there is one other lady who has done some work on the Fields line that you may want to contact.” She gave us the name of Martha Marble. We called Martha, but just received her answering machine. I left her a message that of the information we were seeking about the “two Thomases.”
Martha called back within the hour and said she knew the history of that family well and confirmed that these two Thomases were, in fact, the same person. Hallelujah! Our long-time search for this missing link had ended. What an incredible tender mercy of the Lord.
But another and equally tender mercy of the Lord (but not the miracle) was yet to be experienced. After visiting on the phone with Martha for a while and Martha learning of the line from which Margie comes, Martha told us of another lady who comes from Margie’s direct line and has done much more research on the family than that which Martha has done. Martha told us that Linda Melvin is writing a book on the Fields family from Lenoir (formerly Dobbs) County. Martha said that Linda may be reluctant to share any information about her research because she is writing a book on the Fields family. However, Martha said she would contact Linda for us and if Linda were willing, she could contact us directly.
The next day Linda sent us an email that started a series of email messages between us that has corroborated the names provided by Chuck Call in his research and also has provided us with many additional peripheral family members for whom we had no records. Another wonderful tender mercy of the Lord.
But the miracle had not yet happened. As mentioned above, we went to the cemetery to visit the grave site of Margie’s great grandfather, Thomas Fields. We had no particular reason to visit his grave site because we had all of the information that we needed for him and we thought he was the only member of the family buried in that cemetery. However, we decided to visit the grave site because it was still light.
Prior to the work of Chuck Call and the information provided by Linda Melvin, Margie’s mother had told us about a couple by the name of James Carl Benton and Nola Fields and we had their information in our PAF records. Nola Fields is the sister of Margie’s grandfather, William Thomas Fields. And, interestingly, Margie’s grandmother, Minnie Leatha Benton Fields, is the sister of Nola’s husband James Carl Benton. That is, brother and sister married sister and brother. Margie’s mother would often speak of her double first cousins.
After visiting the grave site of Margie’s great grandfather, Thomas Fields, and enjoying the serenity of the cemetery, we were looking at some of the other grave stones in the surrounding area. As we were doing so, we noticed the grave stone of a little girl that identified her as Evelyn Benton, the daughter of James Carl and Nola Benton. She lived for only two months and four days and died January 3, 1909.
This discovery was an absolute miracle. None of the information that we had obtained from the Heritage Place and other sources about the James Carl Benton and Nola Fields family listed little Evelyn as one of the children in the family. There was no mention of her in anything that we read. Our miracle was that because we went to Kinston and then we went to the cemetery and then we were just “kicking” around the surrounding grave stones, we “accidentally” found another member of the family that, most likely, would otherwise have gone undetected until she made herself known during the millennium.
It is interesting to note that Margie’s mother’s name is Evelyn. It well could be that she was named after this little double first cousin of hers who died prematurely, although Margie’s mother, so far as we know, never knew that she was named after this little girl. It would be nice if the two of them have now met in the Spirit World.
We are so grateful to the Lord for this wonderful miracle in our lives. Our testimony is, not unlike that of so many others, that we should never give up searching for our ancestors. If we continue searching and put ourselves in the right place, the Lord (or the deceased persons themselves) will open doors for us and put people in our paths so that our families can be sealed together.