On our way home from our Ohio , Cleveland Mission with assignment at the Historic Kirtland Visitor Center in 2003, we drove along the Mormon Trail, following the handcart pioneers. From Nauvoo on, we listened to “The Fire of the Covenant” tapes by Gerald Lund (which my brother Blaine had lent us) dramatizing the story of the Handcart Pioneers. We anguished with those pioneers through their trials and sorrows, troubles and triumphs. I thought, “This is crazy! I feel such a closeness to them, as if we were related! But, I know we are not!”
Upon our arrival home, I received a call from my brother Grant in Boise who was helping someone in his ward with family history. He asked if we had any handcart pioneers. I answered with authority in the negative, as I had read all of my ancestors’ stories. We did have a lot of pioneers, just not with the handcart companies. Then he told me he had found the names of John Thomas Geary, wife Sophia, and daughter Sophia Ann, our 3rd great grandparents on Grandpa Lee’s side, on the list of the Martin/Willie Handcart Company. I was amazed! Maybe we didn’t get all this information originally because Grandpa Lee’s mother died early, both Gearys died early, we didn’t have access to John Thomas Geary’s missing journal, we knew they were in a wagon not a handcart, family stories all said 1855 instead of 1856, they were busy trying to make a living and didn’t know what they had accomplished so the real story just didn’t get passed on to us.
Thus began our fervent and feverish research. We first gathered all of Grandma Lee’s research (copied personally from Jennie May Woodbury Lee herself in about 1978), data from Uncle Jim (James H. Lee Jr.), Sheri and Steve Naylor, and Betty McMaster, the current family history specialists. Then we went to different internet sites to see what information was already out there about circumstances and relatives. I also visited the Salt Lake Family History Library and the Salt Lake City Cemetery .
Brothers Grant Lee and Roland Lee and wives Joyce and Nellie visited the city of Toquerville and cemetery, the Hurricane library, Sophia’s brother Richard Fryer’s home in Toquerville (still standing), and interviewed some Toquerville locals. From this, word came to us of a Fryer manuscript which our bedridden mother Thelma Reeder located after much sleuthing. She called a friend in her ward, Louise Ward, who knew their ex-home teacher Max Seegmiller who said, “That’s written by my Aunt Bessie Snow. She was a school teacher. But who you really want is Ted Snow,” who suggested to call Bessie’s niece Gwin Winn, who went up to her cabin in Pine Valley to retrieve a copy of the “Fate of the Fryers” (only 15 were printed).
This compilation details letters indicating that the Gearys were indeed with the handcart pioneers, going through all their trials and leaving their belongings at Devil’s Gate. This manuscript and even church records on Family Search such as Echo’s birth and endowment dates have a contradiction in listing 1855 instead of 1856 as their arrival time or as Echo’s birth. Even the Golda Geary Page story shows Sophia finally giving birth to little Echo Workman Geary at the mouth of Echo canyon amidst 18 foot snowdrifts Nov 26, 1855 . Also, some relatives thought that John stayed behind to help get other’s wagons ready and Sophia went across the plains alone.
Research Miracle #1 Finding the burial place of John Thomas Geary. At first I could not find the burial place of John Thomas Geary, even though family group sheets listed him as buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery . He wasn’t listed in any of the printouts of that or any cemetery, and I even called the cemetery itself which gave no clue as to his burial. Finally, I went through microfilms of the Deseret News Weekly for January 1867 at the BYU library and did find the cemetery’s sexton’s report at the end of January listing 15 deaths and burials for the month, one an accidental shooting. At least I was on the right track because his death was from an accidental shooting.
Next, I obtained a “Book of the Dead” microfilm at the SL Family History Library for early Salt Lake including the year 1867 which did list a John Thomas Geary, and even gave his plot number at the SLC Cemetery . The death date there was as listed in our own family history records. So, armed with these records, our own family group sheets, and census records, I personally visited the cemetery to talk to the current sextant. His records showed the name John Thomas George not Geary in that grave. I assured him it was a miscopying error. After reviewing the data for several weeks he said he would list both names. At last, our John Thomas Geary in his grave was discovered for posterity! He is now listed both on the cemetery’s internet site, and at the cemetery. Although at present, he is buried in a pauper’s grave without a tombstone to mark it.
Research Miracle #2 Finding daughter Echo and husband. Next, I looked at the posterity of John Thomas and Sophia Geary. I focused on daughter Echo who married, after her parents died, somewhere in Utah , to a man from Ireland name Kennedy Hanley. Someone had done their work and their marriage, but not their children. I found them in Silver Reef, Utah in 1880, a mining area, and then in Idaho in 1900 in another mining area. I checked Idaho , Montana , Colorado for 1910 and 1920 but found nothing. Then I found them in Spokane Washington in 1910, Los Gatos , California in 1920, and widow Echo with her son Robert still in Los Gatos , California in 1930. I was thrilled!
I searched Google for cemeteries near Los Gatos, called them on the phone and found Kennedy at first, then Echo, and finally Robert Hanley all buried there, and obtained their death information. Then I emailed my brother Grant with the data, not even dreaming I would ever get anything further. But he called his daughter-in-law’s father who works near Los Gatos , who had a digital camera, took it with him to work, photographed the tombstone, and emailed the picture to Grant who emailed it to me. Boy was I surprised and delighted! The tender mercies of the Lord!
Then Grant said I ought to call a library to see if they have obituaries. I googled to find the library in Los Gatos and called their number. They gave me the email of those in charge of obituaries, who after about two weeks mailed me obits for Echo and her husband. None was available for the son.
Research Miracle # 3 Finding Echo’s sons. I had read that Echo had two grown sons, so I wanted to find them. Robert was one, listed on the census. I also found his 1917 WW1 registration which gave his birth date verified by his burial record. At the same time, looking for Hanleys, I “happened” on a James G. Hanley in the California death records with birth and death dates that coincided with other data. I further found him on the 1900 census record at school in Spokane , and in 1930 in Virginia with wife Nelle. I didn’t find him in 1910 or 1920. I theorized the G stood for Geary, but didn’t know.
I went to Rootsweb on the internet to see if anyone had queried about this family. Lo and behold a woman from Georgia was descended from Kennedy’s brother Daniel who had come from Ennis, County Clare , Ireland to Ohio in the 1860’s and had listed Kennedy Hanley of Spokane in his obituary. I emailed her, and she emailed me back with the brother Daniel Hanley’s obituary. I emailed her more stuff, then she emailed me photos that said Robert Emmet Hanley on the back of one and James Geary Hanley on the back of the other, and one of Echo, and one of maybe Kennedy. They were so beautiful I cried!
I immediately went to my local family history center to print up their temple work in Temple Ready . I took that disc to the temple to print the cards, and had the impression to call my brother Grant to see if he would like to do the temple work. He said he had wanted to do the temple work, but felt it was my prerogative as I had done the research, but felt that if I wanted him specifically to do the work, I would surely call him. He was just reading his patriarchal blessing about doing Temple Work when I called with the offer. He was enthusiastic, “Oh, yes!” He would love to do the temple work!
Research Miracle #4 Finding Echo’s son James’ grave. Meanwhile, I had been looking for more data on James’ grave on the internet for many weeks when I “happened” upon a California Military Cemetery , the Presidio, near San Francisco . I ran down the list of names alphabetically and found the grave of James G. Hanley. I was thrilled!!!! So, Grant did all three male baptisms on February 4th 2006, did the confirming of the sons himself with tears running down his cheeks, did two sessions immediately following for Kennedy and Robert’s endowments, then returned Feb 11th for James’ work. Since Grant was alone at the temple, he asked a couple to act as the parents for the sealings of the sons to their parents Kennedy and Echo Hanley. It turned out this couple will actually be at Martin’s Cove, Wyoming this summer as missionaries and want to use our Geary family story to share with other families who come to visit!
Research Miracle #5 Reconciling family stories with actual facts of arrival time.
From President Hinckley’s Handcart Celebration this year, we know that the handcarts didn’t begin until 1856, not in 1855. Then on June 15, 2006 , I received an e-mail from BYU Studies telling about a daily journal for the Willie Handcart Company with added information by BYU professor Paul Lyman. I asked my husband David if he had sent me the data, and I asked my brother Grant if he had sent me the data. Neither had, but I strongly feel that my father, Blaine Lee, was directly involved from the “other side.”
As I read through the daily handcart journal, I came across an entry for August 22, 1856 stating that our Sophia Geary had her foot run over and crushed by a 2000 pound wagon. Her husband and two other priesthood holders blessed her that if she was faithful, even though her foot was crushed, she would walk the next day. The record for August 23 states she did “walk a considerable distance that day pursuant to Bro. Siler’s promise.” This one bit of information was so very, very important in that it identifies both Gearys as being there at the same time, and with the handcarts of 1856. So, Sophia did not come across the plains alone, but John was with her, and with the baby born in Echo canyon.
They left August 16th from Florence , Nebraska as several independent wagons attached to the Willie handcart company. What we hadn’t realized is that each handcart company had wagons to carry the 20-person tents and other heavy equipment. First came the handcarts, then the independent wagons, then the handcart supply wagons. The next day, the 17th, John Thomas Geary went back to Florence with brother Jost to help him, then returned to the wagon train. Also, there were many, many trials mentioned in these daily journal including September 4th loss of oxen for the wagons.
On September 30th, at Laramie , Wyoming , the leaders advised the wagons to wait for another wagon group coming in a week that might better be able to help them. So on October 1st the Willie Company continued on without them, while they waited for the Martin Handcart Company and the Hunt and Hodgett wagons. This proved “a blessing for that company as it provided more wagons for those exhausted handcart Saints to ride in when they traveled near Martin’s cove.” And it identifies that our people were with both handcart companies, first Willie, then Martin.
Celebration. In the middle of the night July 1st 2006 , I felt compelled with the thought that since this was the 150th anniversary of OUR Handcart Pioneers, then we as a family needed to celebrate OUR people. So I got up, went out into the kitchen, and wrote down “celebrate our Handcart Pioneers.” The thought that came to my mind was to write up all that has happened since I first felt the impressions and we first went over the Mormon Trail, of finding the graves, obituaries, doing the temple work etc., to make a record, type it up, and share it with all our family this year. I thought it might be great to have a memorial service, so I e-mailed Grant about having a tombstone with a handcart insignia on it made up, and having a family ceremony at the Salt Lake City Cemetery for John Thomas Geary and family. Grant said he is ready! How grateful we are for the gospel legacy from our blessed, honored pioneers.
August 4, 2006 Andrea Lee Conley 3rd Great Grand daughter