Category Archives: Family History

Forensic Genealogy Investigator (FGI) – Case Solved


Last Friday I was scouring an antique store for something my daughter was looking for … I didn’t find what she needed but I did find a small photo album sitting on a stool; it was filled with someone’s memories. Photographs of children and parents, confirmations and graduations and family parties …  postcards of someone’s loved ones for sale. You all know my family history addiction and it always breaks my heart when I see old photographs like that … lost, separated from someone who would treasure them and that may be the only clue to finding that one person whose very existence has been forgotten.

So I did what I always do in such a situation; I put on my Forensic Genealogy Investigator (FGI) hat.   I pulled the photos one at a time until I found a couple with names on the back and took an Evernote Scannable of them.   Later that night I logged into Family Trees and searched for the names of the children in the photographs.  Chills ran up my back when I found at least 20 trees with the same names.  I sent a note to the contacts of the largest trees and within 20 minutes I was receiving responses and requests for the photographs.   Almost as soon as I hit the send button there were return emails saying “yes”, this is one of our ancestors!, “yes”, this is our August Walczyk and his sister Matilda. Thank you! Do you have more?

August Walczyk  from Adms, WS

August Walczyuk from Adms, WS

How do we lose our family documents and photographs, the collective memory of our family stories? How do treasured heirlooms find their way onto antique shop shelves or into flea market baskets tossed in with pink flamingos and outdated electronics?  The Walczyk grandparents obviously treasured the photographs; keeping them for a long time …I think they were ties to their family back east. When they died maybe a son or daughter kept them in that same box on a shelf as a reminder of cousins and family times dimly remembered. Then they too passed on and if the family stories and connections weren’t kept intact the photographs had little or no meaning to that last generation who may have only see an interesting black & white or sepia toned photograph that they felt were of no use to them. That shoe box was placed at the estate sale, someone picked it up and the story continues … where do you think the Cracker Barrel Restaurant gets those old family portraits that hang as decor on their walls?

Matilda Walczyk

Matilda Walczyk

Have you ever thought about where all your family heirlooms might end up? Will they be lost, memories of a lifetime, a slice of history lived never to been seen again … we have experienced such loss in our family (more than once) .  My 4th great grandfather kept journals all of his life.  When he passed on the journal collection was broken apart and one book given to each of his children who lived all over the country.  The journals are lost; in a trunk, a garbage bin, an antique book store somewhere … or did you too have an Aunt Bessie, who ‘did’ the family genealogy and who held the collection of photographs, birth certificates, stories and heirlooms? What happened to them when she died?


Back of August Walczyk Photograph

I’ve been thinking about this ‘problem’ for a while … I’m thinking of gathering as much as I can of what is left of our family legacy and put them together in a collection to be donated to the LDS Family History Center or a university so that future family/historians will have access to them and where they will be at least in a protected environment rather than in a shoe box on a shelf in the back closet … I’m thinking … it’s an idea not fully formed yet.

In the meantime, I’ll be heading back to the antique shop to find the seller of the Walczyk family history and put them in touch with the descendants of the people in their photo album. Who knows they might be related.


Back of Matilda Walczyk Photograph

Back of Matilda Walczyk Photograph

Time Doesn’t Pass … it is Always Now


I love the view from the deck in Council! I can look out the glass door of my office/guest room and see Council Mountain…today there is snow dusting the peaks (uh, yeah, really!), the slopes are late summer brown beige colored sagebrush and cheat grass. The valley cottonwoods and berry bushes are bunches of gold, green and rust … the colors last blast before the leaves turn totally brown, fall to ground to crumble and molder in the duff beneath…food for worms and fields.

View from my Council office

View from my Council office

Last evening was the first heavy coat day of the season…long sleeves weren’t enough, the North Face wind blocker wasn’t even enough to eliminate shivers…our evening walk was pleasant with the parka zipped and my hands (not yet gloved) in fleece lined pockets.

I almost … just almost … wished for summer again.

Wishing for the pleasant past, reliving the unpleasant past, wondering what I’m doing next week, or month or year and then where did time go? I find the concept of Time itself fascinating… like someone said ‘the toilet paper goes faster toward the end of the roll’.

A few years ago I read a book titled The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle , the treatise being that time is only NOW; always living or looking back we miss Now we aren’t living today, looking forward with no foundation in Now we miss living  our Now today.  That I was wasting Now by reliving decisions and actions of the past was such a freeing thought I was able to let go … forgive …  Like the Pinterest quote I saw not long ago reminded me … Learn from the Past and Get the Hell Out of There. I tried living Now, and fell into the Live for today for tomorrow we die mode; what did I want to do, feel, see; mostly selfish and self-fulfilling but mostly I felt something was missing.

My fascination with the concept of Time led me to do some other reading, I’ve become addicted to SciFi books and movies about time travel and paradox and even Einstein’s theory of time and relativity, and sub components of Time.  But when I read this I found what I was missing in my Now (I changed the subject to personalize it for me, I do that a lot when I read): “The pleasant future belongs to those who properly use today. [I] need to find the abundant life as [I] go along. How can [I] be happy tomorrow if [my] “nows” are filled with self-inflicted unhappinesses and unwise delays? Generally speaking, those inclined to count daily blessings have more to count because they help make more possible as they learn gratitude. A constant waiting for a brighter future may cause  [me]to lose the beautiful today. [I] need to constantly remind [myself] eternity is in process now…and then “[I] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [my] free will, and bring to pass much righteousness [good]” (D&C 58:27) [within the] time structure referred to only as now, today, and without delay…To live more fully each hour and to glean the most from each day is wisdom. How unwise [I am] to waste [my]  todays when they determine the significance of [my] tomorrows. [I] should wisely live a day at a time because that is all [I] have.” Marvin J Ashton

So for my today , my Now will be filled with talking to and helping friends (friends made when Then was Now and friends to be made Now) and Family…today I am searching the past to find family whose Now allowed me to Be Today… today I will find them, say their names out loud again and remember them, Now.



Half Frozen Tom & the Horse Thief’s Cabin

Tom about 12 years old .. with the tipped hat

Tom about 12 years old .. with the tipped hat (the boy to Tom’s right and the little girl are neighbors) the others are Tom’s brothers.


Swoosh! Summer has blown past with it’s run run go go do do mentality and the September lull has given me time to look into the drawers and closets, boxes and piles of projects that always await winter’s slower pace.  After a fine evening and morning of fishing, Greg is making yummy spaghetti sauce from Ray’s tomatoes (ours are still in the fried green tomato stage) and I took a breath and wandered back into my genealogy addiction.  Since 1832 my family has been members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and  each generation has worked diligently  for the salvation of the dead through finding our ancestors. That means there isn’t a lot left for me to do in searching for my heritage. So … I have been collecting stories, researching for information for stories, and hunting pictures to illustrate and share them with my family.  (Remind me to tell you about our My Heritage – My Legacy Grandma Keri weekends some time).  The following story is about my Grandfather Thomas Murdoch Nicol, (Tom), when he was about 10 years old … my Grandpa Tom (or Grampon as christen by my cousin Brad when he was just learning to speak … say Grandpa Tom really fast a few time … you’ll get it) .  I hope you enjoy …

Half Frozen Tom & the Horse Thief’s Cabin 

Written by Keri Nicol Vest-Vergari

The weather wasn’t bad when they mounted their horses that early winter day.  Tom, his dad Hyrum and some others had been visiting and doing business in Heber City, Utah.   They were looking forward to the two day ride through the canyons home to Duchesne. Tom loved being outdoors and sleeping beneath the black star filled sky. As they rode up the canyon, snow began drifting slowly down, fat lazy flakes that brushed their cheeks and powdered their hat brims.  Higher they rode and faster the snow came down, smaller now and sharp, as the wind twisting through the sagebrush pushed into their collars and under their hats, leaving them breathless.

On they rode more slowly. Tom, 10 years old was hunched into his coat, the reins gripped in gloved fingers peeking from his coat sleeves, trusting his horse to pick the safest route. The snow kept falling, covering him and his horse like a wooly blanket.  Finally he could ride no longer; he was sleeping on the back of the horse, stuck in the saddle by legs too cold to feel.

Hyrum, his father, knew they could not continue further in the storm. Peering through the blinding white he searched for the cabin that everyone called the  horse thief’s cabin; empty now, but a haven to wait out the blizzard. Through squinted eyes peering briefly from under his hat brim, Hyrum spotted the old cabin, south of the road in a little hollow.  He hollered to Tom to hang on and the horses struggled through the drifted snow to the leeward side of the cabin. Tom, wake up, climb down.  Tom was almost frozen solid, so I was told and his father had to pry him from his saddle and carry him inside. Whether there was wood for a fire or the circumstances of the night they holed up in the horse thief’s cabin the details are lost.

However, once the storm broke the next morning, they continued to Duchesne through a world of wondrous glittering snow, and the winter sunshine glinting from mounded sagebrush hidden below the blanket of white.  Though the snow hid the road and the way home was more work and slow plodding they finally dropped from the mountain canyons to the high desert terraces of home.

[1] The descriptions of the trip are fictional although the cabin, frozen Tom, and the blizzard are not. Family story of Thomas Murdoch Nicol was related independently by Thomas Keith Nicol (son) and Jean Nicol Robison (daughter) to Keri Vest (Tom’s oldest grand-daughter).

Ruins of Horse Thief cabin, Highway 40 Sheep Creek Utah

Ruins of Horse Thief cabin,  South of Highway 40 by Sheep Creek turn off between Heber and Fruitland Utah


Learn more about Thomas Murdoch Nicol and his family  along with more pictures as