Friday, August 14, 2015

Our Halfway Mark

The first weekend in August proved to be a perfect way to mark the halfway point of our mission.  First of's a little background so that everyone can understand why this weekend will always be so memorable for us.

Family of William G. Ferguson & Lucy Willett done by Marie Donovan
We heard a few years ago from extended family in Salt Lake about a Ferguson Family Reunion in Roanoke, Virginia that is held every year on the first Saturday in August.  The Fergusons were among the very first people to join the church in the Roanoke area around 1888.  Jim's grandfather, Byron, was a missionary in Roanoke about 30 years later.  After his mission, Byron ended up returning to Roanoke.  He brought Josephine Ferguson back to Salt Lake City to be married to him in the Salt Lake Temple on June 26, 1919. The story is interesting because only one of Josephine's 11 other siblings ever married (one sister died at a young age).  One account states that at least some of them were determined to marry within the church and so they probably didn't have marriage opportunities come to them in the Roanoke area.
They lived in a beautiful plantation type home and owned acres and acres of apple orchards. They worked hard and were quite wealthy for that time period.

Josephine's exit to Utah broke ties with many of the

Ferguson cousins.  The cousins who stayed in Roanoke were promised by the local mission president that if they stayed in the area and built up the church there instead of migrating to Utah that all of their spouses would eventually join the church.
Every one of the spouses of the children in the family who had this promise made to them did eventually join the church--- even though many were in their advanced years when they made the decision to get baptized.

Anyway, Roanoke is close enough to our mission that attending the reunion this year was a possibility.  President Johnson gave his approval and so we set out early Saturday morning not knowing a soul in Roanoke!  We talked to a relative named Jim on the phone and he confirmed that the reunion was actually being held.  We really didn't know what to expect at all and wondered if we would feel uncomfortable or even
unwelcome since no one from Utah has ever visited the reunion  before.

Inside the original log cabin portion of the home
Truly, everything on the trip went like clockwork.  We arrived in Roanoke and drove directly to the old plantation home.  We found the home and knocked on the door hoping and praying that the people now living there were home and would consent to at least letting us take a few pictures on the outside of the home.  They turned out to be a nice family who have lived there for several years.  They invited us inside and showed us a room that was originally a log cabin.  The rest of the house had been added later, presumably after the family had more means.  It was wonderful to see the home and we plan to keep in touch with them to share information.

Jim visited the home with his family around 1957 when he was 9.  He and his brothers and sisters have many memories and stories of the trip there and staying in this large old home.  Even the spooky stories of an upstairs bedroom in the home matched with the ones the current family told us!

After visiting the home, we drove to a subdivision behind closely.  There is a small little fenced cemetery with graves of some of the Ferguson family.  Many of the inscriptions on the stones are missing because they are so old and weathered, but we took pictures of what we could and felt a special, peaceful feeling there.

Then we went
to the reunion at a small bowery behind the current schoolhouse.  There were about 100 people there and they gave us a warm welcome.  They said the reunion is usually much bigger, but one of the larger families weren't there this year.  We talked and talked and got to know all that we could.

We attended church the next day at the Back Creek Ward and we found that we had some connection, even though it was distant, to most of the members who were there.  We found that we are connected to the Bohon family as well as the Fergusons.

It is a small, but very strong ward in the area with many stake leaders coming from this ward.  Even the stake president is a Bohon.  Such good people!  After church we drove around the William Griffen Ferguson home again and noticed a woman sitting on the porch of a home across the street from the Ferguson home.  We were told previously that the old church/schoolhouse was

across the street and so we decided to park and go ask her if she knew where it was.  As we approached, she went inside and so we decided to be brave.  We knocked on the door and an older woman came out.  When we asked her if she knew where the schoolhouse was, she said, "this is it!"  She was very pleasant and we talked for quite awhile to her.  She said she has lived there for 50 years and she gave a few more tidbits of information about the schoolhouse and area.  She actually remembered seeing John, Josephine's brother, come into her father's store with a solid gold piece for some groceries.

We also stopped at a Roanoke landmark called Mill Mountain where we saw a beautiful view of the city and the Appalachian mountains.  It sure made us want to go hiking there again one day.  The Roanoke Star on top of the mountain is lit up every night and can be seen from many miles away.


Sunday night after we got back to the hotel we called
some of Jim's brothers and sisters to tell them about our experiences.  They were all so excited to hear what we had learned.  Marie, especially, has put a lot of work and effort into researching the Ferguson family and so it was extra special to talk with her.

On our way home the next day we stopped in Wyethville where our nephew, Ryan, is serving his mission.  Wyethville is one of the first places in Virginia where missionaries came to preach the gospel.  Ryan received permission for us to take him and his companion out to lunch and it was really wonderful to see how much he has matured and grown in the gospel.

Our trip to Virginia was something that we
Standing on the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Appalachians in the background
hadn't anticipated at all before coming on our mission.  It was such an unexpected blessing--just like many others that we have experienced while we have been here.

                                                    We are just so grateful and have a lot of family history work to put together when we get home!

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