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Twila Van Leer: New year, new resolve

Family history relics.
Family history relics.

I remember years ago when my daughter Melinda, then 5 or 6 years old, made her terrible pronouncement: "I'm going to make a revolution!" It wasn't really surprising because she'd been doing that since she was about 2 days old.

What she meant, of course, was that she was going to make a resolution, in keeping with family conversation in the week between Christmas and New Year's. I could only hope it was that she was going to stop doing things like painting her dad's head with lipstick while he was sleeping or setting quart jars of dill pickles on the stove when the burner was on.

Melinda was merely perpetuating a grand old custom that has been going on since the Babylonians began making promises to their gods that they would improve some aspect of their lives at the beginning of their year, particularly in the areas of returning borrowed objects or paying debts, according to "The History of New Year’s Resolutions" on The knights of the medieval era marked the beginning by renewing "peacock" vows as their pledge to chivalry, according to Christians for centuries have looked at the new year as a time for self-introspection and resolve to make improvements by observing "Watchnight" services, according to

Today, according to the same source, some 40 to 50 percent of Americans follow the custom, according to Most of the resolutions have to do with self-improvement, such as shedding pounds (the most popular), exercising more, getting finances in hand, cutting back on smoking, overeating or drinking. Some make it a time to curb annoying habits such as nail-biting, or they vow to do more charitable acts. Anything that is on the positive side of the scales.

Never mind that most resolutions will have been set aside before 2017 is a month old. Any amount of positive action in this weary old world is wonderful, and a little honest look at oneself now and again can't hurt (though it can be painful).

Fully aware of my own shortcomings, I humbly suggest that resolving to pay more attention to family history might not be amiss as all this self-improvement is going on. While attending to taking off weight, how about taking a load off your mind by searching out relevant information about ancestors and preparing it for temple work?

Experts in the field of resolution-making advise that you are more likely to succeed if you make specific single goals rather than wide-ranging nonspecific declarations. Instead of a general resolution to "do more genealogy," pick an item that you know needs attention and focus on that problem until it is resolved, if resolution is possible.

I am going to take my own advice, confessing right up front that I have not been, am not now and probably never will be a really good genealogist. But there is a problem of which I am aware that I will make the focus of my feeble attempts in the coming year.

My distant cousin Adrian D. Ruggles was made known to me through the kind services of Grant Skousen, who spent several sessions with me trying to help me navigate the beginnings of family research. Through careful perusal of the 1800s records of which Brother Skousen was aware, we patched together most aspects of Adrian's life.

He was born in Massachusetts, married, joined the Union Army during the Civil War, served through the entire war, was mustered out and joined the national army, was sent to Texas, deserted, returned to Massachusetts, apparently lost his first wife, married a second and lived out his life in New England.

That's a poorly written single paragraph that encompasses one human existence. Some of the details are missing, including the reason for his desertion from the army at the same time that a number of others in his outfit did. The one that most bothers me, though, is that we found no children for Adrian, and I have this deep sense that he had some.

I hereby resolve that in 2017 I will continue to search the records until I have either found some children for Adrian or can reasonably conclude that he had none. And if I get that resolved, I will turn my attention to the questions that surround my grandfather Dorr Peck's three marriages so the record will be correct.

That may be enough to keep me busy until 2018.