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‘More than just a story’: One Book of Mormon’s journey through time

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In 1955, Margaret Adeline Caldwell died and was buried in the Salt Lake Valley, leaving behind a treasured possession: a Book of Mormon. In 2016, 61 years later, Rod Gardner found her 1908 version of the Book of Mormon for sale on Facebook. This is the story of that book’s journey.

Caldwell never married and never had any children, so no one inherited her Book of Mormon when she died. The man who sold the book to Gardner bought it at a yard sale years before Gardner saw it on Facebook.

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Margaret Caldwell is photographed. | Photo provided by Rod Gardner / Craig Russell

Although the outside of the book showed the wear of time, the flowing cursive notes, written in pencil on every page of the book, were well-preserved. Caldwell had annotated each margin with her thoughts and inspirations. She also wrote her name and address in the opening leaf.

When Gardner saw Caldwell's name in the book, he determined to find the family that this book belonged to, a family that would value it as much as Margaret had.

“I wanted to know more about her and how she felt about what she was reading,” Gardner wrote in a blog concerning the book’s journey. “I wondered why she never married, what was her story. In the back of the book she wrote, ‘The Lover’s Errand’ by Longfellow, something that obviously had meaning for her. So many questions.”

He enlisted the help of his father, Kirk Gardner, to find Caldwell’s family.

Kirk Gardner was not a seasoned genealogist or family history buff. He used his limited knowledge of FamilySearch and Google to try to locate someone who knew something about Caldwell. Through a Google search, he found Caldwell’s grave.

Heber “Craig” Russell, who had entered the gravestone information, had left behind a simple email to identify himself. With no other leads to go on, Kirk Gardner sent the man an email. It was New Year’s Eve 2016. “And so it was the very first thing I did,” he said. “I wasn’t online more than a minute or two.” Craig Russell turned out to be Caldwell’s half first cousin.

“It was handed to me on a silver platter,” said Kirk Gardner.

“Craig sent a picture of Margaret, and then an obituary,” he said. “And in the Book of Mormon there was an address that was written, and then in the obituary there was the same address, and then of course we knew that we had the right people.”

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From left: Kirk Gardner, Heber "Craig" Russell, Rod Gardner | Photo provided by Rod Gardner

Unlike the Gardners, Russell was an expert in family history. He had studied his family history for 20 years. He had entered gravestone information. He had increased the extent of his family history back over 100 years. He had prepared names for the temple, performing over 1,100 sealings and endowments himself. So when the Gardners reached out to him on behalf of Margaret, he was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I truly believe the events leading to this Book of Mormon coming into my possession were inspired,” wrote Russell, as a contribution to Rod Gardner’s blog. “And honestly I have not been able to dismiss the feeling that it has been a ‘thank you’ from these ancestors for my diligence.”

Before he received the book, however, Russell wanted to convince the Gardners he understood the value of it.

“I wanted to let him know that I was an active member of the church,” Russell said in an interview. “Because they wanted to give the Book of Mormon to someone who would appreciate it.”

Russell told the Gardners about his family history work, his calling in the bishopric and his service as a temple worker in the Washington D.C. Temple. They then uncovered a happy coincidence. Kirk Gardner, who lives in Utah, was watching over the home of some neighbors who were serving a mission in the Washington D.C. Temple. The neighbors were on the same shift as Russell, and Russell said they’re “forever friends.”

Russell was relieved that the connection established that the book would be in good hands, and is now searching for members of the Caldwell family who are related to Margaret.

The coincidences that pepper this story are not lost on Russell or Kirk Gardner. Both said they believe a divine hand was guiding the Book of Mormon home. The most blatant of these “coincidences” is that the Gardners first contacted Russell on New Year’s Eve 2016.

Margaret died on New Year’s Eve 1955.

“I’m not going to embellish it, but I truly believe what I said. Coincidences don’t just happen, we’re in Heavenly Father’s hands,” said Kirk Gardner. “And sure, that book came through to Craig Russell, for some reason, and it came through my son. I don’t know why, or for what reason, but I believe it’s all part of something good.”

Kirk Gardner also wrote a letter to his son about finding the book. “You say your story is ‘just a story,’” Gardner wrote in the letter. “I don’t agree. … People that are put in your life are so much more than just a story, or a matter of coincidence.”

Gardner wrote in the letter that he thought his son’s mom, who passed away prematurely, was assisting from the other side of the veil.

Russell said he knows that those ancestors for whom he has done work are watching and helping as well.

“That I know that they are assisting us in this work,” Russell said. “I would not be surprised if this is come about for some purpose, I don’t really know what it might be, it might be to help strengthen the Caldwell family, it might be that someone reads (this story), I think this is more than just a coincidental thing. I think the Lord, and maybe the Caldwells, had something in mind that needed to be done.”

To read Rod Gardner’s blog, click here.