The Family Historian

Family History | Forgiveness for the Dead Versus for the Living

BYU Education Week offers over 1,000 classes on hundreds of topics each year on campus for anyone over the age of 14.  From 8am to 9pm you can choose hour-long classes from The Arts; The Scriptures; Church History; Communication; Dance and Exercise; Education; Family and Marriage; Family History; Finance; Gospel Topics; Health and Fitness; History, Government, and Political Science; Home Management; Human Relations; Law; Leadership; Literature; Missionary Work; Music; Parenting; Prophets; Psychology; Self-Improvement; Single Parenting; and Youth Classes!  Folks come from all over the world to attend this event.

It’s one of my favorite times of year.  Since my first time attending in 2005, I’ve never missed a year.  I try to attend every day, all day, and by the end of the week I am a walking zombie with a brain and heart over full.

I’ll try to share a little bit of what I walk away with every day this week.

Vincenzo Teresa Anna Annie Salvatore Charles Family History | Forgiveness for the Dead Versus for the Living

Vincenzo, Teresa, Anna (Annie), and Salvatore (Charles) Pace | Photo Credits Unknown

Day 1:  Family History and Genealogy

All of the classes I attended today had to do with Writing a Family History and Genealogy.  During one of the classes I was examining my feelings about my ancestors, my fascination with them, with “death” and the other side, preserving the truthful stories of our ancestors, and of ourselves.  As a result, I wrote this during one of the class breaks:

For an unknown reason, many of us have an obsession with ages and peoples past.  We tend to elevate our ancestors to saintly levels.  We’ve decided their mere graduation of this life made them glorious (and maybe this is partly true?).  And when we uncover their misdeeds, we find them fascinating, rather than judge them.  The idea of forgiving them does not even come to mind.

What would be our place in forgiving them?  Their actions had nothing to do with us, we unconsciously decide.

Yet, we’ve decided that our living loved ones somehow personally offend us with their misdeeds (or our perception of a misdeed).

Why can’t we offer our living loved ones the same notion that we have no place, nor power to forgive them?  Not because we are unforgiving, but because we have nothing to forgive them of.  The misdeeds of others are never about us – just as the misdeeds of our ancestors of ages past had nothing to do with us.  I wish we, as a society, could understand and embrace this better.

Rather than a distant study of human behavior, we choose to make another’s actions about us, and therefore, we become personally offended because we choose to let it affect us.

Of course, there are appropriate occasions to seek and to offer forgiveness – but these don’t include liberal consumers’ of ‘sorry’s', trolling for apologies for someone else’s every day life choices.

Somehow we find it easier to view our ancestors lives in context, and see the clues of why they were the way they were, which leads us to a place of compassion for them – for the good, the bad, the ugly.

Somehow, we, as a society, are not able to do that for the living.

What do you think?  Are we too easily offended?  Are we ‘Sorry Trolls’?

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Breaking the Rules of Tradition

photo 16 1 e1296772917654 Breaking the Rules of Tradition

Birthday Card from my Grandpa Nick to my Grandma Marguerite before they were married and while he was in the Service

photo 17 1 e1296773083665 Breaking the Rules of Tradition

27th Birthday Card to my Grandma from her Mother

Despite her birth certificate saying otherwise, my grandma’s birthday was October 14th, 1915.  Her birth certificate says October 15th.  But her mom always told her it was wrong.  She was her mom, and she knew.  The top card pictured is from her boyfriend, Nick, who would later be her husband, and my grandpa.  The next card is from her mom, Teresa Demma Pace.

While it wasn’t a birthday card, her brother Charlie did send her a note on Oct. 8, 1942 from Camp Lee VA, where he was stationed, giving her some brotherly advice:

Charles Pace Letter small e1296776116355 Breaking the Rules of Tradition

Brother to Sister... 'Are you sure you want to marry this guy?'


Dear Sister,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you.

I am still here still waiting on my Caat (?).  They are sure brining a lot of men in here ever day.

I got a letter from Lawrence and Lena (their brother and sister).  They not been drilling much.

The weather here has been warm.  They have the later movies here.  They charge 15 cents here.

You taking about geting Marry.  I want you to think about a long time yet.  You have got a good job and you are your own Boss.  Don’t do it and be sorry after it done.  I would not do anything till after the war and would you a long time to think.  I would not become engaged any way untill after the war.  If you done anything Please think it over good.  I don’t want to see you hurt.

Your Brother,

Charles Pace

*grammar and spelling errors left intact from original letter


IMG 1376 e1296775391363 Breaking the Rules of Tradition

Charlie, Annie, Lena, Marguerite, and Lawrence

Here are all the siblings together.  Ironically, Charlie never did marry.  In fact, neither did Annie or Lena.  Lawrence was married to Nettie Elswick (sp?).  The three unmarried siblings lived together in their adult lives.  And to break the rules of tradition even more, Annie and Lena worked outside the home, while Charlie was the stay at home homemaker.  Isn’t this a hoot?  I just can’t imagine… I wish I had asked my grandma what she thought about this arrangement.  Knowing her, she would have politely smiled and said, “Well, Ang, it worded for them and that’s all that’s important.”  And of course, she would be right.

I wonder if my grandma took offense to her brother’s concerns about getting married… Or if she thought it was sweet of him to care.  It doesn’t sound like it was anything personal against Nick.  I’m trying to remember all the stories I’ve heard, and I think my grandparents weren’t married for three years after this, in 1945.

DSC05457 e1296775592319 Breaking the Rules of Tradition

My grandma (on left) with her three never-to-be married siblings, who lived with each other their whole adult lives.

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My First Collage Piece

IMG 1022 1 e1296098458496 My First Collage Piece

Frances Wiesner Got Her Wings 1982

IMG 1006 11 e1296098938636 My First Collage Piece

Dress Made From Newspaper Headlines Between 1910 and 1980

IMG 1023 1 e1296099034974 My First Collage Piece

Glittery Wing Closeup

IMG 1020 e1296099126439 My First Collage Piece

In Loving Memory of Frances M. Wiesner

One of my art class assignments this week is to collage.  Over the past week or so I’ve been wading through old photos of ancestors from my mother’s line, so I was inspired to create my first piece with my grandma as the center.  The background is a photo transfer of her memorial printout.  Her dress is made of newspaper headlines from every decade she was alive; including, ‘Titanic Sinks’, John Lennon Slain’, ’175 Nazi Planes Down’, ‘Kennedy Assassinated’, and ‘Declare War’.  The others ended up getting covered up in the process.

What I like about this piece is that it tells many stories.  It tells the stories from the decades of her life – she wears them as reminder of what she lived and came through.  It tells the story of those who loved her, and gathered for her funeral and to celebrate her life.  It tells the story of her ‘getting her wings’ and the day she flew away from this place.   Her eyes look toward the sky at the beauty and peace above as she ascends.

I didn’t know my grandma Wiesner.  The only memory I have of her is a visit when I was maybe five-years-old – she brought me a stuffed frog filled with beads.  I really liked it and specifically remember letting the loose beads fall around the top of my hand as I laid the frog on it.  It felt cool, and warm all at the same time.

My mom lost her mom at a very difficult time in her life.  Within a very short span of time, my mom went through a divorce, lost the baby she was carrying, and lost her mommy to Emphysema.  Frances was a chain smoker who died at age 70.

While I didn’t know her in this life, I know one day I will get the chance.  I am grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ that allows such a reunion with all of ours gone before us… a large family connected through time and space for all eternity.  Such lovely reunions going on in other dimensions we cannot yet see, but have a hope of one day joining.

Alive and well are those gone before us – much more so than we are, I’m sure.

In Loving Memory of Frances M. Wiesner
b. January 30, 1912 – Fort Worth, TX
d. May 21, 1982 – Westminster, CO
buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery

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Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy Destroyers

Marguerite Pace Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy DestroyersMy beloved Grandma
b. 10-14-15
d. 11-07-10

IMG 1078 1 e1295490322819 Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy DestroyersTo:

IMG 1079 1 e1295490428893 Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy DestroyersFrom:

IMG 1081 1 e1295490629413 Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy Destroyers

Letter from Nick DiGiovanni to Marguerite Pace | July 9, 1942

The year was 1942.  It was July, and the United States was seven months into World War II.  The day before, on July 8th, the Navy Department, under which my grandfather served, issued the following communiqué*:

North Pacific Area.

1. On the afternoon Of July 5th a U. S. submarine, operating in the Aleutian Islands, torpedoed and is believed to have sunk a Japanese destroyer in the vicinity of Kiska.
2. This is the fifth enemy destroyer to have been sunk or damaged by our submarines in this area during the 2-day period, (July 4th and 5th).
3. Low visibility continues in this area.

That is what was going on in the world while my grandfather to be wrote this letter to my grandmother to be:


July 9, 1942

Dearest Marguerite, I am so pleased to receive your letter that words can
not express this joyful sensation. Time has never before been so slow, to me
it seems that each day you been away has been a year (without any exaggeration).
I have missed you so, that I’m down right lonesome.

Do you recognize the symptoms?

You said something when you said you are on the go. By your letter it
appears that you are in Princeton one day and in Harrisonburg the next.
You will need a vacation when you get back. Just the same it must be
fun and I am glad you are enjoying it.

It’s a pity your brother Lawerence is being called to the service. I can imagine
how he feels to give up so much.

Yesterday I had dinner at the Malitos. They were sorry you were away and
not able to be there because their invitation was extended to both you as well
as myself. The other happening of interest is, I started my new job on July First.
If it wasn’t for the hard work I would like it. I was planning a surprise visit to
see you but now it’s impossible because there is so much that I have to learn
about the new work that it would be silly for me to even ask for time off.

No, we have not had any word from Auggie {grandpa’s brothers} since the last letter
which you know about and read. Mother keeps worrying about him. Which (truthfully saying)
I cannot blame her. Aside of being lonesome for you and worrying for Auggie we are all well.

My personal regards to Lena {grandma’s sister} and all the rest and lots of Love for you,
I remain Sincerely yours, Nick.

P.S.- Please let me know when you will arrive Washington and
what station – I would like to meet you. I can’t wait untill the 15th.
Nick

And so… while far away lovers missed each other, they worried about a brother called to serve, and a brother they hadn’t heard from.  Where was Auggie?  I do not know.  I also don’t know where Lawrence was stationed.  It’s these stories I so wish to piece together.  Perhaps I’ll learn more as I delve further into my Grandpa’s letters.

Life Magazine Cover July 1942 Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy Destroyers

Life Magazine Cover July 1942 | Credit: The Katy and Peter Gwillim Kreitler Collection

Foreign Service Magazine July 1942 Lovers, Missing Brothers, Enemy Destroyers

Foreign Service Magazine July 1942

to be continued…

*http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/comms/1942-07.html

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If We Don’t Have Stories, We Don’t Have a Past

Yesterday my mom called and told me that she had a Treasure Trove waiting for me at the house.  I thought she was referring to the boatload of art supplies I had just ordered – but no, she was talking about REAL treasures.

New Love If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastNicholas DiGiovanni and Marguerite Pace

IMG 1135 e1294444423729 If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastLetters Between New Lovers

IMG 1141 e1294444657304 If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastPictures of Marguerite Pace DiGiovanni with family and friends

IMG 1142 e1294444793738 If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastNewspapers from 1943 with Headlines: ‘Italy Surrenders!’ and ‘Mussolini Ousted’

cropped newspapers e1294446286103 If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastStack of Newspapers from the 1940′s during the war

1944 Christmas Postcard small e1294446443379 If We Dont Have Stories, We Dont Have a PastThis “postcard” is actually the menu for the troops on base for their Christmas meal. Sent to Marguerite from Nick in 1944.

On the left side he wrote:

Hello Darling, Missed you more than ever this year again.  Hope you are in the best of health and that next Christmas will be “Our Christmas” the way we want it.
All my love, Nick

I cannot describe the joy in my heart that these treasures bring to me.  All of the letters are from when they were dating, and end in 1945, which is the year they got married.  My dad and mom told me how surprised they were as they sampled them, that my grandpa was so affectionate and lovey-dovey with his bride-to-be!  It is a side of him that my dad never saw.  Ever.  My grandpa was somewhat of a gruff Italian man – not one to show affection or say “I love you.”  From the stories I hear, he was hard on the kids, had a bad temper, and yelled a lot.

It makes me sad that his children did not get to experience much of this tender man portrayed in these letters.  And it reminds me that we are all made up of conflicting facets, light and shadows.  It does not mean that our light is not sincere, or not who we really are, just because someone else only gets to experience our shadows.  Different people, different places, different seasons of life tend to bring out our different facets.

My step-daughter said to me: “I didn’t know you were this funny!”  She didn’t know because most of our relationship has been a day-to-day, full of life mundane and responsibility.  Now that we have moved to another state and don’t do the ‘day-to-day’ with her, she sees a softer, more playful side of me – the side that isn’t getting after her to clean up after herself, or get her homework done, or to be careful who she hangs out with.  Just as, I’m sure, my Aunts or Uncles might be surprised to be a fly on the wall of our old house and see me getting very impatient very easily with the kids, or go sit out in my car to cry instead of yell.  They might think, ‘What happened to Ang?  This is not the sweet girl we know!’

We are all shadows and light.  After hearing the comment from my step-daughter, and the one from my dad about my grandpa, it encourages and inspires me to be sure to share my light more in the spaces where my shadows are more easily provoked.

I will be going through EVERY letter, EVERY newspaper, EVERY picture, taking them in, treasuring them, and learning about and from the past.  If we don’t have stories, we don’t have a past.

As I was driving to my office today after looking through these treasures, I thought about what legacy I will leave behind.  Will my documented life be one that is a true reflection of me?  Of all my light and shadows?  Will it help and inspire my posterity, or merely be a window into a sad unaccomplished life?  What can I do moving forward to be a better record keeper of the good, the bad, and the ugly – to hold nothing back for fear of my own ego.  To let my words, my voice, my life give meaning and instruction to others.  Or that my posterity may be spared from my own mistakes; and simply, that they might know me, a Matriarch of things to come.

*My dear Uncle Tom sent these treasures.  My grandma passed away at the age of 95 on November 7, 2010.

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