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Bernice Vanderhoof McCarthy
by Shauna Solace
At the time I received my grandmothers' 1830 Book of Mormon, which was just prior to my father's death in 1976, I was raising my young family as a single parent and the full impact of what I held hadn't hit me yet. Working full-time, taking college courses in the evenings, spending Sundays in church, and being both mother and father to my children, as well as teacher, chauffeur, nurse, Den Mother, and the myriad of other parental duties, left little time to ponder and muse about the treasure I now possessed.
For me, the uniqueness of this volume stemmed from the hand-written genealogical information on the inside front cover bearing my father's maternal lineage -- chiefly, my grandmother, Katharine Fidelia Vanderhoof Wells; my 1st great-grandmother, Lerona Minerva Hickman Vanderhoof; and my 2nd great-grandmother, Minerva Wade Hickman. Additionally, it had remarkable 'bookmark' pieces within the pages of the book that dated back to 1896 and told a story about this ancestral family. On the front cover of the Book of Mormon was a dedication which, although badly faded, referenced my 3rd great-grandfather, Moses Wade who had originally bought the small volume in New York as a gift for his daughter, Minerva. She took this book with her to Utah. The Wade family were new converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As I held this volume gently in my hands, caressing the scorched leather cover and tenderly turning each discolored, water-stained page, it was a miracle that this book even existed! The apartment my father, Edwin Leonard Wells, shared with his 2nd wife caught fire and everything they owned was destroyed ... except this small book. This fact alone was, and still is for me, nothing short of a miracle and I was in awe of the fact that God had preserved this small volume -- for whatever reason. Thus, five generations and a major fire later, we received this heirloom Book of Mormon.
My maternal grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Walker Sermon, tried unsuccessfully to light within me an interest in family history. So, this once beautiful, 1830 leather-bound, 1st edition of the Book of Mormon sat safely tucked away in a small white box ... ignored. The binding itself was now very poor which allowed the pages, that were once in perfect harmony with the book, to become detached thus allowing complete segments to be lost. What pages remained were yellowed and water stained. The once beautiful leather cover now bore the scars of scorching from the intense heat of the apartment fire. It did not lend itself to be a very beautiful keepsake! But its mere survival was enough to appreciate its precarious existence.
It was in the spring of 1995 that my interest in my ancestors perked up. I was working in Fillmore, California as Children's Librarian. One Friday night after work I met my cousin at the Fillmore LDS Ward Family History Center with the expressed understanding that I WOULD be able to locate genealogical information on my family. Having searched many times before and coming up with nothing, my cousin was far more confident than I was about success. When asked for a name to search I blurted out the first one that came to my mind: Katharine Fidelia Vanderhoof... In my smugness, I waited for her to fail as I had. Imagine my shock and surprise when she found the name -- and many more generations before her! We must have printed several reams of paper that evening and the excitement mounted with each new page. I was also given the book, "Wild Bill" Hickman and the Mormon Frontier, from the Bishop's wife who was also a Hickman relative but coming from George Washington Hickman. My cousin and I labored zealously for 4 hours before we had to end the session. It would be another six years before I would learn more about this ancestral family line. But now, it was well after midnight and surprisingly I was still wide-awake ... excitement being the adrenalin that pressed me on ... and I could have gone on forever without stopping. But it was late ...
Now I yearned for a computer with which to do my genealogy and my prayers were answered when my youngest son built me a computer and proudly presented it to me; my eldest son sent me a printer. I was ecstatic and rearing to go! The spirit of family history was now in my blood and I was eager to get started. Genealogy now occupied a goodly portion of my time away from work. Still, I had only names on a page. Few faces and no histories. I yearned to know these people -- my people. But I had little to bring them to life. Since I was creating genealogy books for my children and grandchildren, I wanted them to know who their people were and to get familiar with not just the names on a page but their origins and their lives. I wanted to give them the gift of intimately knowing their ancestors. I longed for more than just names and places but I had nothing to bring them to life.
Then in early 2001, my cousin, remembering one of the names on my charts, told me about a TV program she'd taped on "Hickman's Destroying Angels." Suddenly, the remembrance of him generated an attitude of thanksgiving ... that this outlaw was not a relative of hers! His only saving grace seemed to be in the fact that he was bodyguard to two Prophets. Thus began my search to glean more information about my 2nd great grandfather, William Adams Hickman. I borrowed any books I could find through the library's Interlibrary Loan system. Most of which I later wanted to purchase for my own collection. Then I was told of a web site that presented a lot of Hickman history. My ancestors were slowly coming to life! and I was gaining new family as an additional bonus ...
But the icing on the cake came through a manuscript that had been placed on that site. It was 1979 when Bernice Vanderhoof McCarthy (daughter of Giles Vanderhoof and granddaughter of Lerona Minerva Hickman Vanderhoof) read Lerona's autobiography at a gathering of the Reno Daughters of Utah Pioneers and presented them with a copy of the manuscript. The paper was distributed nationwide among the members of the DUP a short time later. Steve Richardson found this in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers literature and placed it on his Hickman family web site. Now, the names inscribed in my scarred and dilapidated Book of Mormon were taking on life. On contacting the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, they were only able to say that Bernice had moved from Reno to Oregon and left no forwarding address. Only a few months ago we learned that she died in December, 2001, never knowing she had cousins wondering how to get ahold of her.
Still, it is with great gratitude that I acknowledge this wonderful woman for her contribution, for without it I would not be as rich in the history of my great grandmother. Happily, she is no longer just a name on a genealogy sheet nor just an inscription in my Book of Mormon. By sharing her manuscript, Bernice shared with us a vividly detailed and enriching history of Lerona's life as a child, a wife, a mother and of the era in which she lived.
With the advent of computers and the Internet, genealogy sites are opening up and more and more people are seeking to know WHO their ancestors were and how they lived. Little could Bernice have imagined in 1979 that this one gift would draw out another line of ancestors -- the Vanderhoof's. I am sure she looks upon us all with great contentment and amazement that the information she was willing to share in 1979 has benefitted so many and will continue to do so for generations to come.
To contact Shauna Solace, click here. To read Lerona's autobiography, click here. To see Lerona's 1830 Book of Mormon, click here. To read Charles Kelly's interview with "Mrs. Shaw", click here. To return to the Hickman Family index page, click here.