Family, Uncategorized

Help Me Solve a Family Mystery

This is going to be an usual blog post for me.

It’s a plea for help with a family puzzle.

Here’s the thing…

I have spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to solve a vexing family mystery.

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Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer July 3, 1909 – August 13, 1991

This beautiful woman is my Grandma Snow, my dad’s mom.

We thought we knew her well until her death in 1991 when we found out she was adopted.

My aunts found a family history document in the lining of her dresser drawer that had the word “adopted” scrawled next to her name.

Adopted?

Why didn’t we ever know this?

After learning she was adopted, we launched a search for her birth story.

Who were her parents?

What happened to them?

What is her adoption story?

Oh, there are theories like that she was left in a bundle on my great grandmother’s doorstep.

Or that a midwife delivered her and gave her to my great grandparents when the mother died in childbirth.

Or that the Mormon leader, Joseph F. Smith, who was my Great Grandfather Hyrum Smith Harris’ uncle, arranged for the adoption.

Joseph F. Smith’s wife, Julina, was a midwife and delivered many babies, so we have speculated that maybe she helped with this adoption, and perhaps that’s why they named their baby, Julina.

My favorite theory formed while reading the compelling book The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

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The book illuminates the brutal tales of abandoned children who were piled on trains from New York City and sent out to train stations across the country between 1845 – 1929 for people to poke, prod, foster, and adopt.

Some of these trains carried infants, and they made it as far as Utah and Texas — places where my grandma lived as a child.

I sent a letter to the records department of the New York Children’s Aid Society – just in case.

They had no records of a little orphaned baby in Utah or Texas in 1909.

We’ve searched vital records, court records, personal journals, orphanages, correspondence, church records, and visited with countless relatives.

Always dead ends.

We’ve given up on this for years at a time, but then, something sparks our curiosity, and we start searching again.

We want to know her story because it’s our family story.

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Julina and her mother, Delia Sarah Rebekah Twede Harris

So, speculation aside, here’s what we know…

  1. Records say she was born July 3, 1909 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
  2. She was blessed in Provo, Utah in July, 1909 by Roy Passey, her adopted father’s brother-in-law.
  3. In 1910, she shows up on the U.S. Census in Garza County, Texas where her father, Hyrum Smith Harris (45) and Delia Twede Harris (38) lived and owned a sheep ranch.
  4. Personal correspondence mentions having Julina “come to them,” and others mention that they “got their baby” in Texas. There is no mention of how they got the baby from Utah to Texas or how the adoption was arranged.
  5. She had no siblings. Hyrum and Delia had a child, Mercy Rachel Harris, in 1891, but she died a few months after her birth.
  6. She married Alton Roswell Snow April 23, 1928. After his death, she later married Mark Elwood Berkhimer April 14, 1969.
  7. We have submitted our DNA to Ancestry.com and continue to try to find matches that might help.

So, where do we go from here?

If anyone has any ideas, please share them.

Share this blog.

Help us solve this mystery.

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Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer

Maybe there is no reason for us to know.

Maybe her story is unknowable.

But, if anyone has any further details, hints, stories, correspondence, journals, or anything the slightest bit helpful, please share.

We would love to know about this beautiful woman and her story.

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Change, Memoir, Personal

Unpack Your Bags

In one of our women’s meetings at church, our teacher brought in a suitcase and rolled it around the room.

She asked, “How many of you have unpacked your bags?”

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She confessed that she has lived here for years and never mentally or emotionally unpacked her bags.

She said when we don’t unpack our bags, we live with one foot out the door. 

I wasn’t the only woman in the room thinking,”This lesson is for me.”

I heard women whispering, “This is for me.” And saw others nodding their heads as if it applied to them too.

Maybe carrying around our metaphorical packed bags gives us an escape clause or an excuse to hold back, and make fewer commitments.

The question then is what are we missing if we trek through life with a packed bag –always feeling like our circumstances are temporary?

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When we think we’re on our way out of a community, a job, a relationship, or any other situation or commitment, we automatically hold back and contribute less, which of course means, we get less.

Our teacher advised, “Whether you are going to be here for one week, one year, or the rest of your life–unpack your bags.”

I thought about that while walking one morning because sometimes I miss the familiar sights, sounds, and faces of my old life.

I wondered if after eight months whether I’ve unpacked my bags completely.

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When I see a friend volunteering at the White House Easter Egg roll or other friends going to Washington Nationals games; or groups of friends celebrating a birthday in one of my favorite restaurants without me, I get a little nostalgic — not desperately homesick like I made a drastic mistake in moving, just a little wistful.

While thinking about this on my walk, my thoughts were interrupted by the quacking of a beautiful duck floating in a pond, and then a chirp of a fascinating, unfamiliar bird.

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I stopped to look around and was awed by my new scenery.

I thought about the new sounds, places and faces I’m now appreciating, and I realized that unpacking is probably a process, not a one-time event.

Maybe we all need to continually work at unpacking because we don’t want to miss anything on our journeys, wherever those journeys take us.

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Brené Brown said in her book Rising Strong “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Sometimes it takes courage to show up, and it seems easier to live life with your bags packed, with one foot out the door just in case…

But, what do we gain when we choose that kind of timid, fearful, cautionary life?

I want to be like my friend, Laura, who has moved frequently, and after every move, has said, “That was my favorite place!”

Every place becomes her favorite because she fully unpacks her bags wherever she goes and she decides every new place and new experience will be her favorite.

I read about a military family that learned that the difference between misery and happiness is unpacking your bag and settling down—whether for days, months, or years.

They learned that if they believed they could be in a place for many years, they were happier. They invested more of themselves and in turn, had deeper relationships and better experiences all around.

This lesson applies not just to physically moving, but to all the areas of our lives where we hold back and carry around that symbolic tightly packed bag.

I love this bit of Buddah wisdom: “Be where you are…otherwise you will miss your life.”