The 20th May 2016 was a defining moment for Beverly Sherman… and me.  Beverly was part of a Mormon Heritage tour group weaving their way through LDS Britain, and I was the local guide showing them the sights and sounds.  We were scheduled for the group to start a tour of LDS Preston at 9:00 am, and Beverly contacted me beforehand to see if it was possible to have a private tour before the main tour to visit some of her own ancestral homes.   I agreed and before sunrise we drove together to Blackburn and Darwen, Lancashire.  Beverly recorded:

“It was a beautiful morning and we needed an early start … I had arranged for him to take me to Blackburn and Darwen, the two  places closest to Preston, where many of my ancestors were living when they were baptized into the “Mormon” Church.

Many of my Knowles, Harwood, Ainsworth, Holden and Sharples ancestors worshipped at the St. Mary’s Church (of England), built in 1826, in Blackburn, and later, the Lower Independent Chapel, built in Darwen. Both are located in Lancashire.

We saw the outside of Blackburn Cathedral  where several Kay, Holden and Herd ancestors were christened and married. James and Ann Harwood Knowles were married there in January of 1837.

We visited Heightside, Darwen, where her second great-grandfather, James Knowles, was born in 1819.

Then, on the other side of the valley, we visited Blacksnape, where her second-great-grandmother, Ann Harwood, was born.

 

But the icing on the cake – the defining moment -came at our final stop of the day.

Our next stop was at the Darwen Lower Chapel Independent built in 1719.  It is at this church that many of our ancestors worshipped through the late 1700s into the 1860s. Judging from the looks of the chapel, its grounds, and cemetery, although there were signs of someone’s presence, I wondered if there were still meetings being held there. I imagined how beautiful that chapel, three years short of three hundred years old, was during the times of my ancestors.

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 It made me sad to see the cemetery so over grown, with trash and logs from cut trees strewn about, and weeds and long grass almost up to my knees. Peter and I were both searching for and reading the grave markers when he called to me–

“Robert Knowles”

I answered, “yes”.

“Alice Knowles?”

“Yes.”

“Sons, Jeremiah, and Francis?”

“Yes.”

Peter had found the grave marker for my 3rd great-grandparents and two of their sons who had died at ages, two and three years!

While I joined Peter at the marker, he found a piece of slate and wiped away the moss from the inscription before me. It began, Sacred to the memory of . . . .  As I read the information carved there, the joy in my heart flowed forth as tears and I felt the presence of my deceased ancestors gathered there saying to me,  Welcome.  It’s so nice to see you here. We’re glad you came so far to this beautiful valley where many of us began and ended our mortal existence. We’re grateful for your desire to learn more about us, and for your love for us. We love you.

Beverly wept.  I welled up.  We hugged.  All was well with the world.

That may not sound like a defining moment, but it was.  It influenced my dreams, my thoughts, my convictions.   Beverly and I had only known each other for a few hours, but the lives of her ancestors suddenly spoke to me.  We had already spent a couple of hours seeing their sites – that was nothing new, and nothing out of the ordinary.  I’ve spent the last few decades hunting out places like this, so it was just another day at the office.  Here in an overgrown, decaying cemetery I felt a connection.  The veil was thin and eternity seemed a reality.   I cherish that moment.

Beverly continued,

  Too soon, it was time to go back to the hotel. While returning to the car, I made myself and our ancestors buried in that small cemetery a promise, I’m coming back and will do all that I can to make this place beautiful again.

And I will!

And she did!

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On the 23 and 24 September 2016, just four months later, Beverly returned with her son Kirk and granddaughter Camille.  She had contacted the owner and the local LDS Bishop and arranged for a clean up and reclamation of this sacred spot.  For the Sherman family it was a goldmine of information with around sixty engraved tombs with direct connection to their family line hidden away beneath the brambles – all now photographed and catalogued.  For the Blackburn Ward it was a wonderful service opportunity.   For me it felt like a token of respect, a mark of gratitude for who they were and what they did.  I do not know them, but I feel that I do. If nothing else I am grateful for how they made me feel that early May morning.

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Beverly reflected,

I thought about my great-grandfather, James Herd, born in Darwen, England, in 1849. In 1873 he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1875, Grandpa Herd sailed from Liverpool, England for America and Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.  About a year later, my great-grandmother, Grace Knowles Herd, and their first child followed.

In his personal history written  December 11,1914, Grandpa James closed by saying,

‘I feel to say God bless my posterity who shall read this record.  May God give them grace not to look but understand, for understanding is better than houses and land”

I love reading these words. To think that he would include his thoughts of his descendants, his thoughts of me, in his personal history, he must love me very much!