Yellacat Ranch Under a Western Sky

Led to Genealogy

L

I’ve never been quite sure whether I started doing genealogy in 1967 or 1968. What I remember is that it was an article in Reader’s Digest. It was at my aunt’s house in Heber City, Utah. I spent summers with them, so it had to be summer, probably before Labor Day when I usually went home to go back to school1. I waited until my parents came to get me, then asked my mom a zillion questions.

I found out that my ancestors “came West with Brigham Young”; that my mother’s grandfather was a wealthy rancher near Big Piney, Wyoming; and that I would need to talk to my grandmother’s cousin James Marker to get more detailed information. Twenty years earlier, James Marker had come to see Grandma, looking for the Luce family bible, which had unaccountably disappeared. (Until cousin Karen Luce found it in the barn, years later–2019 I think–with the genealogy pages ripped out.)

I also found out about my (step) dad’s family. His direct male ancestors were barons in England. One ancestor was a friend and Masonic brother of George Washington and a General in the American Revolution. And that’s why the lamp on my nightstand was George Washington praying before the Battle of Valley Forge.2

I was about 11 or so. My mom helped me write letters to the Mormon church in Salt Lake City, and to various relatives. Within a month or two I was ordering blank forms from Everton Publishers in Salt Lake because our local bookstore didn’t carry them. I had become a genealogist.

I often think back to that article. I could look it up easily enough, but somehow there’s never time. A time or two I’ve even been in the reference rooms at Salt Lake Public Library, New York Public Library, and Denver Public Library where they have Readers’ Guide to Periodic Literature, and remembered I want to check this. But, no. Not today. Too busy. Eventually, I even forgot the name of the index.

In our new electronic age, I’ve sent a couple emails to Readers Digest asking them to help me find the article. They never can. My requests get snarled in bureaucracy. They’ve love to help, they say, so they’re referring me to the right department, but somehow the right department needs some time to look, but the actual work of looking never quite happens.

This morning I decided to take the bull by the horns. I went to the online reference desk (“Ask Us”) at Denver Public Library. They knew the name of the periodicals index right away. I knew they would. And, they gave me a link to the online database. How cool is that? When I was a kid, we had to use the actual books and check the volume for each year.

Now I have my answer.

The article that got me started in genealogy is John J. Stewart. “Try climbing your family tree.” Reader’s Digest. Vol. 91(September 1967), 103-107.

Even better, I now know exactly how long I’ve been doing genealogy: 53 years.

Now. For my next project, I’m going to get a copy or reprint of the article.


  1. I think my parents actually came to to Heber each year for the local festival–rodeo and carnival–then took me home right after. I could have sworn it was Strawberry Days, but a quick search shows Strawberry Days were down in Pleasant Grove, and were held in June. And I do remember that. So, the one in Heber must’ve been called something else.
  2. Don’t hold me to any of this. This is what I heard at the time. It’s not exactly what I discovered later.
Yellacat Ranch Under a Western Sky
Justin Swanstrom

Justin Swanstrom

Made in America. Retired attorney. Bookseller at Shining Lotus. No Nazis in Valhalla. He/him.

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