Editor’s note: Today’s Forward with Faith story is about Carol, an 82-year-old Mormon woman who has macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a condition where small blood vessels develop behind the macula, a small black spot in the center of the retina that is essential to seeing fine detail for reading, writing, recognize faces, using the phone, etc. Over time, the blood vessels burst, bleed, and form blood clots that cause vision loss. Many people who suffer from macular degeneration experience depression and give up hope. Carol has instead chosen to move “Forward with Faith.” She lives a productive and fulfilling life, and has continued pursuing her passion for family history in spite of being legally blind.
I had the singular honor to visit with a Mormon woman named Carol. I’m impressed in general with people who are dedicated to genealogy, but Carol is even more an inspiration to me because she is legally blind. She can’t read or write without special tools and only has peripheral vision — no central vision. Her condition is commonly called “low vision.”
“”Due to my macular degeneration, I lost the central vision in my left eye in November of 2000. The right eye compensated for the loss of vision so I didn’t have a problem at that time. In April of 2003 while serving our mission in Nauvoo, I started to lose a little vision in my right eye, but I still functioned okay and was able to drive our car, so I didn’t give much thought to it. However, on 17 June 2003, I woke up in the morning and discovered I had lost the central vision in my right eye, and I could no longer drive the car. I didn’t realize it at the time that overnight I had become legally blind.”
It’s been a challenge for Carol, and hasn’t been without frustration, but with her determination and with the encouragement and support of her husband, she has faced this trial with faith.
Carol and I used to be in the same ward congregation, and I had always been interested in learning more about how she does her family history work, and she kindly agreed to let me come to her house.
But before we could even begin talking about her passion and talent for family history, walking into her home let me get to know more about her and her life.
For example, Carol and her husband both have an interest in Native American culture. In the early years of their marriage, to save money, they would camp in southern Utah and the four-corners region of the United States where their love of this culture grew. Carol’s father shared a similar passion, and he shared some of his art with them.
Carol proudly showed me some of the decor her husband has made for their home as well. (And if you could see her face light up when she talks about her husband! It was a delight to hear her talk of their courtship and the sweet life they have shared together, which included raising three children, serving a mission as a couple in Nauvoo (a Mormon Church history site), and working together on family history.
Carol had laid out several of the family history books on her kitchen table, awaiting my arrival. Every year for Christmas, she and her husband give a binder containing family history stories to their children. They’ve given books about the homes and cars Carol and her husband have owned, and about trips they have taken. She has a binder with Christmas letters, and, of course, several binders with photos and stories about ancestors. Just this past Christmas, the gift was a 120-page biography of Carol’s mother.
During our visit, I was moved by stories she told about her father, who had come to America alone at the age of eleven with a company of Church members. He lived with a family and worked for them to support himself until his father could join him two years later (his mother had passed away). He clearly left a legacy of faith and hard work that has stayed alive in his daughter.
A treasured family history book is the transcription of her father’s missionary journal. He was only able to serve for a few months because of a family business emergency that brought him back home, but she relished being able to read more about his service in a journal she had only recently acquired. Imagine her joy in finding that book!
Carol’s kitchen counter was covered with more family history photos. There is such a special feeling when looking at these kinds of pictures. (You can see on her counter the screen and the special magnifier she uses to help her do her work and read recipes.)
I was impressed by how how she’s organized and labeled her spices so she can cook without assistance. She’s determined to be as self-reliant as possible.
Carol took me into her office. I had already been amazed at all she had shown me, but it was fascinating to see how the miracles of technology have enabled her to face her trial of vision loss and continue her passion as a genealogist. Fortunately, her vision is not 100% gone, so with the magnifying tools you see below, she can see enough to work. But still, it’s clear how much work it is to scan across every word and then to keep the information organized in her mind. (I suppose it goes without saying that she has a sharp mind!)
I should note that genealogy isn’t just a hobby for Carol. For several years, she was the president of a retail genealogical supply store. She taught family history classes in Illinois for 19 years. She also spoke at various conferences and seminars and wrote a column in Genealogy America. Her résumé in this field is impressive.
But her faith and determination is what still impresses me the most. She loves the gospel of Jesus Christ, loves family, and has dedicated her life to both. She goes to the temple regularly as well, which brings the family history work full circle.
“I developed an interest in family histories when my husband and I and our children moved to Illinois. I realized that my children would have limited contact with their extended families so I wrote to relatives and acquired as many histories of ancestors as I could find. I wanted my children to learn about them and to realize that they were real people who faced many challenges as they grew up, married, and had families. They made decisions such as accepting the gospel that ultimately affected my life. As I prepared detailed histories of my grandfather, mother, and father, I developed a great love, appreciation, and respect for them. There have been times that I felt they were looking over my shoulder to make sure that what I wrote was accurate. I truly have been blessed by doing this work.”
I am grateful for the opportunity I had to get to know Carol better, and appreciate her testimony of family history work, and her example of moving forward with faith.