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Noma Kjar and I shared teaching duties for the gospel doctrine class in the Centerville 7th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for several years.
But we were younger then. I was only 82 and she a mere 93. Then Noma felt the urge to move on to something new: her personal history and other genealogy work. Now, at 95, she is going strong and helping others to do the same.
A few weeks ago, I gave readers the Van Leer approach to starting a personal history. By interpretation, that means waking up one morning and giving it a go, starting at whatever juncture in your life seems most important to you. I chose to start with my home town of Pioche, Nevada. (I am happy to report that, despite all that the Las Vegas odds-makers might have predicted, I have actually added to that first rash outburst.)
Now Noma shows me there is a way that many people might find better, a more structured approach that gives a guideline for proceeding in an orderly fashion.
Noma, who now resides in North Salt Lake, has an approach that begins with the premise that a computer really is your friend in the case of personal history. (Anyone who knows me knows my prejudices about computers.) She starts with a “timeline.”
List the decades going back as far as you need to to include your life span: 1920, 1930, 1940, etc. Then start to list under each decade heading everything you can remember that happened in that 10-year period.
“This is the beauty of doing it on the computer,” Noma says. “You can add, subtract or move information as desired. It will even correct your spelling.”
Topics that should be included are birth and early years, childhood, youth, missions or other important church service, military service, family (both coming and going, your parents, siblings and children, etc.) Under those broad headings, you’ll find amazing details coming to your memory to flesh them out.
Noma promises that “the spirit of Elijah will fill you to overflowing as you start to write your history and you will think of things that have been long forgotten.”
Admittedly, Noma has lived a life more interesting than many of us. She was a schoolteacher, a U.S. Women’s Army Corps recruiter during World War II, a missionary with her husband, Joe, in the church history-heavy area of Palmyra, New York, underwent two open heart surgeries and a whole bunch of et ceteras.
Using the method she propounds, Noma shared these tidbits from the personal history she has compiled, starting with the year 1939 because there simply isn’t room in one column to begin listing them all.
1939: She was hired by Keith O’Brien, a popular downtown Salt Lake department store, for 33 cents an hour. At the University of Utah, she was elected as the sophomore military sponsor for the ROTC, pledged Delta Delta Delta Sorority and was named attendant to the snow queen.
1941: Her boyfriend, Joe Kjar, was ordained an elder in the LDS Church and left for the Southern States Mission. She remained at the U. and watched it become “almost an all-girls school” as male students flocked to the military. She adapted to food and gasoline ration stamps.
1942: She graduated with a BS in education and was offered a job teaching first grade part time for $70 per month. She turned it down to work as a supervisor in the Remington Arms plant, which made armor-piercing bullets for the Army. It was shift work that paid $150 per month. She took another job as an aerial photographic engineer, preparing aerial photos for use in maps, etc. Then, the Army started to recruit women and she signed up. The next year, Joe returned from his mission and joined the Navy Air Corps.
1944: While Joe and Noma were both home on leave, they pursued the relationship and he proposed some months later.
1945: They planned to marry on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, but Joe’s leave was delayed. They sent out a second batch of invitations and on Nov. 30, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Ezra Taft Benson.
1947: The Kjars bought an old duplex at 722 Yale Ave. for $5,500. Ground beef was 15 cents a pound, and Noma found that “making gravy from a hamburger patty is a real trick.”
Arghhh! I’m past my word allowance and this is the merest sampler from what no doubt will be a family feast for the Kjars for generations in the future. But you get the idea. If organization is your strong suit, follow her lead and make the start on your own epic now.
Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.