The William Gilbert Burton Odyssey

Part 2: Finding Living Members of the Burton Family

By David G. Burton

Sherry Gamble

Sherry Gamble, a distant cousin of David G. Burton, was instrumental in finding the living descendants of their great-great-grandfather.

Over the next several months I maintained contact with my newfound distant cousin Sherry Gamble. A few weeks after our first conversation, she called to say she had just received a letter from another distant cousin. She said he lived in Idaho and worked nights as a postal worker sorting the mail. One night he saw a bundle of the Church News being mailed to LDS Church members in Idaho. He decided to glance through the Church News for a moment. This is unusual because he is not a member of the LDS Church. He saw Sherry's article about his own great-grandfather, William Gilbert Burton. He was a descendant of William's third son. He found Sherry's address in Eagle River, Alaska, and wrote to her.

Around this time I planned a family ski trip to a resort in another state. I skied down the slope and stopped to watch my children ski. Another parent also was there watching his children ski. I struck up a conversation by asking him where he was from. Coincidentally, he was from my hometown, from which I had moved away 17 years previously. I asked what his name was, and he said Burton. I asked who his father was. Incredibly, he gave the name of the same postal worker who had come across the Church News article as he was sorting mail. He was not LDS, but I told him about my recent experiences with genealogy and about his heritage. We set up a time to meet and visit again.

Shortly after that encounter, Sherry called and excitedly told me she had received a letter from another non-LDS descendant of one of William Gilbert Burton's sons. She asked this distant cousin how he had found her. He said that another distant cousin of his, who is not a direct descendant of William Gilbert, had a great-grandmother whose sister was married to a son of William Gilbert Burton. She was LDS and took the Church News, so she sent Sherry’s article to him because he had recently expressed an interest in genealogy.

As of this writing, three descendants of William Gilbert Burton's sons, none of whom subscribe to the Church News, have received copies of the Church News article Sherry wrote in hopes of connecting with the descendants of William's sons.

To be faithful to the answer I had received to my prayer and to Sherry's mandate, I began the work of locating the descendants of William Gilbert Burton's sons. Sherry gave me the name of a relative in Evanston, Wyoming. I called him, and he sent me copies of some obituaries. One was for a Parley Burton, son of William. Parley died at the home of his son Edwin in the Roberts Hotel in Provo, Utah. I called the hotel and was told that the owners were not Burtons, and if I still wanted to speak to them, I would have to call during the day.

The next day I attended a work-related engineering conference at a ski resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. During one of the breaks, I called the Roberts Hotel. The owner said he thought one of the partners from whom he had recently purchased the hotel was a Burton. He had the phone number for another partner named Anderson. I spoke with Mrs. Anderson, who said her husband was related to the Burtons through marriage and that the Andersons and Burtons had inherited joint ownership of the hotel. She gave me the home and work phone numbers of the Burton partner.

Family History Article

(Click image for copy of article) This is the online version of the Deseret News Church News Family History Moment by Sherry Gamble that helped to bring many members of the Burton family together.

I called the work number, and when the receptionist answered, to my astonishment it was the same place I worked, just another office located in another city. My mind reeled as I tried to grasp what was happening. I asked for a Mr. Burton, feeling silly and hoping the receptionist would not recognize my voice. The receptionist said Mr. Burton did not work there any longer, but his wife did. Would I like to speak with her?

When Mrs. Burton answered the phone, I realized I had worked with her often while having no idea that we were related. We had asked each other to whom we were related, but mutually agreed that we had never met any Burtons who were our relatives, aside from some uncles. Now I tried, in a sputtering and disjointed fashion, to explain our newfound family relationship.

She was amazed. I asked how I could get in touch with her husband. She reminded me that he had retired and said there was no way I could get hold of him that day because he was at an engineering conference. I asked her where it was, and she said, "It’s up Little Cottonwood Canyon at a ski resort." I nearly dropped the phone. I told her that I was at that very conference, speaking to her on a pay phone in the same building. The Lord works in mysterious ways!

I found Mr. Burton at the conference and told him the story, beginning with the article written by Sherry Gamble several months before. He sat and listened with an expression somewhere between astonishment and shock.

With help from the other side, over time I was able to locate the living and dead descendants of three of the four boys of William Gilbert Burton. Sherry wanted to meet these newfound relatives. Her hope was fulfilled when she received the blessing of a free airplane ticket from Alaska to Salt Lake City.

As we were preparing for her visit, we talked about setting up a reunion. We talked about various dates and finally settled on May 9. Sherry and I decided we would attend a temple session in the morning to do the work for those whose genealogical data we had recently found, and then have a dinner with those who could not make it to the temple session in the morning. I called all the newfound relatives as well as all the other relatives I already knew about.

About a week before the reunion, our Burton relative in Evanston called and said, "You know, you may want to meet another distant relative. He is a son of one of William's daughters who lives in Salt Lake City." He gave us the phone number, and we were invited over for an evening with another newfound relative. During the visit he said, "I have something that I'm sure you'll want to see." He brought out a very old genealogy ledger written in William’s hand. As we carefully turned the pages, we came across a loose page—the patriarchal blessing of one of William’s daughters. My wife began to read it while I returned to visiting with our relatives.

Then my wife got our attention by saying, "When did you say was the date you set for the reunion?" I told her "May 9." Then she said, "Look at this!" On the back of the patriarchal blessing was a handwritten birthday card to William Gilbert Burton from his children on his 69th birthday. My wife then pointed to the top of the birthday card—It was dated May 9. "Did you know that May 9 was William's birthday when you selected the day for the temple work and reunion?" she asked me. I told her it had not even crossed my mind. As we looked at some other records to verify that his birthday was May 9, we discovered that he also was married to Hannah Tregale on May 9.

Part 3 is next: Bringing the Living and the Dead Closer Together