My great-grandmother, Ursula Wise Derrick, was an unusual woman. According to our family record, she was born about 1779 at Keynsham, Somerset, England, a town just eight miles from Bristol. She gave birth to 11 children. The last two were twins, Elizabeth and Zachariah. Elizabeth apparently died soon after birth.
When Zach was 14 years of age, he began to serve his apprenticeship as a mechanic at the Bristol Iron Works. He completed this apprenticeship after seven years and then in 1836 began his apprenticeship as a foundryman.
This year was an important one for him. In addition to beginning his second apprenticeship, he married Mary Shephard. Soon after his marriage, his mother became seriously ill. Fearing death was near, she called Zach to her bedside and told him not to join himself seriously to any of the church organizations with which he was then familiar because none of them was the true church of Christ. She told him that when he heard of missionaries coming two by two, preaching in the halls and on street corners, teaching of a new prophet who had received revelation from God, he should join them, for their church would be the true church of God.
That same year of 1836, Ursula Wise Derrick died, one year before Heber C. Kimball and his missionary companions landed 200 miles north at Liverpool to bring the message of the Restoration to the British Isles. It was several years before the restored gospel was taught in Bristol.
She must have been a very spiritual woman to have received that information from a divine source. She died not having been baptized by one with the authority of God to do so. But the Savior said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). I’ve been searching the scriptures to find out what happened to my great-grandmother.
The prophet Isaiah said that the Savior would be sent “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Isa. 61:1). President Joseph F. Smith, in his Vision of the Redemption of the Dead (which is now section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants) made reference to those who had died before Christ’s resurrection. He said that to those “who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (D&C 138:12), “the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful” (D&C 138:18). The captives of what? The captives of death, for they could not be resurrected until Christ had atoned for our sins and become the first to be resurrected.
Ursula was born many centuries later, but this was a prototype for those who followed.
When I was a young child, our family was anxious for the return of Uncle Orson. My mother had deep feelings about the matter, which she implanted in her children. For some reason I always watched for Uncle Orson to come to the back door of our home. I remember on a number of occasions when a peddler would come to the back door. I would pull on my mother’s dress to get her attention and ask, “Is this Uncle Orson, huh?” But the answer was always no.
It was many years later that mother shared the story with me of her younger brother. Uncle Orson was born in 1881. Fourteen months later his father died, leaving him without the guidance of a father during those critical early years. When he was 17 years old, he, with a group of other boys his own age, went to Saltair, a dance pavilion on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Before the evening was over, they became drunk and ended up in the county jail.
The following morning, parents and family members came to the jail house and obtained their sons’ releases. Many of them put their arms around their sons and built them into pillars in the community. But unknown to my grandmother, Uncle Orson was released from jail, given a one-way ticket to the Northwest, and told never to return.
Mother said that on occasions she would hear her mother sobbing in her bedroom during the night. When she went to her mother’s side, her mother would say, “I wonder where my wandering boy is tonight.”
Uncle Orson likely worked in the lumber camps of the Northwest in an atmosphere that was not conducive to living the principles of the gospel, If he were living today, he would be very old. It is most likely that he has gone to the world of spirits by now. I’ve been searching the scriptures to find out what happened to Uncle Orson.
Isaiah wrote, “And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited” (Isa. 24:22). Between the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Savior, he “organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness” (D&C 138:30).
This, too, is a prototype and applies in a like manner to those who died after Christ’s resurrection.
My good friend, Joseph S. Nelson, died a few months ago at age 86. He was a great missionary during his life. He served four missions. He was called to the last at 80 years of age. I’ve been searching the scriptures to find him—and here he is:
“I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead” (D&C 138:57).
I have come to love my great-grandmother, Ursula Wise Derrick. She must have been a most remarkable person. She was obviously “faithful in the testimony of Jesus while [she] lived in mortality” (D&C 138:12). But she had no opportunity to receive the saving ordinances that would assure her “redemption from the bands of death” (D&C 138:16).
I have loved Uncle Orson from childhood because I inherited a longing for him. I want so much to buy him a return ticket home to his eternal family.
I wonder if my good friend Joe Nelson might find my great-grandmother and ensure that she has been taught the wonderful truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that she can take advantage of the saving ordinances we have performed in her behalf.
I wonder if my good friend Joe Nelson might find Uncle Orson and teach him the gospel truths that his father would have taught him in mortality had he been here to do so. I hope that he might now have the opportunity to hear the gospel truths that he might have heard except for the one-way ticket he was given away from those who might have helped him.
Please, dear friend Joseph, find them and teach them these precious truths of salvation so that our family might be a forever family. If you do, I will be more grateful than mortals can express.