Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ancestral Roots in the Texas Fort Worth Mission

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In some ways, I feel like I'm serving a mission alongside my ancestors. Here's the story.

My maternal grandparents were at the heart of much of what I recall about my childhood – hard work tending to farm chores, long fishing trips, delicious food in great abundance, church meetings, warm summer evenings sitting under the cloudless Oklahoma skies back when you could actually see the stars.

My grandfather, always known as Granddad, grew up in central Missouri and migrated to Oklahoma after returning from France where he served in the U.S. Army during World War I. 

My grandmother was born in North Texas, and came to Oklahoma in about 1920. We always called her Mom because my mother and older brother and I lived with my grandparents while our father served overseas during World War II. Our mother called her mother “Mom,” so as young boys we picked it up.

Until I left home for Baylor University at the age of 18, Mom and Granddad were by far my closest confidants. They taught me some of the most important lessons of life. They were especially instrumental in preparing me to accept the restored gospel when I first heard about it during my last term in high school. (I was baptized shortly thereafter.)

Like many of us, Mom yearned to know about her spiritual roots. But she had only sketchy information. She knew that her mother, Willie Price (who died when my grandmother was only a small child), grew up in an orphanage in Dallas. She knew nothing beyond that. In other words, she didn’t know even the names of her own grandparents. This was incomprehensible to me because my grandparents were (and still are) such important figures in my life.

My grandmother died in 1976, and my grandfather followed four years later. When Mom left mortality, she still knew nothing of her grandparents.

In 1981, when we lived in New Jersey, I was working on family history. Through a chain of events that can be described as nothing short of miraculous (family history works like that), I unearthed some promising clues. I followed the trail, reminiscent of the breadcrumbs in the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. One piece of data quickly led to another. Then I discovered a treasure trove of information that Mom had longed for all her life.

James Calvin Price,
Rodger Dean Duncan's
great-great grandfather
Mom’s grandmother was Mary Josephine Clementine Woolf. As a young woman she met and married James Calvin Price. After bearing three children (including my great-grandmother Willie Price), Mary became ill and died. James Calvin struggled to raise the children. This must have been particularly difficult because he was a Baptist circuit rider (evangelist) and traveled all over Texas on horseback. In 1892, James Calvin Price became ill himself and died. He was only 40 years old.

With no parents or any other family members to care for them, the Price children were placed in the Buckner Baptist Orphanage in Dallas. Shortly thereafter a fire at the orphanage destroyed all the records. That’s one reason my own grandmother never knew about her ancestry.

My research uncovered family history more detailed than I’d ever imagined. A lengthy journal by another family member painted rich word pictures of Grandfather Price’s spiritual depth, intellect and personality. One of my favorite stories was about a group of hoodlums who tried to disturb a tent meeting (a religious revival) by setting fire to an arbor at the back of the tent. Grandfather Price and his brother-in-law sneaked up on the young men and marched them – at gun point – to the front of the congregation and made them sit on the "mourners bench" usually reserved for widows. Then they warned the hoodlums that if they disturbed the meeting again they would be “shot from the pulpit.” Now that’s my idea of a reverence program!

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth
For a man of his time, Grandfather Price was extremely well educated. He was fluent in both Greek and Latin and was a prolific writer. In addition to being a prominent Baptist circuit rider of the day, he was founding editor of a Baptist newspaper that served members of his faith throughout the southwest. He wrote hundreds of religious tracts on subjects like the Atonement and the Abrahamic Covenant. On microfilm in the library at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth you can read tens of thousands of words written by and about this great-great grandfather of mine.

James Calvin Price’s territory as a Baptist circuit rider included what is today the Texas Fort Worth Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Waco I keep his picture in our apartment as a reminder that I’m one of his descendants, now serving a mission of my own in that same Texas territory. 


  1. TJ and I just read your post as part of our evening devotional. What an inspiring story and evidence of the love of the Lord and His divine positioning. You are in our prayers!

  2. I love that we have an evangelist background.