But why this preoccupation with the past? Why do we seem to tell the same stories over and over again? Because there is something powerful in remembering.
One part of my Mormon family tree begins with Carl and Karen. They were baptized in Denmark in 1867, and began their journey to Utah that same year. By that time, steam ships had begun to take over the seas, and Carl and Karen were on the maiden voyage of the Manhattan; a trip that took only 17 days rather than the usual 3 months. They arrived in New York on July 4th and saw fireworks for the first time. They then headed west, and arrived in Salt Lake via wagon train on October 5. Carl started work on the Transcontinental railroad. Newlyweds, their first home was a wagon box, and their first child was born there some months later. The family later moved to southern Utah, where Carl got the contract to build the railroad from Richfield to Maysvale, and became a founding member of the town of Elsinore.
Going further back along another branch of the same family tree, there is the story of Freeman's Tavern, owned by Captain Jacob Arnold. Also known as Arnold's Tavern, it served as General George Washington's headquarters in 1777.
Also found in the Arnold family tree is the story of Elizabeth. Her son was in the navy during WWII, and went missing in the Philippines in 1945. In her old age, poor and alone, Elizabeth would walk from her apartment in Oakland to the harbor to watch the ships come in, hoping to see her son finally come home. She watched from the same spot each day, and was finally discovered there, a victim of a heart attack that took her life.
And then there was Grace. Her mother died when she was young and her and her siblings were put in an orphanage in St Louis. She escaped her difficult childhood to go to college and become a nurse. She was an adventurous sort and traveled to Hawaii and on to the Philippines during the Spanish American war. She married at the old age (for the time) of 28, only moving back to the US once her oldest daughter was of school age.
There are countless stories of pioneers, though not all involve wagons and handcarts. In Cameroon, members of the Church set off on a journey of their own. The stories of their trip to the new temple are inspiring. Which I think is the purpose of all these Mormon pioneer stories and celebrations. Inspiration through remembrance. From the Book of Mormon:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall
Last July 24th, I spent the day reading about my forebears. They sacrificed much, and for that I am grateful. A part of each step they took on the journey of their lives is found in me. As their faith grew by obedience and by sacrifice, my own faith is increased. When the time comes to meet them again, it will be a joyful reunion as I thank them for the foundation of faith they left for me.