Is it possible to know the hardships your ancestors went through? What did they sacrifice so you can be here now? I often think about the kind of hardships my great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents must have experienced so I could have a better life here in America. This understanding can ground you in the knowledge of the enormous amount of love your family members had for their future grandchildren and great-grandchildren!
My Church believes this knowledge is so important, they want all children to have a taste of what these hardships were like. Learning about the hardships is one thing, experiencing them for yourself is something you will never forget. So as an organized activity, the teenagers of my Church spend a few days recreating the march our pioneer ancestors took on the wagon trains west. Each Stake (a geographical grouping of congregations) organizes their own 'Trek' so the youth can experience some of what the early pioneers experienced as they walked out west to their new homes and new lives. Most Stakes recreate the Trek every four years or so.
Now, the wagon train that is recreated is not just any wagon train heading west. The youth first learn of how the migration of over 60,000 Mormons defined the Intermountain West in Sunday School classes. Then, three months before the Trek, they make the clothes they will wear and memorize some of the favorite hymns that were sung during those long days of walking.
In many books on the history of America, the story of the Mormons may amount to a few sentences, if they are even mentioned at all. However, their settlement of the Great Basin in the western United States is a story of self-sacrifice just as much as those who walked the Oregon Trail or the California Trail.
In my opinion, I think it is more important because the Mormons had the added burden of fleeing persecution from their fellow Americans. All they wanted was to be left alone to worship God as they pleased. (Some of the same reasons the Puritans came to America 200 years earlier.)
So, why am I writing about this now? Well, our Stake is making the Trek this summer! I will talk a bit more about the history of the Mormon Trail in future posts, but for now I just want to tell everyone how excited I am that I am participating in this Trek!
It is a three day event, that will start in a mock up of the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. This is where the families 'heading west' will pick up their supplies. Then, they will walk for two days, experiencing a small taste of the hardships their ancestors experienced. My role in all this is small. I will not be in a family 'heading west.' First, I will be one of the residents of Nauvoo, helping the families get their supplies. While in Nauvoo, the girls will stop to help sew a quilt (given away to charity at the end of the Trek) so they can experience some of the normal, everyday activities of life in 1847. I have volunteered to make one of the quilt tops the girls will bind together. (They really aren't quilting it - for the sake of time, the quilt will be tied.) Then on day three, I will be in one of the 'camp stops' along the trail. That morning when they wake up, they will be told there is no food to eat for that day. They will walk for about two hours (or so) without any food and then stop at my camp. While there, they will be fed and given time to rest, clean up, and write their thoughts in their journal.
I am quite excited about participating! In addition to the quilt, I need to make a dress and bonnet to wear in Nauvoo and at the camp. I only have about six weeks to make both because we will go in mid-June!
I hope you will follow along as I make my 'Trek' so you too can experience some of what our ancestors did to give us the promise of a future! I will be sure to post updates as I complete my Trek projects!
Take some time to get to know your ancestors. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a FREE web site that you can use to help you locate your ancestors: www.familysearch.org. This web site has all sorts of tutorials and on-line help if you don't know where to start. It has records from all over the world! Anyone, from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, can access this site to search for their deceased family members. If you want even more help, stop by the family history center at your local church. You do not have to be a church member to use your local family history center.