If you're a Mormon, you might feel a certain amount of pride in having Pioneer ancestors. Ancestors who sacrificed all, crossed the plains in handcarts and wagons and began a new life in a new land. Pioneers who not only settled distant towns and made the desert blossom as a rose, they did so for a religion that filled their hearts with joy and peace.
Well, maybe if you're from a long line of Mormons, anyway.
Some of us, though, are pioneers ourselves, becoming the first converts in the family tree.
That's me. I joined the Church as a convert from another faith. My mother and I were baptized on the same spring day 50 years ago (ouch! I'm that old?). My father, after exhausting many a missionary, stepped into the waters of baptism a couple of years later. I completely loved and embraced this new Church. All of the peace and joy that was missing in my life I found here. There was just one tiny painful point. Most of my new-found friends were from Pioneer stock…and I was not. I could not yet see myself as a different kind of pioneer. I simply wanted to have pioneer ancestors. When my new friend, David Orgill spoke of the faith of his great-grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, I was jealous. When other friends spoke of pioneer ancestors who crossed the plains, I was green with envy. Oh, how I wanted to be one of those 'pioneer families'!
My hope was renewed when my mother began to take an interest in Family History work (Genealogy). I begged her to find some hidden line of Pioneers and I could finally claim a birthright I thought I was owed. She searched…spending hours in genealogy libraries and travelling to Utah for more. She authored five volumes of family history on her father's line. No Hidden Pioneers.
You don't have to push a handcart,
Leave your fam'ly dear,
Or walk a thousand miles or more
To be a pioneer!
(To Be A Pioneer, text by Ruth Muir Gardner, Children's Songbook, p. 218)
The wanting grew when we spent a summer visiting Nauvoo, Illinois and other Church history sites. That summer, I read and re-read the History of Joseph Smith, written by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Oh, how I longed for religious roots sunk deeps as theirs. Lucy became an example to me, her faith and dedication to do whatever the Lord required of her ennobled my heart. I can't explain the bond I felt with her, but time would prove the reason for it.
Years later, some of my longing for Pioneer blood was satisfied by knowing that my children have contributed to the posterity of Hyrum Smith, brother to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and a real Pioneer of the Restoration. Their father is a direct descendant of Hyrum. I found peace and joy in that knowledge and the feeling of love and admiration towards Lucy Mack Smith grew. I felt humbled to have had a part in blessing in her life. I realized that each of us is a pioneer of sorts, we each blaze our own trail. That concluded my desires for Pioneer blood of my own, and I even stopped asking the Lord for such a blessing. If such a link were ever found, that would just be icing on a beautiful family history cake.
Ancestry DNA is a marvelous thing. A few weeks ago, I did a DNA test through them, hoping to find clues to help untangle the Messenger family on my Grandmother's side. All efforts at research had stopped at my great-grandfather. My mother had concentrated her work on my grandfather's line, leaving my grandmother to do her own. When grandma hit a memory snag, she stopped as well. It was messy. So messy that I reasoned there couldn't possibly Pioneer ancestors in that line anyway. When her father supposedly died, Grandma was sent to live with another family. The information stopped there. I felt stymied, so I took a break. Now Ancestry DNA had fixed the mess. And there he was! A TRUE Pioneer Missionary in the early church!! We aren't direct ancestors, but we'll claim him anyway!!
Myron Spencer Higley is a cousin to my Great-great-great-great-grandmother, Martha Mills. His obituary shares the following information:
"Myron S. Higley, son of Job Higley and Dorcas Eggleston, was born in Simsbury, Ct. December 29th, 1801. His father supposed to be dead, in his 12th year Myron, with a younger brother, was leased to an uncle, but not relishing the treatment they there received, left without warning after two years' service; wandered off some forty miles and were kindly taken in by a stranger with whom they lived some years, when they went to Gananoqui, Canada and engaged in the business of turning wooden bowls and making water buckets, which Myron exported in large quantities.
"He married Priscilla Ebberson, October 1885; heard and embraced the Gospel just before the patriot war and moved to New York State… made his mother a visit and converted her to the truth of the gospel, but her husband (for supposing Myron's father to be dead had married again) being so much opposed to the religion, she concluded not to be baptized then…
"From Nauvoo he moved to Benton's Fort on the Des Moines River then to Council Bluffs, and from there to Uintah, Utah….His family number eleven children, seventy-one grandchildren and fifty-six great grandchildren. He was tender hearted, strictly honest and a faithful devotee of Mormonism."
Why do I share this? Why not leave the story un-fulfilled? Why not be happy with BE-ing a Pioneer of my own making?
For me, this entire journey proves how closely connected we are with each other. A glance at my social media feed shows me this as well- you know, that Six Degrees of Separation thing. But THIS connection is about family. Somewhere in this valley are other relatives of Myron Higley. Higley Road, Town of Higley, all surely named after some distant relative! We're all related somehow, the actual links are hidden in our ancestry. Before this event, I didn't believe I was connected to any of it. Often, how we see our connections shape how we treat each other. The same blood that made Myron a tender-hearted and faithful man runs through me and to my children. The strength to survive difficult life situations, the desire to work hard, the desire to have a strong family…all of these things are shared in our genes. That makes me think, what hidden and shared experiences are in the genes of that stranger I see on the street? What common ancestor-ly experience is shared by my new friend at church? What hidden link might I share with my neighbor? I wish I could see how your fourth-great grandfather was a kind stranger to my third-great-grandfather. It would give me greater cause for compassion and understanding. We need to be kinder to one another, because in the end, we're all connected.
May thy strong Spirit bind our hearts in unity,
And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our heart such love increase,
That ev'ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.
(Our Father, by Whose Name, text by F. Bland Tucker, Hymns, #296)