In 1833 William Beebe joined the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in upstate New York. At this time, the church was just 3 years old. Louisa Newton married William and joined the church in 1835. They were living in Nauvoo Illinois when the United States expelled the church, and while sheltering in Council Bluffs Iowa, they had a daughter, Ruth. The family waited 2 years for Ruth to grow, then walked to the Salt Lake Valley in 1852.
As a child in Providence Rhode Island, Leprelet Hopkins skipped school and stowed away on a ship. He stayed aboard six years and was eventually washed ashore after a shipwreck in New Orleans. When Johnston’s Army marched to Salt Lake, to occupy the Mormon territory, Leprelet followed them working as a mule skinner. When the army left Utah, he stayed behind- and married Ruth.
Jesse Hobson was baptized a Latter-Day Saint in 1834. When the church began preparing to move west, he and his wife Catherine were assigned by Brigham Young to homestead along the trail to act as a sort of liaison with the Pawnee. While there they had a child, Henry. They finally moved to Utah in 1852. Henry grew up and married Emily, the daughter Leprelet and Ruth.
Joseph Field was baptized in 1844, in Yorkshire England. By 1857 he was living in the Utah Territory where he married a widow, also an English immigrant, Sarah Brook. There they had a son, Joseph.
Louisa Kent was born in Calcutta, the daughter of an English officer and an Indian woman. She married Charles Booth, whose English family had been living in India for generations. The two of them joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and left India in 1855, traveling by ship to San Francisco. They settled in San Bernardino, till Johnston’s Army was marching to Utah and Brigham Young called all the members from San Bernardino to move to Utah. Louisa and Charles moved. In Utah they had a daughter, Mary Louisa.
Marry, married Joseph.
This story continues a few more generations till my mother is born and then of course came me.
I was raised in Utah where every 24th of July the state celebrates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. There are parades and fireworks. We celebrate those people, the things they endured, and the things they built; which was cities, institutions, and families. Many take great pride in the accomplishments of our ancestors. We go to great lengths to always remember and never forget.
Except for the parts we don’t talk about or have already forgotten.
Just this year, 175 after the Latter-Day Saints began settling that valley, a monument to the Black people who were part of that exodus was erected. 3 men, who were held as slaves by members of the church were in the vanguard of that first wagon train. This part of the story was not really remembered, or celebrated, till after a sustained and lengthy campaign carried on by Black people and other allies.
The lore I was taught growing up was that the Salt Lake Valley was unpopulated when the church arrived. Of course that wasn’t entirely true. It was especially not true for the valleys up and down the Wasatch Front where Shoshone and Timpanogos people were forcibly displaced either by armed violence or by the destruction of their preexisting eco system.
We barely remember any of the instances or ways in which our ancestors might have been wrong, yet we insist that there must be a remembrance, and of course what we believe should be celebrated, is only the good. Which is fine. But it all depends on who “we” define as “us.”
Just today, in church, the congregation listened to the family story of a very good person whose story included, as a side note, the one time some Native Americans invaded their ancestor’s home, but that luckily the Natives had not come to kill, but to simply steal food.
There was no discussion or remembrance, of the experience of that Native person. That person was an example of one of the trials “our” ancestors endured, a story which could never be comfortably retold if one of that Native person’s descendants would have been sitting in the congregation.
We would tell it differently if we really considered Native people part of “us”.
I have only learned this lesson myself because I sit next to a Black person in those pews every Sunday. It has helped me think a little bit more about the stories we tell and the perspective from which we view them- especially when it comes to how we remember the 1850’s in North America.
When I look at my family tree and lore, then look at where and who I am now, there is an obvious throughline. I am who and where I am now, because of who they were and what they did. But I don’t know the whole story. I only know our own retelling. I don’t know who my ancestors might have hurt, or how, or why, and many might question why anyone would want to know such things.
And to such I would say, because there is no value in remembering the past at all, unless that memory is full of truth.
If we remember a walk on the moon, but erase all traces of physics or science, we will likely get the story all wrong. What then is the value of remembering? Perhaps there would still be some, but it would be trivial, which would be shame as that event was more than trivia. We can learn from it. It helped form the world we live in now, but without knowing the science there is little practical use to that tale.
So we should be careful in how we remember, and be even more careful if we are telling “others” to forget.
If we are looking to take credit, then we must also accept blame. If we want to celebrate or glorify the past, then we must have a full understanding of what that was, or who that was, because these celebrations aren’t just a communication of who we are, but who we hope to be.
If we have to ignore or erase groups of people from the past in order to celebrate today, then we must continue to ignore and erase those same people moving forward.