By Tessa Dewsbury
Born and raised in Africa to an English father and a Rhodesian/Italian mother, I felt absolutely no connection whatsoever to the early pioneering members of the Church in America. In fact, I viewed Church History as ‘their history’ and ‘their story’ ... not mine.!
So, imagine my amazement when a message from FamilySearch popped up on my Facebook page informing me I had a pioneer ancestor! Immediately I felt a connection to the early members of the Church and suddenly I found myself in a whole new story.
Her name is Margaret Rebecca Bird; as a 13-year-old girl she departed Kanesville, Indiana with the Wilford Woodruff wagon company to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Those pioneers endured a gruelling 120 day walk across the Great Plains to Utah.
Now I feel even more a part of Malachi’s prophesy, that the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers(1) – even my fathers in a far distant land.
And the blessings keep coming. I can now read about many of the experiences the pioneers braved in Saints, a four-volume series, which is the story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the latter days. Volumes 1 and 2 have already been published.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is precious to both members of the Church and to the Lord.”(2) In April 1830, the Lord said: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you”(3) and Oliver Cowdery kept that record for a year. The Lord then called John Whitmer to “keep the Church record and history continually”(4) and he received a promise that the Comforter would guide him “to write these things”(5) as he was faithful. John Whitmer learned that the history “shall be for the good of the church, and for the rising generations.”(6)
The Lord was clear as to how the records were to be kept, under the direction of the Holy Ghost.
The pages in Saints are filled only with true events taken from individual stories of faithful members who developed Christ-like attributes when faced with adversity while living the gospel as best they could. Elder Renlund also said: “It [Saints] also includes stories of people who had fallen off the covenant path but who through the Atonement of Jesus Christ found their way back”.
For members who might be keen to explore historical events in more depth, there are hundreds of resources listed at the back of the book.
Hindsight is a helpful tool; I find myself reflecting on how surprised I was when I quickly I felt connected to my pioneer relatives ... and not just to Margaret Bird but all of them! During this year, 2020, I’ve discovered through FamilySearch that I have many pioneer relatives.
Elder Renlund taught: “The Lord uses individual histories to teach us how to draw closer to Him, to repent and to become more like Him. That’s our purpose for being on earth, the purpose for the gospel, and the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.(7)
How grateful I am for my family and the connections we can make through the passages of time and space. My hope is that, one day, my posterity will read my personal history and feel I’ve recorded valuable experiences to help them to come unto Christ as I too, try to work under the direction of the Holy Ghost.
1. See Malachi 4:6.
2. Aubrey Eyre, “Saints Series Brings a Whole New Perspective to Church History,” Sep. 5, 2018, newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org
3. D&C 21:1
4. D&C 47:3
5. D&C 47:4
6. D&C 69:8
7. Trent Toone, “Elder Renlund and Elder Cook on Why Saints is for You,” Oct. 2, 2018 thechurchnews.com.