Lessons From My Pioneer Ancestors

Originally published July 24, 2016.

In honor of Pioneer Day (July 24 in Utah), I wanted to share a few thoughts about my pioneer ancestors, what I have learned from them, and what I have learned about the importance of record keeping. (This post is adapted from a talk a gave in a church service last year.)

Several years ago I stumbled upon a heartfelt biography of my third great-grandmother, Marinda Allen Bateman, written by her youngest daughter. Around this time, the Spirit of Elijah had touched me, turning my heart to my ancestors. I was hungry for information on the people whose existence made my own life possible. As I read Little Gold Pieces, I found a stalwart, righteous role model in this grandmother and consciously decided to adopt characteristics she exemplified with which I was most impressed at that time in my life. As I rediscovered Marinda Allen Bateman’s legacy last year, I was surprised to find that I had failed in my attempt to cultivate those chosen characteristics while unwittingly adopting others. Most importantly, I now recognize that her greatest contribution to my life is the many ways in which she demonstrated her faith in Jesus Christ.

My third great-grandmother, Marinda Allen Bateman, was born in New York in 1838. Her parents converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1842. When my grandmother Marinda was fourteen years old (1853), her family set out on the long journey to Salt Lake. After celebrating her fifteenth birthday en route, she was given the responsibility to drive the ox team hitched to her family’s wagon. Late in 1854 after her family had been living in Utah for a year, she married. She lived in a log cabin (part dug out) with a dirt floor, bore thirteen children, raised poultry, and worked as a midwife; she often had no cash, many house guests, and could stretch her food storage much like the widow of Zarephath.

None of Marinda’s experiences would make any difference to me or anyone else if they had not been written down. The ancient peoples of the Book of Mormon understood this principle: “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26, BoM, emphasis added). So much of Marinda Allen Bateman’s life points me to Jesus Christ.

Covenant Keeper

Early in her marriage, Marinda was often left home alone with her children––sometimes for weeks or months at a time––while her husband performed church service. Samuel Bateman was a member of the Road Patrol, hand selected by Brigham Young to deliver messages, check on outlying settlements, or to escort newly arrived converts to their assigned settlement in the intermountain west. “The Call” from Salt Lake City could arrive at any time, and when it came, Grandfather Bateman was always ready to answer. He almost never knew where he was going or when he would come home. All he could tell his young wife was, “You may expect me when I return.”

My great-aunt writes, “Mother never questioned his going, nor did she nag him on his return to reveal that which he felt in duty bound to keep secret…. She trusted him as his church trusted him” (LGP 22). How often do we today question church assignments or the time required to fulfill them to a high standard? Endowed members of the Church have made a covenant to “give of our resources in time and money and talent—all we are and all we possess—to the interest of the kingdom of God upon the earth” (Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple 35). Marinda understood this promise she had made to God and dutifully and uncomplainingly kept her covenant. I am strengthened by her example in my resolve to do the same.

Mother in Zion

Marinda and Samuel Bateman had a great reverence for their role as parents. Marinda raised ten children to adulthood and frequently cared for many other children. The Bateman children “were taught to be honest in word and deed, to have faith in God and in our fellowman, to love the truth, and to guard our purity with our lives if necessary” (LGP 44). Good principles were bolstered by parental example as well as the tools of spirituality their parents taught them to use, such as prayer. “Mother taught us to pray at her knee as soon as we could do it intelligently.” Marinda set a powerful example with her “mild, quiet, and fervent voice…. [W]hen she prayed, she soothed our troubled spirits, and calmed our anxieties and doubts. With her arm about me as I knelt beside her, I felt no harm could touch me” (LGP 70). Samuel and Marinda’s training provided their children with an understanding of and an appreciation for prayer, as well as a deep faith in God’s existence. My great-aunt, for example, felt she could ask God anything and confide in Him her deepest secrets because she knew from her parents’ example and training that He was there, that He heard her, and that He cared about her.

“Mother love is boundless and deep, akin to the love of God” (LGP 42). The love my great-grandmother demonstrated for her children helped them grasp the unending love God has for His children. As I read about the care my ancestors took in teaching and leading their children by example, I am resolved to show greater love, to teach pure doctrine and the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to provide my children with the tools they need in order to lead Christ-centered lives.

Learning from my pioneer ancestors has been an incredible privilege. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught in 1997, “To honor those pioneers, we must honor and act upon the eternal principles that guided their actions” (“Following the Pioneers,” Ensign [Nov 1997]). Their sacrifices, faith, courage, and testimony of Jesus Christ are honored and renewed each time a descendent discovers the records of their lives and resolves to let the ancestor’s example become a guiding influence.

The Importance of Written Records

Records of ancestors are just one key to Gospel learning and testimony growth. I have learned that life experiences and Gospel study will wash over us without having an impact if we do not write down what we learn. Then Elder Henry B. Eyring shared this insight in October 2007 General Conference: He discovered that when he wrote down the ways in which he had seen the hand of God operating in his life on a day to day basis, “More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ” (“O Remember, Remember,” Ensign [Nov 2007]).

The records of our ancestors that we preserve and the personal records we keep might rightly be considered pioneering works. Only you can write down the many ways in which you have seen God bless your life and the life of your family. President Eyring discovered that his day-to-day journal of interactions with God provides great strength to his children and nurtures their testimonies. He concluded his talk with this invitation: “Tonight, and tomorrow night, you might pray and ponder, asking the questions: Did God send a message that was just for me? Did I see His hand in my life or the lives of my children? I will do that. And then I will find a way to preserve that memory for the day that I, and those that I love, will need to remember how much God loves us and how much we need Him” (“Remember”).

Your written record is a key to remembering and a key to teaching. The prophet Lehi understood the vital importance of remembering and sharing (with the use of spoken and written records) when immediately prior to his death he “spake many things unto [his posterity], and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them” (2 Nephi 1:1, BoM). Consider who you love most in this life––your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your siblings, cousins, or friends? What about your life do you want them most to remember and learn from? Your love of cooking? Your political views?

How about your testimony of Jesus Christ and the experiences that shaped it?

As I have come to know “the source to which I look for a remission of my sins,” I have tried to acknowledge the hand of God directing me. The best way I have found to do this is by writing down my experiences with and my testimony of Jesus Christ, much like my great-aunt did for her mother’s posterity. I invite you to record your experiences so that you may remember “what great things the Lord has done for you” (Alma 62:50, BoM). I also invite you to share your memories so that your posterity will know “to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26, BoM).