By James W. Petty, AG, CG, and Mary E. Petty

On Pioneer Day we remember, but Evelyn Henriksen never forgets. On a given day, you can find her in a small log cabin not much bigger than a walk-in closet in This Is the Place Heritage Park.

“My daddy touched these logs,” says Evelyn, running a hand gently along the wall. “I loved my daddy so much.” Evelyn, who is 83 going on 53, with a sparkle in her eye and a 100-watt smile, is a volunteer host at the park, but she’s more than that. Her father, Phillip Pay, was born inside these walls, the seventh of 13 children born to pioneers Richard and Mary Goble Pay.

So begins the account of the Pay Family Homecoming. This account, by Doug Robinson, a columnist for the Deseret News, (see “Tiny log cabin houses family memories”) details the efforts some 400 descendants of Philip Pay to preserve the home of their ancestor at This Is The Place Heritage Park, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the resulting homecoming they experienced as a family.

This article was especially significant to us. We too, are having a Homecoming, in 2008. We have no such personal physical monuments or reminders of our pioneer ancestors, as the Pay family, where we can touch the past, except for gravestones, and some family photographs. Nevertheless, we have equally been connected to our ancestors and have desired to share this love with our relatives in a family reunion. Using two powerful concepts “Historical Event Genealogy” and “Bring History Home,” we have been working for nearly a year on a four-fold dream:

1. Find Lost Loved Ones of the Lars and Sidse Kirsten Larsen Family – all the descendants of their 22 grandchildren.

2. Collect and share the history, heritage, legacy and genealogy of this family with the descendants.

3. Hold a 140th Anniversary Family Reunion honoring Lars and Sidse’s two orphaned children, Niels and Hans Larsen, and their walk to Utah in 1868 as members of the last pioneer company coming into the Salt Lake Valley – Our family’s Martin’s Cove-like Story – and their part in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. “Find A Hero In Your Past” by James W. Petty).

4. Go to Denmark and visit the ancestral homeland with the Larsen Family.

On June 28th, 2008h we are holding a 140th Anniversary Family Reunion at This is the Place Heritage Park honoring Mary’s ancestors, Lars and Sidse Larsen and their Danish immigrant family. Giving their all to the Perpetual Emigration Fund, they sailed to America on the Cavour in 1866 with five of their children and servants.

Most of the family died of typhoid during the crossing or on Ward’s Island; with the father surviving long enough to tell his young sons “to go onto Zion and finish the work.” We are celebrating the coming to Zion of these boys, Niels and Hans Larsen, who lived to have descendants.

They arrived in the final days of the Pioneer Trek on September 24th, 1868, as members of the Edward Mumford Company, the last wagon train. This special anniversary memorializes their walk as young children to the Salt Lake Valley just before the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad, and their contribution to its building and to Utah.

We, too, hope to have in attendance some 400 descendants of the 22 children of these two Utah pioneers as we gather at the Park Bowery in 2008 to reminisce, re-enact, share family histories, stories, genealogy, pictures, make memories and new friends, build family ties and strengthen familial bonds, give new generations their heritage, and make plans and dreams for the future. We are grateful the Pays have a cabin at Heritage Park that is historical evidence of how our ancestors lived. Our family will go to their cabin next June. Now, we too, will touch history with our Homecoming.

How about You?

Have you had a Homecoming with your family? Were your ancestors “pioneers” who crossed the plains to go to Zion – or were they settlers in some other area of the world?

Do you have a historical event in your past that you can use to inspire your family about their ancestors? This is called Historical Event Genealogy. Instead of focusing only on specific individuals in our genealogy, we can look to events surrounding these ancestors and remember them by commemorating those events. This will excite many family members and open their eyes to who their ancestors were, and help them become connected to the people and events of history. By learning the details of their personal history and the historical events surrounding the lives of our ancestors, we “bring history home.” We can all have a homecoming.

The year 2008 commemorates the 140th anniversary of the last pioneer wagon trains arriving in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1868. In the spring of 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the “Golden Spike” at Promontory Point. In 2009, Americans will celebrate the 140th anniversary of that historical event.

With the joining of the rails and the arrival of modern technology, the historical pioneer era came to an end. Millions of people have family connections to that era and the upcoming celebrations that they can use to organize a homecoming for their family. Readers can find out about their ancestors who crossed the plains before the completion of the railroad, by visiting the website Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868. A subset of the website.

Here you can access lists of ancestors through alphabetical indexes, or chronological lists of wagon train companies. This site also provides historical accounts of each wagon train, and citations directing researchers to original documents that can further fill in the details of the ancestors’ history. With this information you can choose a historical event around which to build your family reunion.

As stated, 2008 is the 140th anniversary of those who came in 1868, but if your pioneer forefathers arrived in a different year, start planning now for an appropriate anniversary gathering. 2008 is also the 160th anniversary for those who arrived in 1848 and the 150th anniversary (Sesquicentennial) for those arriving in 1858. These historical events can be used to teach your children and grandchildren about “heroes” in their past who braved the Mormon Pioneer Trail to come to Zion and make a new future for their family.

This is called “Bringing History Home.” Having a homecoming or holding a family reunion is an opportunity to learn a common heritage, renew relationships, gain new friends, share stories, link the generations, and start new traditions. By doing these things we can create the memories and the love that will help bind families together.

Not Just for Utah Pioneers

If your ancestors never saw Utah – or have never visited the United States, for that matter – don’t let that stop you from having a Homecoming. Every state and country has its own significant events, and its own pioneers. Your ancestors may have help settle Jamestown, Virginia, for example, or could have been among the Dutch settlers to colonize South Africa. Look for history in your own family tree, wherever that tree may have taken root.

We encourage all to have homecomings. Look into your family history and build a reunion around a historical event associated with your family. Look for their place in history and bring history home through the artifacts, stories, writings, and records of your ancestry and those associated with them in their unique place in time. Everyone on our family tree has played a special part in the history of mankind. They are our ancestors and they bring history home for us because “Ancestors are the People of History.”