Our Heritage, or My Heritage?

Oregon Trail II


This time of year the church tends to really get into the pioneer spirit, at least where I live.  This is peculiar, since I live in Oregon and am not the descendant of a Mormon Pioneer.  If we were going to celebrate pioneers, surely it would make a lot more sense to honor those who went 1000 miles farther than Brigham Young and settled the valley we call home.  Instead we rehash the same stories about people we never knew settling a place in which I personally have no desire to live.


I struggle with the pioneer fixation for two reasons.  The first is boredom.  I audibly groan when I hear the words “Willie-Martin” because I am just plain tired of hearing the same story over and over and I no longer find anything remotely inspirational in it.  The other reason I get annoyed is something my family calls “familyolatry.”  It isn’t enough to tell a story of a pioneer.  Ideally you want to casually bring up that you are personally descended from some famous pioneer, and that really, really helps your faith.  It feels to me as if there is some secret upper crust of Mormons who are descended from the Utah pioneers that makes their faith just a little more special.  As I am the daughter of a convert and an atheist, I do not get to engage in this fun name-dropping activity.


I propose that we keep July as a month to honor heritage, biological or otherwise, but that we actively seek out other stories to honor than just the pioneers.  If you are a descendant of the pioneers, keep enjoying that.  But let’s go further.  I am an Oregonian, born and bred.  My goal for the month is to see a Western Meadowlark, our state bird.  One of my ancestral lines is French.  This Sunday we are celebrating Bastille Day as a family and trying our hands at making some French food.  I have benefited greatly from the feminists who have gone before me and made my road smoother.  I have been reading old issues of Dialogue as a way to try to understand the intellectuals who came before me and made my foundation without me even realizing it.  I have also been reading old family diaries and learning more about my biological ancestors through that.


I think it is great to spend one month of the year thinking about heritage and the gifts we have been given by our ancestors, and focusing on our family identity.  I think it is absurd, however, that we all have to pretend to have the same heritage and the same ancestors, or to imagine that someone else’s family history will some how resonate equally for everyone.


What are you going to do in July to celebrate your heritage? Is the 24th of July a meaningful day for you, or something you experience as painful?

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. EJM says:

    I have to agree with you on this one EM. I too get tired of listening to the same old story. Yes, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices of the “pioneers” we wouldn’t be here today – blah, blah, blah. If this is indeed a Worldwide Church then please have articles in the Ensign that focusses on other “pioneers” around the world, instead of America’s pioneers. My family comes out of Africa – I’m a fourth generation member, and my husband’s family comes out of Australia. They all were extraordinary pioneers in their own right even they weren’t part of any wagon or handcart company, and trekked across god-forsaken lands. So yes, I definitely will be thinking about our collective ancestors who made great contributions to the church in SA and AUS and still do today.

    • Rachel says:

      I would like to see the institutional church tell a wider swath of stories when talking about “pioneers,” too, and feel like I’ve heard a small handful of General Authorities try.

      I would also like to see individual members tell those stories as well, over the pulpit in their local wards and stakes, and in daily conversation. They are pure gold.

  2. Rachel says:

    My ancestry does not really fall along the lines of the Utah pioneers, but my children’s will, thanks to my husband.

    His ancestry does mean a lot to him, and he talks about it often. Whenever he does so in front of my mom, she is quick to tell him about all of my remarkable ancestors (even though they might only be remarkable to us).

    I really love your suggestion of using this month to remember all of the different heritages that have shaped us. And I make crepes every Bastille Day. Not because of ancestry. I just love crepes. 🙂

  3. Lauren says:

    We’ve never done anything to celebrate July 24th and it usually passes by me without any extra thought. On my mother’s mother’s side we’ve got mormon blood going back to the Kirtland days converted by Jospeh Smith. Yeah there are some cool stories (sadly hardly any by women, seems most of the story writers in my family were men) but its only a portion of my history. The rest is good ol’ American mutt, with lots of divorce, bad family blood and hardly any stories I can find. Grateful for the Mormon tendency to write down everything, and use it as my justification to post everything on FB. 😉

  4. Caroline says:

    “I propose that we keep July as a month to honor heritage, biological or otherwise, but that we actively seek out other stories to honor than just the pioneers. ”

    Yes! Great points, Em.

  5. spunky says:

    This is fun, Em! Not living in the US for quite a time and moving around a lot, I’ve only been in one ward that did anything to “celebrate” pioneer day. I enjoyed learning about locals who have descended from the first missionaries sent to the UK, so really appreciated the sense of pioneer heritage outside of the typical US tradition.

    I also suppose that because I am out of the US, I do not mind pioneer stories, because they are so uncommon here and only applied when relevant to a point of spirituality. That being said, I recall a friend years ago describing the Mormon social hierarchy like that of Southern hospitality– everyone is so very, very super sweet to you, but there is that glass ceiling that keeps them and their identity in “pioneer heritage” separate to those beneath the ceiling. I also felt that as an out-of-state student in Utah. So ironic that we all preach to not judge and welcome all, yet we still create social layers based on geography and family heritage. Ugh.

  6. Old Man says:

    I have never met a person who did not have a family heritage that was uninteresting to me. Every person in the church has a conversion story and a gathering story. Every family has villains, black sheep, individuals who struggled with enormous challenges and real heroes. We should honor the pioneers of the 19th century. But we should celebrate our own family heritage. And it may not be wise to overlap the two.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.