Many BYU students have ancestors who crossed the plains in 1856 with the Willie and Martin handcart companies to join the saints in Salt Lake.
Bryn Clegg, a senior majoring in English, said she had pioneer ancestors from every side of her family except one, the Cleggs, who converted later.
Clegg said she admires her ancestor’s patience and angelic qualities. Her fourth-great grandma Agnes Birrell traveled with the Willie Handcart Company.
“Agnes Birrell traveled when she was eighteen from Glasgow, Scotland,” Clegg said. “Her family disowned her when she joined the Church.”
Birrell traveled to Salt Lake City, where she met her husband, William Thomas Van Noy, and eventually moved to Idaho.
“William Van Noy always called her ‘my angel wife,’” Clegg said.
Clegg said she respects their sacrifice and wants to keep their legacy alive.
“I know I never would be able to leave the Church,” Clegg said. “They sacrificed so much for this gospel, and so that I, as a descendant, would have the blessings of being a member of this church.”
“Though I have my own testimony, because of the legacy they left me and my family’s continuing membership, I know I could never leave it,” she said.
Bethany Collier, a junior majoring in communication disorders, said her pioneer ancestry comes from her father’s side.
Pioneers John Carling and his wife, Collier’s fourth-great grandparents, were called by Heber C. Kimball to construct handcarts for those crossing the plains. The Carlings worried they would be harmed by the mobs threatening the Saints, but Kimball promised they wouldn’t be hurt if they would proceed with their calling.
They saw this promise fulfilled the day they left: They barely caught a rowboat and the mobs chasing them were drowned in the river.
Collier said she respects her ancestors’ perseverance with their faith and hopes to continue sharing their stories.
“I feel like I have a huge responsibility to keep the tradition and keep the history going,” said Collier.
Laura Nielsen, a sophomore studying linguistics, said she hopes to keep her pioneer ancestors’ traditions alive as well.
“I try to continue the legacy of living in the gospel,” Nielsen said. “They sacrificed so much for the gospel, I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep it that way. I want them to be proud of me.”
Nielsen said she has deep pioneer roots in her family. Elizabeth Green Arnold, Nielsen’s ancestor on her mother’s side came from England and experienced a miracle on the trail as she traveled with the Martin Handcart Company.
“She had a real craving for salt, but she gave it up during the journey,” Nielsen said.
Arnold reached a point where she felt she could not continue without salt when she saw a man who told her to look in another handcart. When she did, she found salt and filled her apron with it. Arnold was said to never have wasted a grain of salt after.
Nielsen said she feels proud of her pioneer ancestry and hopes to follow in their faith.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t joined the Church,” Nielsen said. “Because of my whole family, the whole Mormon religion was passed down, and I don’t know if I would have it now, I want to continue the legacy for my children.”