Holding on to the Past

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Pioneer Magazine

By Kellene Ricks Adams

A century and a half ago, the Utah pioneers likely didn’t think twice about the clothes they wore, the tools they used, the dishes they washed or the homes they lived in. Yet these ordinary parts of their lives, often handmade and certainly commonplace, are priceless today providing invaluable insight into the way lives were lived 150 years ago and an even more precious link to a way of life and a people who made us what we are today.

“We are fascinated by the past,” explains Glen Leonard, director of the LDS Church Museum of . “We want to know how these people lived and what they left behind. These things have a positive impact on us because we inherit these things, not just the tangible items but the accomplishments and achievements as well. These artifacts help us gain an appreciation for who and what our ancestors were.”

Precious heirlooms and artifacts can be broadly categorized in several different ways, including personal objects and possessions, items that contributed to or shaped the community and written records of all types.


“Personal objects that we have today tend to represent what was important in these people’s lives,” notes Brother Leonard. “Women kept wedding dresses and their children’s blessings gowns. Men saved tools and watches and weapons. Many of these types of things were saved and handed down either because of their sentimental value or because they were useful and serviceable beyond one generation.”

Items that have survived through time also provide insight into what was important to the children and grandchildren of stalwart pioneers. Items that were stored and treasured indicate what succeeding generations valued most as they made decisions about what to keep and what to throw away.


“Another category of artifacts we have in Utah are community treasures,” observed Brother Leonard. “These are the types of things that represented ‘firsts’ for the people who settled here.”

Holding on to the Past
Deseret Press

These types of items include the printing press that was used to publish the first issue of the Deseret News, as well as the press that printed the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Farming equipment, wagons and handcarts are popular museum pieces. Some historical buildings (meetinghouses, tabernacles, etc.) have been preserved as priceless symbols of the pioneer way of life.

“We also have pianos and organs, sewing machines and candy machines, as well as many books that have survived because they represent the culture of the day,” says Brother Leonard. “These artifacts help us understand what the pioneers valued and appreciated.”


Finally, some of the most insightful modern-day treasures are written records left behind. Family records and Bibles, diaries and letters provide a glimpse into specific personalities and prevailing social customs. These records are more personal, opening a window into the very soul of our ancestors. These records, more than anything else, supply us with intimate information into the hows, whats and whys behind the way the pioneers lived.

Of course, not many written records remain. But those diaries, journals and letters that have survived prove what we might all suspect, that while lifestyles may differ and circumstances may change, what matters most in life seems to be almost universal—taking care of those we love and discovering things that bring joy and happiness.

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