Friday, August 5, 2016

Johanna, my Pioneer Ancestor

I was born in Logan, Utah, and grew up in Oregon.  I've also lived in Massachusetts, New York City, and now North Carolina.  When asked where I'm from sometimes I don't know what to say.  But if you ask who I'm from, that is a different story.  In fact, it is many stories.  One of my passions is genealogy--I love to learn about the people whose lives made mine possible.  When I learn about my forebears, I wonder if I could have made the choices they did, and I learn about faith and courage. 

Johanna, my great-great-grandmother, was born in 1841 on Vestmannaeyjar, an island off the coast of Iceland, where her family had lived since Viking times.  Her people were fishermen and shepherds, garnering everything they needed from the land.  Johanna grew rye for bread, cleaned and salted fish for winter sustenance, and carded, spun, dyed, and weaved wool for clothing.  When she was a teenager, Johanna's father died, and to help provide for her mother and siblings she took in washing and sold dried fruit.  As a young woman, Johanna fell in love, married a fisherman, had a baby, but life brought unexpected hardships.  While her husband was at sea, Johanna would walk along the beach and wait for him to return, until the day, about a year after they were married, when she found his knitted scarf washed ashore and knew that he had drowned. 

In 1866 Johanna married again and she and her new husband, my great-great-grandfather Gudmund Gudmundson, had many children.  One day they met a missionary who had come from far-off Utah to teach people about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Johanna and Gudmund sensed something good and true in this new church and were baptized despite strong disapproval from their devout Lutheran families.  Desiring to be with others who believed as they did, Johanna and Gudmund decided to leave their unsupportive relatives behind and move to Utah.  However, to afford ship's passage for themselves and their children, they needed to sell their farm, a difficult task on a small island of farmers and fishermen without a lot of cash.  When they finally found a buyer and were able to reserve passage on a ship, family and neighbors persuaded the man to change his mind and not buy the land--they convinced him it would be a terrible thing for the Gudmundsons to go off to Utah and become Mormons.  But Johanna and Gudmund prayed, and felt strongly that if they were meant to go to America, a way would be provided.  The day before the ship was to sail, the man changed his mind again and bought the land, providing enough money for Johanna and her husband, and eventually all of their children, to move to Utah.

I admire Johanna for all the things she knew how to do, and the choices she made.  While I don't bake bread from home-grown rye or weave wool for clothing, I do grow a modest vegetable garden and work in a fabric factory to earn my living.  Johanna made the brave choice to be a pioneer, and followed her faith to a new land.  As I have tried to live my life according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, my faith has led me to many unexpected experiences.  While not faced with choices as dramatic as hers, every time I choose to follow Jesus Christ I know I'm doing what Johanna would do.