Tips for families on the LDS Church history trail

Published: Monday, May 12 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Cramion Poulson, 7, and Caelden Poulson, 5, wander among the trees in the Sacred Grove near Palmyra, N.Y. Visiting church history sites can be a meaningful activity for families.

Provided by the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center

At the conclusion of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedication in 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley requested that those attending take a “walk down Parley Street to the waterfront,” to the landing on the Mississippi River where the Saints crossed into Iowa and began their westward trek.

According to the LDS Church News, President Hinckley “asked members to leave behind the comfort of their air-conditioned cars, to walk and take time to read plaques along what is designated as the Trail of Hope … and read of those who left behind the beautiful temple.”

“’Look across to Iowa,’ President Hinckley said, inviting the members to ponder those past events,” the article said. “He asked that they imagine that it wasn’t a hot day in June, but a day of bitter cold in February, the month when the first company of Saints left Nauvoo under dire circumstances.”

Following the dedication, thousands crowded onto Parley Street to take the somber stroll and capture the spirit of the pioneers' winter exodus.

Since then, experiencing the Trail of Hope has become one of the memorable activities for families that visit Historic Nauvoo.

“It’s one of those special things we suggest families do,” said Elder David Pincock, site leader at the Nauvoo Visitors' Center. “It helps us appreciate our heritage and all those ancestors that lived before us and blazed new trails.”

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit historical sites owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, as well as other U.S locations. In order to help families have a memorable experience when visiting the sites, the Deseret News has compiled information and helpful tips for those planning to embark on a church history vacation.

Palmyra, New York

In New York, popular LDS Church history sites include the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center, the Sacred Grove, the Smith Family Farm, the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, and the Peter Whitmer Log Home. Each summer, thousands flock to see the outdoor theatrical Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Elder Steven H. Stewart, a missionary serving as director of the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center, also recommends a collection of museums known as Historic Palmyra. Historic Palmyra, not owned by the church, consists of four museums: The William Phelps store and home, the Palmyra print shop, the Alling Coverlet museum and Palmyra Historical Museum. There is a small admission fee, but Stewart says it’s a gem and worth the visit. Over the years missionaries have served as volunteers for Historic Palmyra and a genuine friendship has been developed with owners Steve and Bonnie Hays, who are friends of another faith, according to Stewart.

Elder Stewart and his wife, Sister Ann Stewart, say it is not necessary to visit sites like the Hill Cumorah or the Sacred Grove to gain a deep testimony of the gospel, but it’s “a wonderful blessing to stand in these holy places and contemplate what occurred there.”

“The mission Joseph Smith accomplished seems even more daunting when you see the personal circumstances under which he and his family helped to bring forth such a great work,” the Stewarts wrote in an email. “The sacrifices Joseph and his family were willing to make so we might have the Book of Mormon are overwhelming to us. … We are reminded by our presence here that each of us can find our own Sacred Grove, whether we are in Palmyra, New York, or anywhere else on the face of the earth.”

To help families have a memorable experience, the Stewarts suggest each family member come prepared with questions to ask.

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