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Family photo
The Bangerter family poses in front of Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store in historic Nauvoo, Ill.. Back row, from left to right, are Megan Selleneit; Sariah and JoAnn Selleneit, Leslie and Russ Bangerter with their daughter, Amber; and Earl DeWaal. Front row, left to right, are Benjamin, Isaac, Isabelle and Samantha.

When President Thomas S. Monson announced the changes of ages for men and women to serve missions, including the age for women was lowered from 21 to 19, Amber, our 17-year-old daughter, announced to us right then she was planning to serve.

This statement so thrilled us that we asked her, “Where would you like our family to take summer vacation this year?” She responded with “Nauvoo.”

Nauvoo, Ill., is where early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints settled after moving from Ohio, Missouri and New York. Visitor centers and restored historical sites have been built at many of these locations.

Our plans included a visit to LDS Church's historic sites in Missouri, such as Adam-ondi-Ahman, the LDS Church Visitors Center in Independence and Liberty Jail and then on to Nauvoo, Ill., where there are pioneer-era buildings that have been restored to what they may have looked like in the 1840s along with a visitors center and rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

After going to Nauvoo, we planned to visit Carthage Jail in Illinois, where the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum died. Previous trips to Nauvoo allowed us to find a house in Nauvoo belonging to Leslie's ancestor, Bishop Jonathan H. Hale. We also had found property belonging to my ancestor, Amasa Potter, located just outside Nauvoo.

Packing everything into our van, including ourselves, my wife's mother and a niece, we left on July 1 for these sites.

After going to the sites in Missouri, we finally arrived and settled into a rented summer home in Nauvoo. Our son, his wife and family also joined us. After getting settled in, we went to the Nauvoo Visitors Center, where we got the schedule of plays and skits as well as other activities.

Later, we attended the rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple, performing baptisms for the dead and other ordinances for not only our own ancestors, but a friend's ancestors.

Just before starting the baptisms, one disabled girl came in with a different group of youths that joined with ours. She was a sweet young woman, and when the temple president talked to all of us about doing this ordinance, the girl giggled out loud. We shared some of our family names with her and her group for the baptisms. Each time an ancestor's name was announced, she giggled again. Sweet feelings of joy and happiness filled our souls to hear her giggle.

Because we arrived before the cast was doing on-site dress rehearsals for the Nauvoo Pageant, we thought we were too early and would be leaving for home before the pageant began. But on Friday, we received word that a dress rehearsal would be on Saturday night. This gave us the opportunity we had hoped for.

Later on Friday night, we went to the Seventies Hall. Walking our family down the “Trail of Hope,” which is the path where many of pioneers took as they left Nauvoo and there were plaques have been set up along the way with excerpts from the pioneers' journals. Performing missionaries recited parts of some of the Saints' journals.

These early members of the LDS Church traveled the road to the boats on the Mississippi River to cross to Iowa on their trek westward. In February 1846, several were able to walk and rolled their wagons over the miraculous solid ice of the river.

When we returned home, we saw that the LDS Church's Ensign magazine had an article in it titled, "The Trail of Hope: Exodus from Nauvoo." There is also a portion of the historic Nauvoo website called Trail of Hope.

We went into the memorial station there that shows the names of those who died trying to escape the mounting persecution. Another list showed those who left Nauvoo, but did not make it into the Great Salt Lake Valley. This brought to remembrance my wife and my ancestors who lived in Nauvoo. It reminded me of one of our friends who visited there some years ago, asking himself, “Were my ancestors ever in Nauvoo?” It caused him to have us help search out his ancestors.

When Saturday night came, we went to the Nauvoo Pageant rehearsal. The actor who narrated the pageant played the role of Elder Parley P. Pratt. We learned all the reasons why people moved there and why they moved out and things in between. As the sun went down, the lights of the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple caused the temple to glow in the background. What a beautiful setting in the background of the pageant!

For those interested in seeing the pageant, there are still a couple of weeks left. It closes Aug. 3.

On Sunday, after attending a local sacrament meeting, we packed to leave for home via Carthage Jail. Once entering the jail, we saw the rooms below where the jailer and his family lived. Going upstairs to the jail cell behind the old iron bars, we noticed a couple of rough mattresses made of straw on the cell floor. Coming through the door of the room where Joseph and Hyrum died, we noticed the hole from the ball that hit Hyrum in the face, killing him; as well as the window where Joseph died. The missionaries explained to us that at 5:17 p.m. on June 27, 1844, the bullets were streaking into the room like hail. Located on the fireplace mantle is a clock. One ball hit the clock, disabling it.

It was a wonderful place to take our family for summer vacation this year, with so much to do and learn.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections Inc. at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.