When I was on my mission, I really gained a love for family history and learning about my ancestors because I saw that it improved my investigators' lives. —Kaitlin Paxton
For the first time in the 72-year history of the Days of '47 Royalty Pageant, all three winners of the competition are returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Madeline Field, queen; Christina Muhlestein, first attendant; and Kaitlin Paxton, second attendant, were selected from 23 contestants between the ages of 19 and 25 who participated in the 2015 pageant, which was held April 10-11 and produced by the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
The trio said serving missions prepared them for the pageant by increasing their appreciation for family history and improving their public-speaking skills. They now share their love for their heritage by speaking at events throughout Utah.
"When I was on my mission, I really gained a love for family history and learning about my ancestors because I saw that it improved my investigators' lives," said Paxton, who served in the Tennessee Knoxville Mission. "Once I saw that change in them, I kind of promised myself that I would be better about family history and learning about my ancestors when I got home, and after I did that, I started having a love for family history and for my heritage. And so it really influences me in every event that I go to now with the Days of '47."
Days of '47 Royalty Pageant contestants must be descendants of pioneers who arrived in Utah between 1847 and 1869. Contestants are judged on a five-minute interview, a presentation of pioneer ancestry, their responses to an on-stage question and their school achievements or community service involvement. College scholarship awards range from $500 to $3,000.
Field said her service in the Arizona Tucson Mission gave her many public-speaking opportunities and taught her to lean on her ancestors' faith as she faced her own trials.
"Having gone on a mission, I was better prepared to speak with confidence in front of a crowd," Field wrote in an email interview. "The personal experiences I had with family history and the time I spent learning about pioneers and the history of the church helped me speak with knowledge, passion and love for my ancestors. Learning about my ancestors has given me hope, drive to do good and the strength to endure times of trial."
Participating in the pageant reminded Paxton of the value of family history research.
"It’s helped me see that there are other people who came before me who are a lot like me, and they went through different challenges than I do now days, but I get to see how they made it through those challenges, and I get to see the good that they’ve done for other people, and it makes me want to be a better person," Paxton said.
The royalty members speak about family history and Utah heritage at Rotary clubs, city events and LDS sacrament meetings.
Muhlestein, who served in the Arizona Phoenix Mission, said that speaking during LDS Church services helps her focus on Jesus Christ, rather than herself.
"I think that it’s a good reminder of why I personally am doing this, and hopefully through me they can see a good representative of Jesus Christ," Muhlestein said. "The sacrament meetings are good because it reminds you that it’s not about you. It’s about the heritage that you’re trying to promote and the spirit that you’re trying to share."
The royalty members will participate in the Days of '47 Parade July 24 and will make appearances at the Days of '47 Rodeo July 21-25.
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