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Small Town Travels: Visiting Nauvoo, Illinois

Photo: Statues of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on horseback face the white Nauvoo Temple at dusk
Big cities are often named as vacation destinations, but small towns offer their own attractions. My husband and I traveled to Missouri and Illinois last month, and we drove mostly on two-lane highways and stayed mainly in less-populated areas. Nauvoo, Illinois, is such a place.

Since I was a child, I have loved hearing pioneer stories. I read the "Little House" books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I learned about the Oregon Trail and was proud to live in the Willamette Valley, and I sang "Come, Come Ye Saints" in church.  Though I am not descended from those who walked the Mormon Trail, I do share their faith and am thankful for their sacrifices. I have always wanted to visit Nauvoo, which housed the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1839-1846. I wanted to be able to see the historic buildings and imagine what life was like 175 years ago. 



My husband, John, does descend from Nauvoo pioneer stock, so seeing the sites there took on an even more personal note for him. Fortunately, it is extremely easy to learn about ancestors while in Nauvoo. 


Photo: A sign which reads, "Land & Records Research Center Records of individuals living in Nauvoo or Hancock County during the years of 1839 to 1846. Available to individuals and families who would like to learn about their ancestors and their lives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints"
We visited the Land & Records Research Center, where we were greeted by smiling volunteers who were eager to help us find connections to Nauvoo. John sat at one computer; I sat at another. John quickly found his great-great-great-grandma (who was born in Nauvoo) and her family. The volunteer who was helping him was able to show him on a map exactly where his ancestors lived. 


Photo: A sign clearly marks the brick building that is the Land & Records Research Center
I knew that I didn't have any direct-line ancestors who lived in Nauvoo, but the woman who helped me found a connection anyway; I am 3rd cousins, 5 times removed to King Follett. (He isn't royalty; his first name was King.) He was a friend of the prophet Joseph Smith. After King Follett died, Joseph Smith spoke at his funeral. That speech later was given in a General Conference, and is referred to as the King Follett Discourse

Once John and I were done at the Land & Records Research Center, we set off to find the places in Nauvoo that were of particular importance to our relatives. We took a wagon ride past King Follett's well. (Sadly, this well is where he met his accidental death.) 


Photo: King Follett's well is surrounded by a split-rail fence
Once back in our rental car, we drove to the address of John's g-g-g-g-grandfather's house. As we approached, we were surprised to see a for sale sign in the ground! It turns out that his relative's house was no longer standing, but the land upon which it had stood was part of the yard of another house--the Willard Richards House--and that house was for sale! I must admit, we were sorely tempted to buy a piece of property that had such historical significance, not just for the church, but also for John's family. Fortunately, we have recently moved and we realize that moving is not fun nor easy, and while Nauvoo might be pleasant in early October, I'm pretty sure the weather is more extreme in the winter and summer months. The thought of owning the house excited us; the imagined reality did not. 


Photo: The green corner lot that belonged to John's ancestors

Photo: The lovely two-story brick Willard Richards' home
Though the family discoveries made our visit to Nauvoo extra special, even if we had not had those discoveries, we would have been happy with our time there. Many buildings are open for touring, and some (like the blacksmith shop) have demonstrations. There are wagon rides, oxen rides, and during the summer months, there are evening performances. The historic sites that are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are free to visit. The rebuilt temple serves as a stunning backdrop to the old town. 


Photo: Another red brick building; this one, the home of Brigham Young

Photo: Looking through a multi-paned window, one can spot the white Nauvoo Temple 



Photo: The Nauvoo Temple at dusk
What small towns have you enjoyed visiting? Have you ever combined family history research with a vacation? 

(If you enjoy learning about family history, be sure to enter to win a 4-day pass to #RootsTech!



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