Stories Develop Character
My character was formed in large part by family stories. Stories were told about my ancestors on both sides of my family. One story in particular played a large part in shaping my life, as well as the lives of my siblings, and later my children. That is the story of Ingeborg M. Nielsen Jensen. Now her story is being told to our grandchildren.
Throughout my life when things have become tough for me, I have thought of Ingeborg’s trials. Long before missionaries came to our home and baptized us, my mother was telling Ingeborg’s story. No matter how upset I became about trials in my own life, I had Ingeborg’s example of courage and tenacity to buoy me up.
Ingeborg M. Nielsen Jensen was born in Demark. Her father died when she was four years old, and within months her mother remarried for the support of her children. Ingeborg’s stepfather resented every bite of food his stepchildren ate, so as soon as they were capable of working, he sent them to work. Ingeborg was sent out to work when she was ten years old. In the summer she worked in a brick mill, and in winter in a stamp mill. As she grew older, she learned to be a dressmaker. As soon as she was able, she left home to provide for herself.
Ingeborg soon met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which would change her life forever. As soon as word got around that she had been baptized, she could no longer find work as a dressmaker. She wanted to go to America to be with the Saints of Zion, but she had no money. It took her four years to save enough for the passage to America. When she couldn’t find work as a dressmaker, she worked hard labor spreading manure and fertilizer for six months until she felt she could no longer withstand such physical labor. She moved to another town to help a family and was told that another young woman would be doing the more physical work, but that didn’t happen. She found herself milking 12 cows twice a day, doing the family laundry, cleaning, and a host of other chores. At the same time, she was frantically learning English so she could communicate when she reached America, and she learned the trade of glove making to enable her to become more employable.
After four years of very hard work, she sailed to America. Things became increasingly difficult, however, as she and her fellow travelers had little money and very little to eat. They nearly starved to death before landing in Pennsylvania. She was still very sick, so she hoped to hook up with a family to travel with, but soon found herself pushing a handcart by herself for 300 miles before she was able to find a family that would take her into their group. Even so, she walked to Zion taking turns carrying the baby who belonged to the family with whom she was travelling. Even though she and her travel companions were still ill from the sea voyage, they were told they had to travel very quickly to beat Johnston’s Army to Utah. They travelled 30-35 miles per day instead of 14-15 miles per day that the Saints usually traveled. The handcart company travelled on one side of the Platte River, and Johnston’s Army on the other. In Ingeborg’s own words, “it was pretty toft.”
She arrived in Salt Lake City to find that her dress making and glove making skills would get her nothing, as there were no shops with readymade clothes to display her dresses, and people were too poor to hire a dress maker. So she was married by Brigham Young in the Endowment House to Hans Peter Jensen as his sixth wife, and he would eventually take on two more wives. Ingeborg would bear five children, but only three would reach adulthood. The family lived in Brigham City, where Hans Peter Jensen with Lorenzo Snow and several other men started a co-op. It was quite successful for a time, but the co-op burned down. It was rebuilt, but the co-op never really recovered. Hans Peter Jensen mortgaged his home and put everything on the line, but was not successful. He became quite distraught, and a few years later, he died.
Ingeborg chose to leave the company of her sister wives, and she homesteaded. She lived on the homestead for 12 years, and later moved to Idaho to live with her son. At some point she came back to Brigham City where she passed away in 1919.
We are blessed to have Ingeborg’s own testimony. In her own words:
“I went trough many triles But the Lord wonts a tried people & the Lord has helpt me through it all I have not went bag on anny of the prinsepels of the gospel I was not of a jales de position [jealous disposition] no my triels came in a different way & surly had Enough yas to numeres to manshon[too numerous to mention] But if we was not tried we would not be worth much its throu triles we learn wisdom”
How We Benefit from Ingeborg’s Story
When my children were small, I took them to the Brigham City cemetery where we made crayon rubbings of the little metal stake that marked Ingeborg’s grave. A few years ago, my husband I and went back with our youngest child, and made more rubbings of that little metal stake. On our way home, we passed through Reno and shared some of those crayon rubbings with my sister’s children. One of those children was upset there wasn’t a proper grave stone and said, “You guys should take up a collection to get her a grave marker.” We were delighted that yet another generation had learned to love Ingeborg. The family saved for a couple of years, each contributing what they could afford to buy that stone. We actually ended up with more money than we needed for a lovely stone. Ingeborg now has a beautiful stone on her grave site. The extra money is used as a family emergency fund with a committee of three to oversee it. I think Ingeborg would like that. I’m quite certain that Ingeborg never had an emergency slush fund of her own.
What if Ingeborg’s story had not been told throughout the generations? I can’t even imagine not having Ingeborg’s story close to my heart. Not everyone has pioneer ancestors, but we all have ancestors who went through trials. The trials of our ancestors can help to teach great lessons to our children—if only we will tell the stories. Please tell those stories. In this world of increasing temptation and moral decay, our children need those stories to sustain them.