By Frank Nielsen, October 02, 2014

Today is my 61st birthday, and it is 36 years since I first had an idea that I could create a Mormon Trail Map, which was just finished TODAY! The “About” section of this website tells the story of how it took me so long. Here I want talk about the 1899 lithograph as my first blog post to tell you where it came from and how my own family of Mormon pioneers tie in.

In 1899 in Salt Lake City, Utah, my grandfather, John Franklin Nielsen (Grandpa Frank), was 19 years old when he bought a pictorial wall map entitled, "Route of the Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake", as seen below. It is a 14" by 41-1/4" lithograph by an unknown artist, tracing the historical 1846-1847 route of the Mormon Pioneers, led by Brigham Young. My first memory of this map was in 1973, when I was 19 years old. My Dad had the original lithograph on a easel in his art room. Dad often painted nice oil painting of nature scenes like the Teton Mountains, but he decided to paint a duplicate of this 1899 lithograph, which he was doing on a separate easel. When I first saw the lithograph Dad had glued it to a composite board, trying to save it from deterioration, and next to it he was sketching and painting this same scene on a same-size art board. He was planning to repaint it from scratch, although he was using watercolors and India ink instead of oil paints. I had never heard Dad talk about the Mormon pioneers in general, and I had never even heard Dad or Mom talk about pioneer ancestry, if any, either. In fact, I don’t even know if they knew if they had any Mormon pioneer ancestors. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have found that this rare 1899 commemorative map was made to honor Brother Brigham Young's Vanguard Company of original Mormon pioneers from 1846 and 1847. It also was intended to honor tens of thousands of other Mormon pioneers from 1846 to 1869 as well, particularly the famous Mormon Handcart Companies of 1856 to 1860. Seeing this map for the first time got me interested, but then I got REALLY interested five years later, when Dad gave me the original.

Starting in 1978, I imagined that I could produce a wonderful map of the Mormon Pioneer Trail, using the old lithograph as an information base (That’s yours truly holding the 1899 map, still glued with Elmer’s Glue to a composition board since 1973). My idea was to artistically compare the old map to a modern map, showing the Mormon Trail on the modern map with where to visit and what to do. After 35 years, on Christmas Day, 2013 I finally got started on creating the Frank Nielsen Mormon Trail Map that I had been thinking about since 1978. In May, 2014, with my map about 90% finished, I asked my genealogy expert wife a simple question: “Why am I so compelled to make this map?” I rephrased it in a follow-up question: “Why am I so DRIVEN to make this map?” Then I asked, “Do you think I have pioneer ancestors?” I was implying that maybe my ancestors are calling me from beyond the grave, so that I will use my talents to create a map and inspire people to be interested in the Mormon pioneers, as well as their own genealogy. It was as if I was commissioned to do the work, even long before I had developed the talent to do so. As of mid-2014, I knew that for the first time ever, I was truly in tune with what we Latter-day Saints call “The Spirit of Elijah”, and I was intent on inspiring people to tie their families together. I was thinking, “I DESIRE TO INSPIRE BEFORE I EXPIRE!” To my surprise, my wife indeed had information that my own Nielsen two-times great grandparents were pioneers emigrants from Denmark in 1866. There is not a word for how emotional and excited this made me feel, to learn that I am the great-great grandson of Mormon pioneers!
I have since learned that I have 29 direct ancestors who emigrated to Utah by walking the Mormon Trail. But these stories, and more details on the Nielsens are subjects for subsequent posts. Stay tuned!