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Group preserves pioneer history

Families recently dusted off the old pioneer bonnets and family histories to celebrate the Days of '47. But the Daughters of Utah Pioneers organization seeks to keep artifacts dust-free the whole year round.

The DUP's 21,451 living members dedicate themselves to "perpetuate the names and achievements of the men, women and children who were the pioneers in founding (Utah)," according to the DUP constitution.

"Our whole agenda is preserving pioneer history," DUP president Bette Barton said.

The group focuses on historic landmarks, family histories, pioneer artifacts and community education.

"Our motto has been 'our heritage, our responsibility,'" Barton said. "We are responsible for preserving history. If it doesn't get preserved, we'll lose all of this valuable information."

DUP members meet in groups called "camps," where they compile family histories of individual pioneer ancestors. These are copied and sent to the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City.

Jane Mack said hearing these family histories is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a member.

"When I hear these stories, I just have so much gratitude for what I have," Mack said. "It helps me feel strength, knowing that if they can do it, I can do it too."

The DUP just finished digitizing its collection of family histories. More than 100,000 pioneers may now be searched for in a database. Digitized photo negatives number more than 25,000.

Annie Taylor Hyde, the daughter of LDS Church President John Taylor, founded the organization in 1901 along with other descendants of the 1847 Mormon pioneers. The group is open to any woman who is "over the age of 18 years, of good character, and a lineal or legally adopted descendant of an ancestor who came to Utah before the completion of the railroad on May 10, 1869," according to the DUP Web site.

"If they came to the valley before that point, they are considered a Utah pioneer," Barton said. "If they came by railroad, for some reason, that was considered easier."

Barton emphasized that the organization is nonsectarian and nonpolitical.

"There are many who feel we are an arm of the LDS Church," Barton said. "There are many who serve with us who are not LDS."

Mack said membership continues to decline.

"We're losing members because they die," Mack said. "The hardest thing is to get the younger people in. People don't know the strength that comes from knowing your history."

For more information on putting those dusty family histories to better use, see the DUP Web site, www.dupinternational.org/.