New memorial honors pioneers, reunites 2 family branches

Delia Rochon’s research led her to family she didn’t know she had. On Oct. 28, the cousins honored their shared ancestors with a new pioneer memorial

MURRAY, Utah — Delia Rochon was visiting the Pioneer Children’s Memorial at This Is the Place Heritage Park in 2020 when a name on Stone 7 caught her attention: Jean Michel Rochon.

A convert who grew up in Uruguay, and the only member of her immediate family who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sister Rochon hadn’t known that other people with her family’s name were ever in Utah. So with help from the FamilySearch Library, where she serves as a missionary, she began researching Jean Michel Rochon.

That’s how she discovered that her ancestors are cousins to Jean Michel Rochon’s father, also named Jean Michel Rochon. At some point, Delia Rochon’s ancestors left their homeland of Italy and settled in Uruguay, where she would be born and raised.

But the elder Jean Michel Rochon’s family first crossed the sea and then the Plains to Zion. Their lineage trickles down to Camille Fronk Olson, former chair of Brigham Young University’s Department of Ancient Scripture — and Delia Rochon’s friend.

Sister Rochon spoke with visible emotion about the joy of discovering that her friend is also her cousin.

“It has been quite a blessing for me to do this research. Finally, I feel that I belong to a Latter-day Saint Rochon family,” she said.

Sister Rochon shared her experiences during a dedication service for a new pioneer memorial in the Murray City Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 28.

The memorial is a small headstone featuring the names of several Rochon ancestors who died crossing the Plains and whose stories were pieced together by Delia Rochon.

Wrapped in coats and blankets, about 20 people gathered at the memorial on Saturday morning to share stories, photos and memories. Among the group were Rochon family descendants, FamilySearch Director Lynn Turner and a representative from Sons of Utah Pioneers.

Olson thanked Rochon for her dedication to preserving their family’s stories. In her own family history research, she has struggled finding Rochon ancestors, “but thanks to Delia and her friends, they have been found.”

The Rochon pioneer memorial in the Murray City Cemetery.
The Rochon pioneer memorial in the Murray City Cemetery in Murray, Utah, is pictured Oct. 28, 2023. | Kaitlyn Bancroft, Church News

Rochon family history

During the memorial dedication, Delia Rochon and Olson summarized the Rochon family history, beginning with the elder Jean Michel Rochon.

Born in 1809 in Pinasca, Torino, Italy, he was a strong member of a Christian sect known as the Waldensians. He and his first wife, a fellow Waldensian named Jeanne Chambon, had four children, but only their daughter Elisabeth survived.

Jean Michel’s second marriage was to Susanne Robert, also a Waldensian. They had four children and joined the Church in 1854, the same year that their daughter Marianne died at age 2.

The remaining six family members — Jean Michel, Susanne, Elisabeth, Jean Pierre, Marie Marguerite and the younger Jean Michel — were among the Waldensian converts who travelled from Italy to Lyon, France, and from there took trains to Paris and then Calais, France. After steamer trips to London and Liverpool, England, they boarded a ship bound for the U.S.

Tragedy struck the family again when the younger Jean Michel, only a few months old, died either at sea or soon after arriving in the U.S. His name is now preserved on the Pioneer Children’s Memorial at This Is the Place Heritage Park.

The family pressed on and joined the Edmond Ellsworth company in Florence, Nebraska, in 1856. By that time, Elisabeth was 19, Jean Pierre was 11 and Marie Marguerite was 7.

Susanne, Elisabeth and Jean Pierre completed the journey; but the elder Jean Michel died in Echo Canyon, three days before the company reached Salt Lake City. Marie Marguerite likely died at the same time or shortly after.

Their story was recorded by Willie Butler, who wrote in his journal of becoming sick at Echo Canyon. After resting for awhile, he carried on and overtook “an Italian man and his little girl with their handcart. They had been left behind to die.”

Jean Michel died the following morning, and Butler buried him in the Cache Creek Cave area, located today near Interstate 80. Then he moved on, taking Marie Marguerite with him — but as she is never mentioned in records again, historians believe she died before Butler reached Salt Lake.

Delia Rochon spoke with emotion about the little girl who died virtually alone on the trail, far from her home and family. “Was she aware that her mother had left? Was she aware that her father had died a few hours before? Who held her hand in the last few minutes? Who prayed with her to face what she was going through?”

Sister Rochon also acknowledged the tremendous sacrifice Susanne made in leaving behind her dying husband and young daughter to ensure that Elisabeth and Jean Pierre would survive. “What courage [Susanne] must have had. ... What [was] in her heart to move forward?”

Descendants of Susanne Rochon gather at the new Rochon pioneer memorial at the Murray City Cemetery.
Descendants of Susanne Rochon gather at the new Rochon pioneer memorial in the Murray City Cemetery in Murray, Utah, Oct. 28, 2023. | Kaitlyn Bancroft, Church News

‘They have stories to tell’

After arriving in Salt Lake City, Elisabeth married Thomas Richardson, a convert from Wales. Though they had no children, they were faithful members of the Church until they died of the flu in 1891, only six hours apart.

Jean Pierre married Harriet Ann George and had three children. Of those three, one died in infancy, one went to Colorado before disappearing from records and one married but had no children.

Susanne remarried and had one child, a daughter named Louise Roman. She later divorced her second husband when he abandoned her and Louise.

Susanne and Louise then moved to Union, Utah — now part of the Salt Lake suburb of Midvale. Though records about Susanne’s life are sparse, Olson believes Susanne chose Union because that’s where Elisabeth and Jean Pierre were living.

Olson, who is descended from Susanne through one of Louise’s 11 children, spoke with emotion about Susanne’s strength and courage.

“I have felt this particular connection to Susanne. [My family] is a maternal line, ... and the story of these women had largely been forgotten,” she said, adding: “We’ve got to find these women. They have stories to tell.”

Joan Petersen, Susanna’s oldest known living descendant, said she appreciated learning more about Susanna’s legacy during the memorial.

“She just really brings to life what [the pioneers] went through for us,” Petersen said. “I’m hoping that I’m living up to what she lived.”

Church History Department researcher David Bolingbroke, who helped Delia Rochon with her research, added that it’s been “just wonderful” watching two branches of the Rochon family find each other.

“It makes me think of bringing the hearts of the children to the fathers,” he said, referring to Malachi 4:6.

Thanks to Delia Rochon and Olson, two Rochon family branches are reunited, he continued. “It’s exciting because it can [remind] us that [Church members] have a heritage. We have a heritage of faith, sacrifice and keeping covenants.”

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