My dear Mom died Easter Sunday, 2018. I wanted to create a tribute to my energetic, fun, compassionate Mother to be a part of my home office.

I took some of the things I inherited from Mom and started to design a shadowbox. I hadn’t gotten very far before I realized that Mom’s parents and sisters were a vital part of her story. And Dad and his family were essential to her life.

So, a plan for a simple shadowbox became something more ambitious: to tell the story of recent generations of our family.

In the finished display, Mom is nested to the left with pins and diplomas showing her passion for life and learning. For Mom, nothing was impossible!

Underneath Mom are her parents who lived life to the fullest. They loved their family, and they served the community with great devotion and compassion.

There is a space for Dad who served God on a mission in Australia and his country in the Navy. There are shells and coins from down under as well as a picture of one of the families he loved and blessed as a missionary.

The Goddards had a summer cabin up Emigration Canyon (far right box). That was a place where family and friends gathered. Among others, sweet saints from New Zealand who had been served by great-grandpa Goddard came to visit. Percy and Verna loved them all. Years later, my parents would build a home in Emigration Canyon and the places that were important to my ancestors became joyous to me.

Mom and Dad married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1947 creating a new family. They didn’t have a lot of money, but Dad worked his job managing an office and as a handyman while Mom wrote articles for the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. And they had seven children each of whom is devoted to serving and loving—with gusto!

Mom and Dad served several temple missions as well as proselyting and welfare missions. They served throughout their lives. At the center of the box summarizing their story is a picture of them on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Each object in the display tells a story—a story that reminds us, our children, and our grandchildren what it means to be a part of this family. For example, there are miniature candy bars in the trees behind the car—because Grandpa Wallace was famous for harvesting candy bars for his daughters when they took long car trips. The push broom to the right of the car reminds all of us of the time that Grandpa went riding with two of his daughters in downtown Salt Lake City and they passed a street sweeper. One of the girls innocently declared that she was glad that her dad was the county attorney and not a street sweeper. Grandpa immediately stopped the car, unloaded the girls, and went back to meet that man and learn about his family. After finishing the conversation and reloading the car, Grandpa taught his girls that it doesn’t matter how you make your living; it matters how you love.

Sometimes we think of family history as tedious research to find names, dates, and places from long ago. But family history can be so much more robust and meaningful than simply filling in boxes with names. We can draw our ancestors into our lives.  

We want to know where we came from. We want to be reminded of the noble things our ancestors stood for. And we want our descendants to know their ancestors’ faces, their names, and their stories. We want their hearts and ours to be bound to our ancestors.

There are many types of family stories. Some feature ancestors who had many admirable qualities that we might want to emulate. Those stories invite us to add to the commendable storyline our ancestors began. Other stories are not sweet and tidy. From those stories we learn lessons about how to live better. We can “give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you [their] imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than [they] have been” (Mormon 9:31).

The display I described is one idea that enables remembrance of and connection to ancestors for me and my family. It is a constant and loving reminder of what we stand for. It is a tangible way for younger members of my family to come to know and appreciate ancestors they never got to meet.

There are many other ways of creating connections with our ancestors. How can you get beyond placing names on a family tree and find ways of drawing your beloved ancestors into your life and the lives of other family members? Invite them into your life and family.


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Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contribution to this article.