There are many ways of accessing our ancestors and their stories.
When our children were little, we lived right around the corner from their great-grandparents. So, on Sunday afternoons, we would go over to Les and Stella’s house. The kids would play with toys while Les and Stella told us stories about their lives. The more we learned, the more our love for them grew. Sometimes Grandpa sang us the songs he sang in community gatherings from the time he was 4 years old. Often, we recorded them telling us stories and singing songs.
Grandpa made a living by his wits—whether it was ranching, welding, or building. In the course of their married life, Grandma had lost a baby and a teenager. In fact, my dear Nancy had for many years taken the place of the daughter she had lost.
One day Grandma was rummaging around for pictures and found one that she had long hidden—the day in 1922 when she and Grandpa rode their horses up into the mountains to go fishing. It was their honeymoon. She had hidden the pictures because she didn’t want people seeing her wearing pants rather than a dress. We cherish the picture of those two dear people on that important occasion!
Though they were retirement age when our children were little, they never retired. They were always busy. Grandpa would insulate and winterize widows’ houses. He built woodburning stoves in his shop. He plowed snow for neighbors.
Even as he passed 90 years of age, he haunted the junk piles and county dump to find discarded lawnmowers, shopping carts with good wheels, sections of pipe, and pieces of cast-off lumber. He gathered the materials and went to work building carts to help the “widder-ladies” get their trash cans to the curb. As we drove around Vernal on garbage day, the streets were lined with wheeled carts at the widows’ houses. Our children were proud of their great-grandpa.
Because we spent lots of time with Nancy’s grandparents, we learned their stories, heard their songs, enjoyed their pictures, and our hearts were bound to theirs. Learning how they lived their lives and the things that mattered to them has changed the way we live our lives. We strive to continue their legacies of ingenuity and service.
Most people don’t grow up just around the corner from cherished ancestors. Fortunately, there are other ways of learning from them. The following experience describes how I came to know my grandmother who died when I was just one year old. I wrote this story so my family could learn about her also.
Meeting Grandma Goddard
One day when I was sorting through my dad’s papers with Mom, I asked about my Grandma Goddard. “Oh! How she loved you,” Mom said. I was speechless! I did not know that I even showed up on her radar. I was delighted to know that Grandma Goddard loved me.
Still, I hungered to have her be an active part of my life. I wanted to know my Grandma. I wanted to hear her voice and have her tousle my hair.
One day I asked my Aunt Ruth about Grandma. She gave me a collection of Grandma’s papers which included a scrapbook. The dedication penned in that scrapbook taught me much about Grandmother’s commitments and devotion: “To my children, I lovingly dedicate my book. They make my life worth living. They fill my cup of joy to overflowing. They are my jewels, loaned to me by a loving Father. For them I would be strong and brave and true.” The book was filled with pictures of her family and her testimony of the Gospel. It was a treasure trove to me. The collection yielded cherished love notes from Grandpa to her: “To the Dearest Wife and Mother in the world.” “To Verna, More and more I love you, Percy.” “The darlingest in the whole world-my Verna.”
As I read of her love for and from her family, I came to know Grandma Verna Goddard. I heard her voice speak to my soul. I felt like I heard her whisper in my ear as she snuggled me on her shoulder: “Oh, little one, I love you! May God be with you, my beloved Grandson.” I will never forget that new memory.
Grandma was a counselor in the General Young Women presidency and a popular speaker. I read her notes for talks. I studied the articles she wrote. I read the multitude of thank-you notes sent to her. I yearned to hear her voice. So, I asked Heavenly Father if I might follow her on a speaking assignment. The Spirit whispered that I might follow—if I was very still.
So, in my mind, I followed her on one of her speaking assignments. I sat in the foyer outside the chapel. I heard her voice as she testified to a group of Young Women in Northern Utah. “I know God. He is good! Love Him. Follow Him. Obey Him.” Her testimony blessed the young women in the gathering, and it warmed my soul. The Young Women in the room sat enthralled. I sat in the hall and wept with joy.
I got to hear and know my Grandma Goddard. I am comforted to know that—despite passing through the veil—her ministering is not finished—rather it has been refined. She now blesses her descendants from the other side of the veil with her enlarged wisdom and greater love. I love you Grandma Verna Lisle Wright Goddard.
We treasure our connections with Les and Stella, Grandma Goddard, and all our other ancestors. We love them, miss them, and want them to be known by our children and grandchildren. So how do we pass the treasure forward? How do we help our descendants know and love their ancestors?
Our first effort was to gather important documents, photographs, and histories into binders that we copied for family members. People are glad to have a collected history. The problem was that it was simply daunting and sometimes hard to connect with. Family members didn’t know where to begin—so they didn’t.
We discovered a better delivery. For a few years, we have been writing one-page stories about our ancestors. We keep the stories short enough to be interesting. We include pictures and try to bring the ancestors to life. Teaching our family about their ancestors in story form has made those dear ones a continuing presence in the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Every Christmas, we provide copies of new one-page family stories to our children. We have now delivered about 60 stories to them. We also post them to Family Search.
Our grandchildren use the stories for school reports and church talks. At family reunions, one of our children’s families will take a story and act it out. The rest of the family tries to guess which story they are sharing. Our daughter has created a Jeopardy game using facts from the stories. We divide the family into teams and play Ancestor Jeopardy.
Hopefully, you can gather information and create stories that will bind the generations of your family in love. There is nothing like a meaningful story to create an enduring bond. Here is an excerpt of a one-page story about my grandfather as told by his daughter.
Lessons from a Lawyer and a Street Sweeper
Dad would often drive us to school. He taught us lessons along the way. When we were gossiping, he would say, “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.
Another time, as Dad, Mary, and Ann drove by the Uptown Theater, they observed a street sweeper at work. The girls remarked how glad they were that Dad wasn’t a street sweeper and how proud they were that he was a lawyer. He stopped the car and told them it didn’t matter what job you had, but it was important to do a job well. He took Mary and Ann over to introduce them to the street sweeper, and asked him about his family. He treated him as a man of great dignity and goodness. We learned great lessons from Dad about respecting all people.
Every family has powerful stories. You can uncover the stories of your ancestors and use them to bind the hearts of your descendants to those who gave them life. Knowing those stories will bring amazing peace and purpose to their lives.
Thanks to Annie Foster for her insightful contributions to this article.