People should be able to tell what matters to you as soon as they step in your home, according to architect Ron Molen. So, when people step into your home, what do they know about you and what you love?
Maybe you have a piano, lots of books, and comfortable seating. Maybe a 60” TV. Maybe a gaming system. Maybe some art from Hobby Lobby. Maybe you also have pictures of family members displayed prominently.
What would a visitor—or friend—know about your heritage from looking around your living room? Are your ancestors important to you? Is your family story important to you?
In our family, heritage has always been vital. In our very first house, we created a homey tribute to posterity and ancestors.
When we moved into our current home, we put up a birch tree to symbolize our family tree. Then we arranged family objects and pictures around the tree.
More recently, we have created tributes to various ancestors. I created one for my namesake grandfather featuring his beloved family, his heirloom Bible, and his contributions to the community as a county attorney.
Our current display honors Nancy’s Dad, his unique sense of humor, his creations, and his thriftiness. (“It’s perfectly good.”) When we completed the display honoring her father, Nancy commented that she felt he was happy with what we were doing to remember him and celebrate his life and his influence on our family.
These displays make a difference with visitors when they ask about our ancestors and we get to share a little about their stories and about our gratitude to them. They make a big difference with grandchildren as they study the items and ask about the stories of their forebears.
After my mother passed away, I wanted to create a tribute to her and her family in my home office. I realized that the story would be incomplete without dad and his family. So I created shadowboxes with objects and pictures that tell the story of their remarkable families and their lifetimes of love.
When preparing a display, we think about those objects that represent what an ancestor loved and stood for. For example, my mother was a dietician. In the shadowbox about my mother’s life, I included not only miniature loaves of bread but a reduced copy of the newspaper article she published in the Deseret News in January of 1949 about homemade bread. For my Dad’s display, I made a scale model replica of his ever-present toolbox. I put favorite pictures of the seven children Mom and Dad brought to the world. I have pictures from their many missions. Collecting and organizing these keepsakes and reminders is one of the funnest things I do—and it binds my heart to them in profound affection.
In our family library, we continue the tributes to our ancestors. Nancy’s grandparents married in 1922 and rode their horses into the mountains to go fishing for their honeymoon. Famed Western artist Robert Duncan took an old photo we had of them departing for the mountains and created a lovely oil painting that hangs over our mantel.
Our message for those who come to our home is “We are glad you are here! And a big share of anything we can offer you is due to the good people who came before us.”
Displays are not the only way we connect our descendants with their ancestors. It is important that we engage family with their ancestors in ways that are fun for them. Our grandchildren enjoy telling the stories of their ancestors related to the displays, and our creative daughter, Emily, has created games. For example, she took a Guess Who game and created pages of the living family members and the departed ancestors for the game. The grandkids love playing the game and, in the process, come to know the names and faces of family members. Emily also created a Family History Jeopardy game. We have lots of fun at family reunions and gatherings winning points in Jeopardy by remembering the details of family stories.
Since the failure to bind the hearts of the children to the fathers will merit a curse (Malachi 4:5-6), then the binding of hearts across generations will surely create eternal blessings. This is confirmed by research on families: “The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the oddsthat your family will thrive for many generations to come.” (Bruce Feiler, The Stories that Bind Us, NYT, March 15, 2013, based on the work of Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush)
We experience immense joy being surrounded by reminders in our home of the people we love so dearly. We also have children and grandchildren who not only know their ancestors’ stories but consider them to be abiding friends.
Your way of connecting generations may be quite different from ours. I love taking the objects we have received and working them into our physical environment! But, rather than displays, you may share favorite ancestral meals, folk stories, quilts or crafts, journals. Any traditions, objects, or stories that you have inherited from your ancestors can work to bind the generations of your family.
We are delighted that our ancestors are a real and blessed influence in our lives, our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives. Our lives are lovingly bound to those remarkable people who led the way. We cannot wait for that joyous family reunion on High.
For hundreds of ideas about displaying family history in your home, see my Pinterest page:
https://www.pinterest.com/wgoddard/family-history-display-activities/ Thanks to Annie Foster for her insightful contributions to this article