There is no better time to think about heritage and genealogy and ancestry than right after Pioneer Day. Whether or not you come from pioneer stock, knowing all you can about your forbearers and passing it on to your kids is one of the most effective ways in the world to give your children something they desperately need — an identity larger than self.
We mentioned in an earlier article that the reason adolescents join gangs is that they need this larger identity. The reason they want to follow a certain style or behave in a particular way is that they have an inherent need to be part of something larger than themselves — to fit into some bigger whole, to have something to rely on, to fall back on, to belong to.
That “thing,” of course, should be family. Not just their nuclear or household family, but their extended family — their ancestors — the progenitors whose genetics and traits and propensities they share.
We love the work of others whose studies have revealed that kids who know their “family narrative” — the stories of their grandparents and beyond, stories of their good times and their hard times — tend to be more secure kids, and more resilient kids.
And that shouldn’t surprise us. It is natural for a child who knows that her great-grandmother survived tough times to have a little more confidence in enduring some small crisis of her own. And a child who knows the stories of the successes of his great-great grandparents takes on a little extra confidence in himself.
There are many ways to make these connections in the minds of our children. Two of our favorites are “The Ancestor Book” and “The Family Tree.”
For us, the ancestor book was a big, old leather-bound book of blank paper that we got while we were living in England. In it we write down the stories we know about various forbearers, in children’s-story language. We adopted the stories from journals and diaries and from the oral traditions we had heard as kids. We gave each story an exciting title like “Grandpa Dan and the Cat that Came Back,” and “How this Mountain-moving Family Stayed Together on The Pioneer Trail.” Our young children illustrated the stories with little drawings of stick figures and imagination.
These little bits of family history became our kids’ favorite bedtime stories.
The family tree was simply an oil painting of a big tree with every root hosting a photo of an ancestor and every limb a picture of one of our kids. The two of us, of course, went on the trunk.
As kids learned fractions, they liked to trace down the dividing roots and come to a great-grandmother and say things like, “I’m one-eighth from her.”
There has never been an easier time to create this kind of a family narrative. Familysearch.org makes it convenient to locate the data on ancestors and with a little digging and contacting older relatives, it is surprisingly easy to find stories about most of these noble folks to whom we owe so much.
Many Latter-day Saints think of doing their genealogy as an obligation they have to their ancestors, and we certainly do not argue with that. But it is also an obligation to and an opportunity for our children. We are the trunks who link the roots to the branches, and the best way to do that is with stories.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."