Kip pulled out of his book of remembrance a sheet of photocopy paper containing the imprints of two hands, one large and the other small. “This is one of my favorite pictures,” he said. “I was about ten when my dad and I were playing around with a copy machine and took these pictures of our hands.” Looking again at the difference in the sizes of the handprints, he added, “Now I’m taller than my dad.”
For Kip Twitchell, a book of remembrance and a journal are a natural part of his life. In fact, for a group of seminary students attending Bonneville High School in Ogden, Utah, the whole concept of family histories has become an exciting project that they think about and work on often.
It all started when the seminary students invited a guest speaker to address an assembly of the seminary classes at Bonneville High School. While chauffeuring their speaker to and from the meeting, they began relating stories about their ancestors. The students became interested in doing something about their family histories when their guest challenged them to consider how the experiences of their ancestors have affected them individually. They reread copies of family histories, interviewed members of their families, sorted through and identified old photographs, and updated their own journals. They found that learning about their families helped them understand their own talents and attitudes.
The creation of a family history often begins with family members learning about ancestors. This process was true for Colleen Shupe. Her family held a special family home evening in which they learned about the conversion of their great-great-great-grandfather. He received the gospel message from one of the Church’s outstanding missionaries, Parley P. Pratt, and when he moved his family to Illinois, Colleen’s great-great-great-grandfather became a bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This family story makes Colleen feel a special closeness to the early Church leaders, and she realizes that “my family are members of the Church now because we came from that line.”
Sometimes living relatives help by recounting stories for the family history. For Wayne Ogden, learning about his ancestors also meant getting better acquainted with his grandfather. “My grandfather would always tell me stories,” said Wayne, “about my great-great-great-uncle who was a pony express rider. He was just 14 when he carried the mail. He was called to help settle Sevier County in Utah. I’ve been all over in those hills hunting. I didn’t think much about those stories then, but now I’d like to go back and look at things more carefully and remember what my grandfather told me.”
Both Colleen and Wayne are lucky because they live near the places their ancestors settled when they arrived in Utah as pioneers. But for Tina Walker, her family pioneers were modern-day people who made the “trek” by airplane. Tina’s mother is from Denmark, and many of her relatives still live there. “I don’t have pioneers in my family,” said Tina, “but I have Vikings. One genealogy line goes back to the Viking kings.” Tina has been back to visit relatives in Denmark several times with her family, and while there she learned more about her heritage.
Kim Cloward, too, has a special family story. Her great-great-grandmother was a seamstress to the Queen of England, and she married one of the king’s horsemen. After joining the Church, the couple immigrated to America. Her abilities with a needle were well known in northern Utah where she tailored men’s suits and made moccasins and gloves. She taught her daughter to sew. The daughter, in turn, taught her daughter. “And now,” Kim commented, “my mother has taught me to sew, and I’ll sew for my family and ‘sew’ on and ‘sew’ on.” Her eyes twinkled as she waited for her seminary friends to catch the pun. Kim has won several national sewing contests and now better understands where her abilities and pride in tailoring come from.
Family histories started hitting closer to home as this group of students related stories told to them by their parents. “My father was the senior class president!” said Kip in amazement. “You know what I never realized? My father was a cool guy in his high school!” Lisa Stratford chimed in: “It’s really funny to hear stories about my parents. You find out they did a lot of the same things we do.” The stories about their parents have helped these Ogden teenagers understand how their parents were raised and why their parents now want them to get better grades and to be better than they were.
These seminary students have discovered that family histories don’t stop with their parents. The stories continue in their own lives as recorded in their journals. “For example,” Lisa said, standing proudly beside her yellow jeep, “this is now sort of my car. It caught fire once, and the police had to come to put out the fire. I keep thinking how my kids will laugh when they read about that experience in my journal.”
Kip has found that his journal is a good place to go to remind himself of significant events in his life. “I started keeping a journal about three years ago,” said Kip. “Now I’m on page 760. I’m a swimmer, and I go back to my sophomore year when I did really well at state. Just before the state meet this year, I went back and read about that time in my sophomore year.”
Recognizing the importance of keeping records, Kip said, “We ought to start writing in our journals now for our kids.”
After talking with the others about their journals, Wayne decided to start writing one too. “It’s something I’d heard a lot about,” said Wayne, “so I decided to start one.” When asked what he thinks about journals, Wayne said, “When you’re writing in a journal, it feels as if you’re talking to someone. It helps me work out things that are bothering me.”
Revisiting a house or neighborhood in which they spent their childhood was a good jog to the memories of these young genealogists. Just being in those same spots brought back memories and details that were overlooked when writing about the past.
Wayne still lives in the neighborhood in which he grew up. But his favorite spots have taken on a new meaning. He and his buddies used to fish and build tree houses along a small section of Burch Creek. “I often go back to the spot where we played,” said Wayne. “I go when I have something to think over. It used to be a place where I would go to have fun with my friends, but now it’s a place to go and think.”
Tina and her family went back to Orem, Utah, to see the little house where she lived as a child. “When we moved into that little house, the yard was run-down and full of weeds. We had to clear all the weeds and the rocks before we could plant lawn. It was the nicest lawn, and everyone came to play there. When we went back, we found it had all gone to weeds again. I was so sad. I remember how hard I worked.”
Kim helped her mother get the family pictures organized. Together they went through all the pictures that had been stored in boxes. They organized them by year and put them in albums. This project gave mother and daughter a chance to share special stories about the family.
Whenever these Ogden, Utah, teenagers revisit an old school or an old neighborhood, they remember to write in their journals about the things these visits bring to mind. They know that someday these recorded memories will be a valuable aid in writing a personal history.
Colleen, Wayne, Kip, Tina, Kim, and Lisa have started on some records that will become more valuable with time. To them, family histories are interesting. And when something unusual happens to them, they catch themselves thinking, “I’ll remember this for my history.”
Family Histories: Getting Started
Gathering information for a family or personal history can provide some good times for you and your family. Besides teaching you about your heritage, preparing a family history can help you learn more about yourself and your loved ones.
Here are a few ideas on where to start:
Take pictures of your neighborhood, your family car, your favorite places to play, your elementary school, etc. Although these things seem perfectly ordinary now, in a few years they will be fun to look at and remember.
Tape record your mom or dad talking about experiences they had when they were your age.
Celebrate a grandparent’s birthday by having everyone tell something special they remember about that person. Have a tape recorder handy.
Get together with brothers and sisters and reminisce about holidays or family traditions or memories about growing up together. A tape of these conversations makes a nice gift for your parents.
Revisit a former home or neighborhood. Remember what you did in those places. Write about the experiences you remember.