Last month, my husband and I went on the first vacation we’ve had since our honeymoon four years ago. We went on road trip down to a resort in the southwestern United States and the trip was just lovely. On our way, we stopped at Museum in Utah. The public museum, now owned by the city it is in, is the home of one of my husband’s ancestors.
My husband’s ancestor was an immigrant to the United States from England in the early 1800’s. Leaving great wealth, societal status and armed with an exemplary, classic education, he left his home to be a sailor and travel the world. After many adventures in different places, whaling in the Arctic, living in Tahiti and other experiences, he found religion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”) and eventually became a pioneer and trekked to Utah.
Visiting the museum we saw wonderful photos, objects, and even saw a professional film made about his life. We were given a private, after-hours tour by a museum guide whom we found out was related to my husband. Her passion and love for this history of her family was evident. We learned about their daily lives and saw some of their clothing and furniture. It was amazing to me how much harder it was to live then and the work that the family had to put in to survive. The beautiful sewing, quilting, and weaving work done by my husband’s great great grandmother especially impressed me.
Leaving the museum, and for many days after, I have pondered my experience there. Just from my short experience in the home of our antecedent, my heart has burst with pride and belonging. Though I am not a direct relative, I am fully committed and excited to teach my children about whom they are descended from and who has gone before them. I realized that in having children with my husband one day, I would be continuing this man and woman’s great work and adding to their huge posterity and family. It fills my soul with happiness and pride to think of this. I know I am going to teach my children about the sacrifices their ancestors made, and the contributions they made to the world.
Knowing Our Family History Gives us Belonging
I am excited to teach my children about the skills their ancestors had. I now want to learn how to sew and weave so I can pass that family skill on. I am learning that family and ancestry is vital to our identity and provides great belonging and purpose in our lives.
Linda and Richard Eyre wrote about this “family belonging” and identity in a recent article in the Deseret News. They said:
The more transitory and mobile our society and our broader culture become, the less root structure we have as individuals. It used to be that families stayed in one location, and that kids stayed in one school. It used to be that communities had longevity, and long-term family friends helped each other in the raising of their children. Cousins and uncles and aunts were part of the formula, and grandparents were close by, if not in the same house.
Now we move more often, live further from our relatives and are all part of a much more fluid dynamic. Kids often don’t have clear answers for who they are or where they are from, and feelings of insecurity and even isolation can be the result.
But it shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be. Parents can create a powerful culture of belonging and of connection and of identity, and the keys to the culture are roots and rituals, family ties and traditions.
Additionally, kids can feel a strong sense of identity through knowing, quite literally and genetically, where they came from…
…In an age when we are all aware of identity theft, we need to also be aware of identity ownership and of the fact that it does not come automatically to children. They need the gift of a strong and personal identity, and parents are the ones who can give it.
Do you know why kids join gangs? It is because they so badly need (in fact, they crave) an identity larger than themselves. They join for the “uniforms,” for the colors, for the tattoos, for the secret handshakes and the symbols. They join for the belonging. They join for the rituals and the traditions.
Our children’s larger-than-self identities, of course, should come from family. The traditions that we develop and the rituals we follow within our homes are the key to that identity, and the glue that holds families together.
Knowing Our Family History Gives Us Identity
Monte J. Brough spoke of finding one’s identity through family in 1995:
Among the magnificent and abundant teachings of President Howard W. Hunter is this assertion, “The greatest search of our time is the search for personal identity and for human dignity.”
This search for personal identity is essentially a search for role models that can become instructive in the conduct of our lifestyles. With only a few exceptions, a young person cannot find adequate role models among those in athletics, entertainment, or commercial music. Not only do these public figures fail to provide positive examples, but they are often the exact inverse of the type of role models that are acceptable to most of us. Access to these contemporary icons is expensive and unproductive. We are almost always disappointed when we come to witness the shallow and murky standards by which the public heaps its praise. No wonder the public areas of so many cities and towns are crowded with young people who are possessed with these same shallow and murky standards of personal behavior.
Yet there is an abundance of role models who can be found much closer and who can have much deeper influence upon each one of us. Most of us, with relatively little effort and much less cost, can provide for our families a veritable list of important role models. This list can be created from a modest search into the lives of our ancestors.
Through my searching of my family history on both sides, I personally have felt a deep kinship to those who have gone before me. I have found similarities with family that has gone before me and this work has given me great identity and purpose. I have found that I feel the choices I make in life have greater importance now that I know more about where I came from. And that is just the point.