It’s easy to show off our kids and grandkids. We fill our wallets with school pictures and hang homework on the fridge. It’s not as easy to brag about an ancestor—I’ve never seen a bumper sticker saying, “My grandma was an honor student.”
To inspire you, I’ve come up with five ways to express your ancestral pride without having to resort to a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirt (though that works in a pinch).
Show of faith
My stepmother-in-law, Jeanne Morton, enjoys sharing her faith with her grandchildren. She’s Catholic, and the grandkids aren’t, so sometimes she has to explain her traditions.
One Christmas, Jeanne gave my daughter Seneca a rosary that had belonged to Seneca’s Great-grandma Morton. Jeanne knew Seneca wouldn’t understand its significance, so she created a memorabilia display to explain it. Jeanne framed a photo of Great-grandma Morton at her first Communion alongside a photo of Jeanne’s own first Communion 40 years later, draping the rosary over the older photo and securing it to the mat with tiny stitches.
Along with a gift came a letter. “In the Catholic Church, a child receives Communion for the first time at 8 years old,” she wrote. “Girls dress in white dresses and veils, and it is a very significant step in our faith.” She explained the rosary and added, “We know you won’t use it for prayer, but we hope you will think of your grandparents when you see it and remember how important it was to us.”
What tale can you tell with simple memorabilia and a letter—a story of love, courage, hardship, honor or perseverance?
A stitch in time
When my mother was a child, her family loved to go to the Pueblo, Colo., zoo and ride the miniature railroad train around the park.
One year, my aunt Debora Felix, an award-winning quilter, created a heritage quilt honoring these memories. She quilted blocks that represented textures and colors of the zoo, and surrounded them with a railroad-print track. Fabric photos, animal buttons and train cars filled out the theme, and she stitched a title across it: “City Park Railroad, Pueblo, Colorado.”
You can make your own memorabilia quilt with scanned photos, sewn-on vintage buttons and even keepsake fabrics such as ties or old college T-shirts. Check out Memorabilia Quilts: Fabulous Projects with Keepsakes & Collectibles by Rita Weiss and Linda Causee (Sterling Publishing) for more ideas.
My great-grandpa McClellan kept lots of random objects in his top desk drawer, a habit he passed down to many of his descendants (including me). But I never would’ve known this if my grandmother hadn’t created a display of these objects.
Laid out on a simple black background in a store-bought frame, the collection gives a unique insight into my great-grandfather’s life. There are patriotic and political buttons, jewelry, a Boy Scout pin, even a pair of nail clippers.
My dad loves the display, which hangs near his own desk. He remembers playing with many of those odds and ends, and thinks of his grandpa every time he looks at it.
Shaking the tree
A family tree display is a tried-and-true way to share your heritage. The names, dates and places tell a fast-paced story about naming traditions, migration patterns and the unique stride of your generations across the years.
These days you can display your family tree in countless ways: an engraved wooden wall plaque, a quilt or even a 10-foot printout from your favorite genealogy software. Recently, I gave my stepmother-in-law a framed couple’s tree. Also called a wedding tree, this chart places the names of the bride and groom in the center. Generations of ancestors fan out on either side, and a title across the bottom of the chart further personalizes this celebration of their marriage.
I want my kids to love their family’s history. That’s why I like this next idea: a set of eight wooden blocks that stack into a family photo cube.
The concept is simple: a 3-D puzzle that, when completed, shows a different photo on each side, with a total of 12 images to assemble.
When a friend showed me this idea, I immediately made two sets for my young children. The first set just shows off favorite pictures of my kids. The second documents a family trip to a living history village in Nauvoo, Ill., where some of my ancestors lived.
Every young visitor to my home reaches for these sturdy toys, which are kept on a low shelf to attract their attention. Not many heritage displays are that kid-friendly.
To make the heritage blocks, you’ll need eight 2-inch wooden cubes (10 for $8
), 12 4×4 photos, a photo trimmer or scissors, Mod Podge (8 oz. for $3.99
), and a 2-inch foam brush.
1. Stack the blocks four-on-four to make a cube.
2. Cut a photo into 2-inch squares.
3. Apply Mod Podge with a foam brush to all four sections of one side of the cube.
4. Adhere the photo squares, one to each cube section. Seal with a thin layer of Mod Podge brushed over the top of each photo.
5. Wait until the surface dries, then repeat steps 2 through 4 on all exterior sides of the cube with remaining photos.
6. Wait for the surfaces to dry, then turn the blocks and repeat the process for the interior faces of the cube.
From the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine