“Hold Fast the Heritage,” Ensign, June 1982, 30–31
After attending many family reunions, we concluded that long meetings and lunch in the park just weren’t accomplishing all we desired. We felt there must be more.
We wanted our children to know about their ancestors—how they braved the sea, the plains, the unknown; how they answered a call to leave comfortable Salt Lake City and pioneer southern Utah, not slipping in their faith and joy in the gospel, no matter what the adversities. We wanted our children to be proud to be part of the family.
So we took a bold move. First we divided our large ancestral family organization into eleven smaller ones—for the eleven children of John N. and Emma S. Hinton. The larger group still carries on important genealogical functions, and the smaller ones make activities and projects more personal.
The first year, our “grandparent family” organization had its reunion at the family home in Hurricane, Utah—not just for an afternoon, but for two days. We visited the grandparents’ birthplace in Virgin, Utah, reliving their lives by walking the dirt streets, sitting in the little school desks, walking across the square to the adobe brick chapel, seeing the pioneer homes, sitting under mulberry trees, and listening to stories about the old days. Then we had dinner on the lawn at grandpa’s house, and a business meeting in the church where they had worshipped.
This was real on-the-spot heritage. But things change. The old houses in Virgin have been torn down, grandma and grandpa are gone, the farm and house in Hurricane have been sold.
But we didn’t let it end. We just found a new location. Now we gather at a lodge in the mountains each year in June for an over-nighter—noon to noon—with no outside interruptions. We enjoy the usual sounds and activities—children’s laughter, chatter as we meet new babies and new in-laws, an afternoon hike to a nearby falls, group sports, and dinner, where family cooks shine as they bring out their best salads, cake, cookies, and rolls.
After a program of talents comes the “heritage” portion of the reunion, when Aunt Lillian talks to the children about their ancestors. Reunions usually have historical moments for the older ones, a family history or discussion of genealogical work. But young ones need heritage just for them, on their own level. They need to know that their ancestors were people, that they were boys and girls once.
Aunt Lillian has used various ways to do this. She has made large flannel-board figures and told the story of our pioneer ancestors crossing the plains. When she decided the children needed something to take home to remind them of their ancestors during the year, she made a coloring book entitled “When Grandma Isabel Was a Girl.” Each child received his own to color and read. Aunt Lillian had the children open their books and read the story with her, following the simple words if they could read or the pictures if they couldn’t. Each page contained a large picture of an incident in Isabel’s life, beginning with her birth.
Next year came “When Grandpa Bernard Was a Boy,” another coloring book, followed by a picture book about the pioneer Hintons. That year Aunt Lillian didn’t read the story. A delightful puppet (an imaginary cousin, Melissa) read the storybook to the children and gave them each a copy.
Next year, a “Hinton Memory Game” turned family history into a fun activity. Small cards containing pictures of ancestors, covered wagons, a sailing ship, or other historical symbols, were spread out face down on the floor and turned over, two per turn. If they matched, the child earned a point; if not, the cards were turned over and another player had a turn. Older players also had to identify the pictures and tell a bit of the Hinton history represented.
One year Cousin Myrna’s family was so enthusiastic about the children’s part of the reunion that they spent time in family home evenings making salt-dough puppets and dressing them in authentic styles to tell the story of the Hintons’ trip across the ocean from England.
Another year interesting incidents from ancestors’ lives were written as short skits, such as when the Indians came demanding bread, when great-grandfather was a cowboy, when great-grandmother was stolen by Gypsies, and when little Isabel and Annie grew silkworms. The skits were sent early before the reunion to families with young children; then at the reunion they performed these bits of family history, complete with costumes and scenery they each made themselves.
Another evening Aunt Lillian called the children from the audience, gave them props, and had them spontaneously act out stories as she read them.
After the program the little ones have a movie and treats, and the others meet in a business meeting. Genealogists report on research, copies of histories and old pictures that have been discovered are shared, a financial report is given, contributions are collected, minutes are read, and elections are held.
Last year a new event was added during the activities of the next morning: a quiet time for the Hinton Seven, the first-generation brothers and sisters. Since reunions are so much fun and there is so much going on, the older ones decided a short period alone would give them a chance to reminisce and share things from their lives. Each was asked to bring a picture, object, or memory to share that perhaps had been lost to the knowledge of the others. What resulted was beyond all expectations: one made a recipe book of Grandma Isabel’s pioneer recipes, another brought the old branding iron, several brought beautiful pieces of handwork, and one brought the old cast-iron kettle used outdoors over a bonfire to can fruit. One son spliced rolls of movie film together, showing many funny, sad, and happy stories, long forgotten.
When the shouting of the morning’s activities dies down and families start collecting belongings and children, there are many hugs and kisses and many teary goodbyes—the most touching of which are between young cousins who, without a reunion, would not know each other very well.
We’re not content with “just-visiting reunions.” Ours take a lot of work, but they’re worth it. For us, having a reunion is not something we feel obligated to attend or look for an excuse to avoid—it is an event we look forward to. If it is well-planned and if everyone’s needs are considered, it becomes the place to be for very young as well as very old.