“Ancestor Puppet-tree,” Ensign, July 1985, 69
In our introductory genealogy class, we found a fun way for families and wards to become more involved in the personal histories of their ancestors. We started out by making a big family tree, about six feet high and seven feet wide, of thick plywood. The tree can be disassembled and carried in a station wagon. Then we made puppets to represent four generations of our ancestors. The puppets are made from oatmeal boxes, fiber cans, fake fur, and scrap fabric to resemble as closely as possible the ancestor’s physical description or to represent his profession. For example, one of the men represented on our tree was a baker, so we gave our puppet a baker’s cap. Another ancestor had been called “Inkom Pompie,” or “red hair,” by the Indians, so we gave one of our puppets a crop of bright red hair.
We use the tree and the puppets in presentations to our families and to the ward to encourage genealogy work. We begin by positioning someone behind the tree to operate the puppets’ mouths as each puppet tells the story of his life. Sometimes the puppeteer acts as narrator; other times we use a tape recording of the stories. The narration includes various events—fun anecdotes, daily living, trials, achievements, adventure. For example, one of our ancestors tells us that he is credited in at least two history books for starting the gold rush to California. Another talks of wearing clothes made from old flour sacks. Still another talks of escaping from mobs in Missouri.
On our tree, we have one empty space with no puppet. This represents a great-grandmother whose name we haven’t yet found. The presentation ends with her plea to us to keep searching for her.
This project has brought us closer to our ancestors and generated an increased interest in genealogy work. Lately, it has also been used as a missionary tool as we show our presentation to various groups around the state. Dale Hardman, Kensington, Maryland