“Heritage Home Evenings,” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 71–72
I began to teach my children about their ancestors as soon as they were old enough to listen to a story. Not long afterward, I helped them start keeping records of their own experiences. One of the best places I have found to share my love of personal and family history with them is in family home evening. We have devoted a number of evenings to this topic—and the children have enjoyed the activities so much that they request them over and over.
Here are some of our favorites:
Heritage Chest. As a family, we go through our heritage chest—a container filled with ancestral paraphernalia, such as my grandfather’s World War I doughboy helmet and a catcher’s mitt my father used when he was young. I take out one item at a time, talk about its historical significance, and tell how I came to own it.
Birth Stories. One night, I pulled out my journal and read the stories of each of my children’s births to an enthusiastic audience. But to add suspense, I left out the child’s name and gender and had the family guess whom I was describing. This is an excellent way to help children learn more about themselves and their siblings.
Dad’s Journal. When I see one of my children go through an experience that teaches him or her something, or when one of them does something that impresses me, I write about it in my journal so the child can add it to his or her history later. Every so often for home evening, I honor each child by reading several entries about him or her to the entire family. I can’t wipe the smiles off their faces or the happiness out of their hearts as I single out each one for this special honor.
Field Trips. Our history home evenings aren’t necessarily tied to home. A fun way we’re forging family bonds—both present and past—is by traveling to locations important to our family history. For example, my great-great-grandfather John Boylston Fairbanks came to Utah in October 1847. He settled in Payson and built a home, which was moved to Pioneer Trails State Park in Salt Lake City in 1981. The Church sent John’s son, my great-grandfather John B. Fairbanks, to France to study art; he became a well-known Impressionist painter. Recently, the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City showed some of his work. So my wife and I took our children to the museum to see the show, then to Pioneer Trails State Park to go through the family home and have a picnic. The children asked a lot of questions about their ancestors at both places.
Update Night. Once in a while we use home evening to bring our histories and other records up-to-date. We have several boxes in which we store loose photographs, awards, and documents. So we decide if we want to do journals, scrapbooks, or personal histories; then we pull out the appropriate box and work together.
Family Videos. Every six months or so we add a chapter to our family history videotape. We have fun recording the children’s growth—not only physically, but also in abilities. They sing, act, recite talks they’ve given, and play musical instruments. It builds their confidence to be able to show off a bit.
Artwork History. My children love to color, so I created a Fairbanks history coloring book. I drew our family coat of arms; our two family homesteads—one in Payson, Utah, and one in Dedham, Massachusetts; the ship that brought the first Fairbanks family members to America in 1633; and the Nauvoo Temple, where my great-great-grandparents were married. Each picture is large, with limited detail, and has a paragraph below it that explains what the picture represents. My children color the pictures, and we discuss the stories behind each one. Then they hang the pictures in their bedrooms to remind them of our heritage.
Besides the learning that takes place in our family history home evenings, we have fun and draw closer as a family. These evenings have become an important family tradition—and the only limit is our imagination.—Martin Fairbanks, Salt Lake City, Utah