The common ancestor history focuses on basic facts—names, dates, and places. “Leslie Price Thacker was born the 9th of September 1898 in Charleston, Utah to Frederick Albert Thacker and Sarah Jane Price Thacker.” Such histories may track the arrival of new family members and the passing of others. It describes moves and jobs. But typical history does not tell us the most important things about a person.
Consider the power of a story. Rather than focusing on bare facts, stories tell us what is important to people and how they made life-defining decisions. Let me share an example of a story about Les Thacker who was introduced above and is my wife’s grandfather.
Les Conquers the Trash
Years ago, people had metal trash cans that had to be carried out to the street for garbage collection. Carrying the loaded cans was difficult for most people and impossible for some. Les observed the problem in his own neighborhood; many widows had a terrible time pulling loaded cans to the street.
Les approached the widows in his neighborhood and others who attended the Golden Age Center. He asked them if they would like a wheeled cart to help them pull their garbage cans to the street. He would measure them up to get the height of the handle just right. And he would quiz them to see how trashy they were—one can or two can.
Then he haunted the junk piles and county dump to find discarded lawnmowers, shopping carts with good wheels, sections of pipe, and pieces of cast-off lumber. He gathered the materials and went to work in his shop building carts.
In his characteristic way of extraordinary workmanship, he designed the carts to roll and steer easily, to be stable, and to drain off any water. When we drove around town on garbage day, we saw house after house with Les’ carts. Though he was 90 years old, Les continued to find ways to use his talents to make life better for people around him.
After reading the above story, you know important things about Leslie Price Thacker. He was resourceful, a good craftsman, and very invested in serving. Maybe you will start to admire and love him the way we do. That’s the power of stories.
We have written about seventy short stories about Les and our other ancestors. Every Christmas we provide copies of new stories to our children and their families. They read the stories as they travel in the car. The children use the stories in church talks and school reports. We also upload the stories to FamilySearch so other relatives can enjoy the stories. Our objective in writing and sharing the stories is to bind our hearts to our ancestors.
Our experience tells us that a good family story is less than a page long, tells important things about the person, and includes a picture of the person.
Bruce Feiler offers this wise counsel about stories: “If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come” (“The Stories That Bind Us”, The New York Times, March 15, 2013).
I have been invited to talk about stories, displays, and activities we use to connect our children and grandchildren to their beloved ancestors at the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City in 2024. I would love to have you come to the session! You can register for the conference at https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/