by Sydny Terry
The Higgs family crowds around the biggest window in the living room, the smell of barbeque wafting through the air. There are about 36 papers taped to the window in six different categories, and underneath each category are numbers: 100, 200, 300, and so on, much like a board from the classic game show Jeopardy.
The kids are eager for a chance to win this year’s competition. The grand prize changes every year, but the promise of bragging rights remains an enticing constant.
The day’s activities start with the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” accompanied by granddaughter Grace’s guitar. When the song ends, Stephen Higgs stands up in front of the group and says, “Are you all ready for ‘Pioneer Jeopardy’?”
The crowd cheers.
Stephen reminds everyone of the rules as his wife, Melissa, splits up the teams, and then the competition begins! Each team gets the chance to answer questions based on key facts from their ancestor’s lives (like “Who was your pioneer ancestor who survived the tragic incidents of the Martin Handcart Company?”) and the two teams compete for points.
The Higgs family has been getting together to celebrate the 24th of July, Pioneer Day, for over ten years. When they first started the tradition, they would celebrate by sharing different stories about their pioneer ancestors, but after noticing that not everyone in the family was getting involved, Stephen and Melissa decided to start some new family traditions to engage the entire family.
“We were just trying to figure out how to involve as many in the family as we could,” Stephen said. “So, we thought maybe a game might be the best way to do that.” After much creative thought, Pioneer Jeopardy was born.
They started creating questions for the game by speaking to their own family members to gather whatever history had already been complied. They also searched for stories and information through FamilySearch, the BYU library, and the Church History Library. You can also try looking in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.
This research helped Stephen and Melissa to make special discoveries about their ancestors. Many of these stories have even become a source of personal strength and inspiration for the two. “One of Stephen’s relatives brought a paisley scarf with her across the plains in the Martin Handcart Company,” Melissa said. “[She] brought this precious scarf with her and it survived all these years. . . . It’s just so fun to have a tangible piece of history of somebody who loved the Lord that much. I can’t even imagine how hard that would have been for them. When I read stories about them I think, ‘Okay, if they can do it, I can do it.’”
They also discovered a connection through Stephen’s occupation as a fire chief. Two of his ancestors, Thomas and James Higgs, built an early firefighting apparatus within Salt Lake City, the same city Stephen works for today. This information inspired a closeness with his ancestors.
“My husband didn’t even know that until he was working for the Salt Lake City fire department and he was the chief,” Melissa said. “The department became 100 years old and he was reading in a book that had been complied about the history of the fire department. And there were his relatives! That got us yearning to know more and more about Thomas Higgs. It was a connection, a huge connection, with a relative that had the same abilities, and the same interest.”
Finding these connections with his ancestors has inspired Stephen to pass their stories on to his descendents. “Nothing was ever shared with me about relatives, especially about pioneer relatives and what they did. A lot of it is because I don’t think my parents knew it either,” Stephen said. “So, as we’ve done a lot of research. Our goal has been to share the stories on an ongoing basis so there’s that intergenerational connection with our ancestors, to us and to our children and to our grandchildren.”
Melissa seconds her husband’s sentiments, and adds, “When children know their legacy or their family history, I think it builds a lot of confidence and gives them an identity of who they are. And I’ve seen that in my own grandkids.”
As Stephen, Melissa, and their family have gathered to learn more about their ancestors and spend time together, they have grown closer and developed a greater appreciation for the family that came before them. By involving every family member, no matter their age, they have come to learn, as President Eyring testified, that “the work of gathering Heavenly Father’s family is not just for young people, and it is not just for grandparents. It is for everyone. We are all gatherers.”
Powered by WPeMatico