Toy Stories with Story Starter

I’ve got yet another Story Starter idea for you. This one is less about you accessing archived memories of your own and more about you helping others—especially the younger generation to access and be conversant with family history stories. Family history stories are powerful. They will endow children and teens with an incredible sense of belonging, a spirit of resilience and an understanding and appreciation for the past all of which will fortify them for the work they need to do in this world moving forward. Good stuff right here!

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Some background for my project: My Grandma Addie had a unique pantry off her kitchen. On one side of this long skinny room, sat the washer and dryer, which were relatively new additions, while the opposite side was completely taken up by a built-in wood cabinet, painted in that 1930s signature green. There were big heavy bins that you could pull down and chunky, sticky drawers to tug open and at least a dozen shelves. The odor inside Grandma’s pantry was a mix of musty and clean if that’s possible. Of course Grandma kept all sorts of interesting things in her pantry. There were Christmas decorations, tins of nuts and bolts, marbles and mixed nuts—lots of brown paper sacks, neatly folded pieces of aluminum foil and a bucket of broken, stubby crayons, but the thing we kids liked the most were the jars of miscellaneous toys. As I remember it, there was one jar full of little, green army men, another for the collection of random die-cast matchbox cars and a third jar for all the leftovers. In this one, you might find a super ball, rubber dinosaurs, wooden alphabet blocks, Fisher Price play people, a small squirt gun or an action figure. It didn’t matter what was inside, we used our imaginations and played for hours. Nothing was new or fancy and each item added it’s story to our endless games.

Of all my family history projects, this one might be my most favorite, because for me, this feels like Grandma’s jar of mismatched trinkets. I often contemplate how I can bring family stories to life, how can I make memorable and meaningful these amazing people and their stories to my people, now in all ages and stages and how I can invite conversation and playful exploration. Well, this jar, that I now call Mama’s Jar of Toy Stories does it all and I can keep adding to it over time, an  idea that I relish! Like my  Grandmother’s jar, each mismatched item has a story, but a story I have deliberately assigned to it and recorded in a small book that also fits inside. Each toy represents a person or specific memory from either my life or the lives of other family members. The baby doll, is for Mary Jane Doney, who was born in Spring Camp, Nebraska, July 1856. She was the very first child born to any handcart pioneer. The tractor is for the experience my Dad had when he was only 8 years-old. His Grandpa Hall, put him on his tractor with him to cultivate a field of corn. After moving up and down a few rows, Grandpa climbed down, instructing my Dad finish the field. He did! He drove the tractor all by himself and finished the cornfield in time for lunch. That would never happen today! The mini violin is in my jar, as an invitation to learn more about Grandpa Russell Julian, a music teacher, who was once invited to perform in Carnegie Hall. My toy jar sits in the reading corner of the living room where it can easily be pulled down, opened up and explored. True stories and a little playful imagination—now I just need some grandchildren ❤️

 This shows the mix of sizes and the scale of the book! Click or tap on images below to see more!

This shows the mix of sizes and the scale of the book! Click or tap on images below to see more!

Just to clarify, these are not toys from my grandma or other people. As I become acquainted with interesting stories on my family tree, that I know I would LOVE to share with my kids or with future grandchildren, I try and pick out some little detail in the story that could be represented by a TOY. I then hop on Amazon and make a purchase. For example, I was organizing papers and newspaper clippings etc. in a box given to me by my father-in-law and I came across the newspaper article from Mitchell, IN all about Geoff’s grandparents performing at Carnegie Hall. I thought, “this is so cool!” I need my kids to know, so I searched mini violins on Amazon and came up with this one. If you can read the story in the photo above. The thing I enjoy most about this project is how inviting and colorful it is. So many people ask me about this big jar of toys in my living room. And, it is a mixed collection of a stories across time. Just little introductions really into the lives of so many people in different generations. It just makes me really HAPPY.

Note: I originally created this project for a presentation at RootsTech, I’ve since swapped out the small book that I originally chose to hold this collection of family history stories. I am now using a Story Starter album—which is more flexible, especially if I want to extend the stories using 4x4 Flip Flaps. You can learn more here!

If you use this an inspiration for a family history project of your own, be sure to let me know. I so love hearing back from readers!