Old Dead Folks

I’ve failed – I’m afraid in large part – those folks who went before me, to impart to my children the incredible rich heritage with which they have been blessed.

(My Great-Uncle Grant, Great-Aunt Hazel, and Great-Aunt Barbara.)

Yep – they may be old dead folks, but they’re MY old dead folks. The folks who went before. The ones who gave life, limb, property, comfort, oftentimes liberty – in exchange for the freedom of their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren… right on down to me.

When I was growing up I had the handicap
nuisance incredible privilege – yeah, that’s really what it is – an incredible privilege – to have had a Mom and Grammy both who loved history and in particular, OUR family history.

I have memories (yes, my eyeballs ARE rolling up into my head as I type) of summer days spent languishing patiently waiting in the shade, in the grass in front of some public library, county courthouse, cemetery – or some other repository of info about old dead folks – while my Mom and Grammy dug through some – to them, anyway – treasure trove therein.

Okay – I admit it. I didn’t get it then.

I was bored.

I thought it was stupid.

(My Dad and Aunt. Mississippi early 1940’s.)

I kept wondering why the heck we were there, instead of, oh, say, DISNEYLAND! (And in their defense, we spent a LOT of time at Disneyland – it’s just I thought we should have been spending ALL of our free time at Disneyland! J)

You know what in some ways was worse? When we all connected up with some cousin so-and-so, and they’d get together and Grammy would start the conversation with, “Now, I remember Papa saying that your Mom would oftentimes…” and then I’d tune out. I mean, HELLO! My Grammy was born in 1912 – she was ancient! (Keeping in mind this was 1960-something – LOL!) My childlike reasoning was that if she was talking about her Papa, who was born BEFORE the 1900s, then there was certainly nothing worthwhile for me to be listening to… and so I’d check out.

I was so stupid.

For us – it wasn’t a religious affiliation that drove that pursuit of our family history – it was just the wonder of it all. The wonder of learning more than the name and date associated with an ancestor – who might have done something as remarkable as have fought in the American Revolution, or been taken captive by Native Americans as a child – not to have been returned for years, or to have been the guy who got weighed on the town livery scales cause that was the only place that could handle his weight – and got written up in the local newspaper every year when he weighed!

(My Dad, Aunt, Great-Aunt, and various other cousins.)

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that the light bulb went on. I’d moved home to take care of my Dad, who was terminally ill. My Mom, who was still a bit in denial about the severity of Dad’s illness, was a little hacked off that I was there – and not gainfully employed elsewhere. Dad tried to explain it to her – and she grudgingly admitted she really wasn’t able to do it ALL and did the need the help. I made it my mission to do whatever I could to make Dad comfortable, working with hospice, taking him to the ER in the middle of the night, or just sitting and spending time with him. (Gosh, what a treasure those memories of time with him are!)

Anyway – Mom decided at some point shortly after I moved home to take care of Dad that I needed to help her out with a project. I was happy to do that – honestly! But I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for what she was about to spring on me.

One day she came home with big boxes in the car (this was 1992), and asked me to help her unload. When we got everything into the house I asked, “What is this?” She smiled, said, “It’s a computer. A PC. I want you to put all of Grandma’s and my genealogy research into it.”

I looked at her blankly.


(My paternal Grandparents with my Dad and Aunt.)

Yes, I’d worked for a law firm in their IS department, managing a dedicated server and specific programs. But I’d honestly never worked with a PC. Wang, yes! PC? No! I didn’t know how to take it out of the box, much less put it all together, much less turn it on and make it work.

She had a plan, though. She had me signed up for classes.


Then she showed me the “research.” Two very large filing cabinets stuffed to the gills with Grammy’s 50 years worth of genealogy research, and then Mom’s boxes representing her 25 years worth of genealogy research.


I had immediate flash backs to when I was a kid – dying of boredom while they did genealogy research. I glanced at the filing cabinets and boxes. I made a quick mental calculation… I would be done with this about the time Jesus came back for His church! Yes, He could come back any day – but He’d been quoted as saying that a day was like a thousand years! Help me, Lord Jesus! Help me!

So I took the class.

I made a lucky guess on choosing a genealogy software program – way back before I had half a clue about what software even was, or what one should look for in a genealogy program.

And one day I dug in.

She tricked me, my Mom.

I think she secretly knew that my love for history would win out eventually… I think she also knew my determined to hate it attitude would eventually fade, and I’d take half a second to consider the wealth literally at my fingertips, and get sucked in.

Oh did I get sucked in.

(My Aunt telling a calf what for!)

Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, my Dad sealed the deal.

One day, he asked me to sit down, and very solemnly asked me if I’d please consider doing him a favor. He’d heard of the successes I’d had connecting with some cousins via this new fangled thing called the Internet and bulletin boards. (I found a husband there, too!) And he asked me if I would please research his side of the family. You see, he ran away from home when he was just a whipper snapper of 8 years of age – only going home long enough to hitch a ride to California as a teenager – so he missed tons of oral history, connections, and the like.

He phrased it somewhat along the lines that this was a dying wish. He wanted to know more about his roots. He wanted to maybe connect with some of his cousins – most of whom whose names he didn’t even know, nor how to contact them.

How could I say no?

So of course, I didn’t.

So that was pretty much the beginning. At first I spent nearly all of my free time researching, adding to the family file on the computer, scanning documents, sourcing stuff, verifying information, and marveling at the wonder of the fact that *I* was related to these amazing people who trekked across oceans for freedom, took part in wagon trains to procure land and a future for their children, and took a stand for things like equality.

(Erby Kay Anderson, my great-great grandmother.)

So – for the girl who could teach the class on genealogy research – how did I fail so miserably at teaching my own children about their roots?

I’m still pondering that.

Yes, I know life is busy.

And they grow up so fast! When they’re little, well, they’re too little to understand. (Well, maybe.) And when they’re older, it seems that life distracts you from saying stuff like, “Did you know that your great-great-great grandfather kept a journal and I’ve got it in that safe over there? Wanna look at it?”

How do I find myself at that juncture of life when my eldest is leaving for college in a year – and I had to spell out for her that she’s eligible to join the DAR (and what it is – Daughters of the American Revolution, for those of you unfamiliar) and may be able to get scholarships because of it! And not just eligible once – but like through 5 or 6 different ancestors!

(Grammy and Grandpa, Mom & Uncle – Victory Gardening circa 1943.)

So, I’m making a bit of a – mid-year resolution?! Yeah, I guess that’s what you’d call it.

I want to do better.

I want my kids to know.

I want them to value the treasure of their family history.

I want them to do a better job of telling their kids about their old dead kin, and why their connection to them matters.

So I’m going to start telling them stuff.

I’ll start with the juicy stuff…. You know, like the newlywed bride who killed her groom shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War because he was a Yankee, she was a Rebel, and he was fixing to join up and fight. A good scandal should intrigue teenagers, right?

Or maybe I’ll start with visual aids! I’ll bring out the Certificate of Thanks signed by Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton that their ancestor Thomas Alcock was given for his service in the 148th Ohio Infantry. That one is really cool.

Whatever the case, I’m going to need accountability. So I’m going to be reporting back here as I make progress. You’ll be stuck learning more about our family history, too! J

Here’s hoping my failure to incorporate this for my kids at an earlier age can be made up somewhat!


9 thoughts on “Old Dead Folks

    • I was just telling John that we have GOT to find all of the McBride family history, get it entered, get the photos and documents scanned, and get copies of everything to all of you girls!


      I’m making this a priority.

      Of course, this whole thing would be so much easier if we did buy that place in Tennesse, lived communally, and had time to sit around and talk family history ALL the time, huh? Let’s work on our husbands toward that end, okay?


      Love you, too!

  1. Wow! How fortunate you are to have all of this information. Even though you were “tricked” into getting it all together. I think sometimes we are so busy with our lives, these days, that we lose that sense of “wonder” that you mentioned. It is such a great motivator.

  2. How cool!! My grandmother just passed away at age 98. My other grandmother has severe Alzheimers and cannot recall anything. We were interested in our family history as kids but this post prompts me to email my mother to find out what was left of those papers and photos that belonged to my grandmother.

    • Green Bean,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. My Grammy passed away just before she turned 94. What a wonderful full life she lived – but OH, how I miss her!

      I thought I had decades left to learn more – but my Mom passed away (at a relatively young age) a couple of years ago. Why didn’t I take better notes?!

      I’m excited for the good connecting that will take place because of your willingness to learn more.



  3. Linked to you via PDX chicken group list — what a fantastic blog…

    Don’t give up on your kiddies not knowing their family history…
    They mature an awful lot during college & come to appreciate grownups more…
    Family stories are perfect for long sessions in the dorms when no one wants to study any more…
    I used to remark about any traits or skills that my children displayed — “your grandpa always had a backyard tomato patch every summer, that is probably why you have a green thumb…
    “Did you know that _____ “(about your family members actually were around for that historical event)
    The final impetus is when they become parents for the first time —
    “Gee, I sound just like my Mom or Grandma…”
    Best wishes,
    Via the Internet, I found some living French 6th cousins. Our ancestors were siblings ~ 1750s! We enjoy comparing & contrasting our lives via email.

    • Kay,

      So glad you found me over here! I love that PDX chicken group! Where would I be without it?!

      And thank for the encouragement… I keep thinking I’ve got to incorporate stuff like this into every day – well, every day! 🙂

      Isn’t the internet amazing? I found second cousins of my Dads shortly before he passed away – they were so thrilled to connect, and really knew next to nothing of one another. How cool is that?!

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