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!