Genealogy: Creating Stronger Families
My great-grandmother lived to be ninety-six years old. She had been through so much: outlived two husbands, two sons, and a host of friends and acquaintances. She was also a multitasker before the term was overused and underperformed. She was a farmer’s wife and a teacher with four sons to feed, clothe, and guide. She was a truly strong woman and she had so many stories.
We Are Often Too Busy to Sit and Listen
As is the way with these things, even though she lived to be almost a century old, Grandma died before we could hear and record all of her stories. I’m sure that each one of us in our large family remembers some things that she said, but none of us can know it all. Family histories fragment a little bit every time someone passes away, taking with them small details about the past that they didn’t think were important enough to write down and pass along.
Someone Cared Enough to Search
Luckily, someone in our family decided to try and pull our family’s history together. My mom spent years working on the genealogy of our family. She pored over microfiche articles at the library, talked to all of the oldest members of the family who were still alive, gathered stories, and made copies of old photographs. She painstakingly wrote dates and names on the backs of black and white photos that she copied 8 at a time. She traveled to county courthouses and cemeteries around the state, making copies of birth and death certificates and creating tombstone etchings.
Finally, one Christmas Day, she presented her parents and each of her five siblings with a giant binder. The binders each contained our family tree, complete with all of the photos, certificates, newspaper clippings, and stories that she had gathered over the previous ten years. She told us that she had done the project with love and she truly had.
More than Paper
My mom presented our family with more than a collection of notes and pictures that day. She gave us our history.
The story of where a family started, how it developed and changed and grew: this is the type of knowledge that helps people plan how they want to live. With an understanding of the traits and ethics of my persistent, hard-working farming family, I make life decisions designed to carry those attributes on. I can say, “The Smith family is…” and fill in the adjectives with words that I am proud of.
Shared history, a common background, similar facial features that return in new generations: this is the glue that can create a stronger family.
Families who forget their past, the people who came before them and lived entire lives that aren’t remembered, are weaker because of that forgetting.
Genealogy work today is quite a bit easier than it was when my mom put all of those miles on her car, traveling to cemeteries and courthouses. Finding information online is a much faster way if you have somewhere to start.
Find the oldest members of your family, visit with them, ask them to tell their stories, then write them down. Be interested in names, dates, and anything else that they remember. You can use those tidbits as a starting place to find a wealth of information online. You can share what you find with your family and build stronger bonds through the common history. Because once the people who know the stories are gone, the memories are gone too.
Unless someone like my mom cares enough to pull those memories out of history, dust them off, shine them up, and use them to create a stronger family.
Great article! A reminder of how important it is to connect with our elders and keep our family ties.
Thank you Alison!