As I read Amy Johnson Crow’s Are Your Ancestors the Average of 5 Records?, I thought about my own recent discoveries on John Bridges, and a book about Rebecca Gilbert’s family, which is a topic for a future post. The first time I read the book, I wished I had a book for each of my ancestors, something to give me an idea of who they were and how they lived. With John Bridges, finding out there was more to the man than the family legend suggested was an eye-opener. To borrow from David Walton, learning about our ancestors is more than names and dates. (Ok, so this is a bit of a plug too, since I’m one of the reenactors, but it’s relevant nonetheless).
My grandpa loved to tell stories and he had a million of them. I wish, now, that I had recorded or written down more of them. As we were going through some of the things in his bedroom, my uncle found a few stories that my grandpa had written down. I never knew that he had and it was a treasure to see them. I’m a journaler by nature. I keep a journal of everyday events. I may write every day for a week and then I may not write again for a month. It doesn’t really matter how often it’s done, just that it is done. While my journal might not mean anything to anyone now, one hundred years from now, it may be a treasure to a descendant. It may provide clues to family relationships that couldn’t have been found otherwise. Part of the reason I started this blog was to put family history in a place where it can be easily accessed and not lost. I encourage the patrons, where I work, to write down their stories too and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.
Stories are important. They give our ancestors character, a voice. They make them relatable and significant. They make them real to us in a way that just the dry facts cannot do. I’ve made it one of my goals to research and write a story for each of my direct line ancestors (at least). It will only be a snapshot of their lives, but it will be more than I had before and it will give me a sense of who they were. If finding out who our ancestors were as people isn’t one of the primary goals of every genealogist, it should be.
Don’t forget the stories that involve objects that might still be around. There is a hand painted china plate that was a wedding gift to my maternal grandparents from a friend of my grandfather. My mother, treasured that plate and decided to see to it that there was a more secure way of displaying it and had it custom framed. I have it now but sadly none of the cousins or their children or grandchildren are remotely interested in it or the story of it. I had not considered the possiblity that no one in the family would want it, or would care about where it came from or what it meant to my grandmother and mother. It is also important to get other family members interested enough to care about hearing or reading the stories or wanting the heirlooms.
Excellent point! As we go through my grandparents’ things, we are finding out that several objects’ origin stories are unknown to us. I highly recommend writing a note about the object’s origin and attaching it somehow. In the case of your china, attach it to the back of the frame. Another option is to keep a ledger of objects with their information. As for interest, it’s hard sometimes to get people interested, especially the young ones. I find the objects I love best and have an attachment to are the ones for which I have an associated memory.