For many years, I’ve enjoyed researching my family’s genealogy – starting with going to our state’s Cultural Center with my mom where we’d look through old books and scan microfilm for birth, marriage, and death certificates. Later, we’d search through the microfilm copies of old newspapers to find mentions of our family.
After I married Jon, I started researching his family tree as well. By that time, online sites like Ancestry.com and Roots Web made researching even easier. My genealogy records keep stretching further back as we find more documents and further forward as new family members are born.
I have 552 names listed in my family tree going back as far as 18 generations to the year 1430. For quite a while, my family “trumped” Jon’s because one of my ancestors was born in a castle (undoubtedly to a servant…).
The scales tipped, though, when we discovered that Jon is descended from Sir Richard Haddock, who was knighted by King Charles II, was Commissioner of the British Royal Navy, and served in the House of Commons during the late seventeenth century. Sir Richard even has his own Wikipedia page. (Sigh. My ‘tween stairs maid just can’t compare to that.)
I’ve read the names on our family tree so many times that they’ve become a part of me. We’ve printed the entire tree before and hung it up on the wall so that we could get more of a visual understanding of who lived during what time. Yet it occurred to me last night that I don’t know if my 2nd great grandfather (my mama‘s grandfather) was known as Charles, Charlie, or Chuck.
Since my mama passed away in 2007, I have no one to ask what name Charles was called. I’ll just never know.
That led me to think about a story my mama, Barbara, told about when she was a little girl:
Barbara was born in 1925, and her family was always poor. The children didn’t get new things like clothes or toys. Like many families at that time, they made do with they had and made things last a long time.
When she was about ten years old, Barbara got a new dress for the first time in her life. I don’t know if someone gave it to her or if her parents had saved the money to buy it. As you can imagine, though, she was very excited about this beautiful new dress that was her very own!
Because there wasn’t much privacy inside the house, she went into the outhouse to change into her new dress. As she moved around inside the cramped building, though, a terrible thing happened. Her new dress slipped out of her hand and fell down the deep hole. She could still see it but couldn’t possibly reach it and, needless to say, it was thoroughly ruined even if she could have reached it.
Mama told me the story when she was around 82 years old. All she would say is that when she got a new dress, she dropped it in the outhouse and that she didn’t get another new dress after that.
She didn’t talk about how it made her feel, but her few words speak volumes.
As I thought about that story last night, I realized that there are hundreds, thousands of other “slice of life stories” about every single one of my ancestors – about all 552 people listed on my family tree. There is much, much more to them than their names and a list of dates.
There are stories we tell in my family, stories I was told growing up and stories that I tell to my children today. Those stories don’t seem to stretch back any further than three generations though. Everything before that is just lost.
I don’t want to lose any more.
I’ve decided to record every story I can remember so that my children and grandchildren can know a little bit about the family that came before them, so that they can take at least a little glimpse into the lives of those who made them what they are today.
© 2011, Cindy. All rights reserved.