– “What was your favorite food as a child?”
– “I don’t remember. Why do you care?”
Most people are a little more polite, but many can’t fathom why I care. I have heard this question many times over the years when I start asking questions of family members. To most people it probably seems as if all I do is collect vital facts: what year was this person born, did they marry, how many children, what year did they die. That is all important; however, I do much more than that. It is asking questions that people don’t ask. When you ask questions that people don’t normally ask, you get answers and stories that people don’t normally hear. If you are not interested in genealogy, I would imagine that what I do would appear very boring. How much fun is digging through records that are hundreds of years old only to document a random, unknown person who has also been dead for hundreds of years? My answer would be “Incredibly fun!” However, more than fun, I feel that I need to be doing this so that this information doesn’t get “lost” again.
It also allows me to meet family members I would never have spoken to or met otherwise and I enjoy going to meet each one. Most importantly, asking these questions and finding these records breathes life into those who have gone before us. I recently connected with a cousin who is also researching. She sent me something that was sent to her and I’d like to share it here. A bit of a pep talk when you’ve hit a brick wall and it seems as if the trail cannot go any further.
“We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again. To tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.
Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts, but instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: ‘Tell our story’. So, we do.
In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors, ‘You have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.’ How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.
It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can’t let this happen. The bones here are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought, and some died to make and keep us a nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us.
It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, becase we are they and they are the sum of who we are.
So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers. That is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and restore the memory or greet those who we had never known before.”