Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Descendants Look at Your History

"Too many Americans have ignored their ancestors and family history and not bothered to examine their own life stories, much less share them with others. They too rarely share much of their past lives with friends, or pass them on to their progeny. And yet we desperately need to do all that." - Dolly Berthelot 
          While it is worthy and commendable that we spend time discovering our past, making our ancestors flesh and blood people, and learning the history of who we are, it is also important that we leave something of ourselves for the future. 
          If you discovered a small diary or series of letters written by an ancestor in 1813 which merely told about his or her daily life – what he wore, how she spent her day, what he thought about current events – you would be overjoyed with that treasure, wouldn’t you? 
          You wouldn’t care about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. It would be of no consequence that there were no national secrets or even family secrets revealed. You would revel in the details and the things that gave you clues about this distant person’s life and thoughts. You would be excited when you discovered some family turn of phrase used 200 years ago. You would be secretly (or publicly!) proud of this gem that belonged to your family.
          Now imagine some distant descendant pursuing their family tree. How will he or she feel when they discover that you, like them, were interested in exploring the family’s past? Imagine them exclaiming over details of your normal everyday life – what you wore, what you ate, what you purchased, how you felt about national and international events. Think about their pride and joy over this piece of history that they discovered.

          You don’t have to write a lot. You don’t have to write with the future reader in mind. You can simply slap together a paragraph or two and call it good. 
          Here is part of a recent entry from my journal: 

“Spent a few hours finishing up the list of Civil War ancestors. If I include brothers of my direct ancestors I have seven or eight total. Five or six on the James side, two on the Tasker side. All Union, all but one in the infantry (John W in the cav of course), and one possible deserter. Still have all Confederate all the time, except for John Curtis in Scott’s family. And Nathaniel has a raft of them on both sides from his Parker side, so he wins in the Civil War soldier category!” 
          Just another day in my life but if I found something like this from an ancestor, even from a parent or grandparent, I would be thrilled. There are names for me to match up to known ancestors. There are other clues to follow up on, such as even more distant family members, and why the “of course” for John W’s cavalry service? 
          Not all of my journal entries deal with my family’s genealogy. Here is another one, this time 100% boring: 

“Up at 430 this morning. Once I wake up I am up. Did some work for a few hours, then went to the grocery store. I keep forgetting to bring in my reusable bags. Why do I bother carrying them in the car if I don’t use them? Then the rest of the day at work. Too many hours doing too much free work. Barbara’s books arrived today and they look nice. I hope she is happy with the result. For some odd reason the cover looks like a cartoon version of itself. But overall, I like it and am proud of my work on it.” 
          Again, just silly stuff about waking up, doing chores, and working. Of course there is the question of “Barbara’s book” to puzzle out, so that will give someone something to work on! 
          It isn’t difficult to keep a journal. You don’t have to spend hours writing in it. You don’t even have to write it, you can use your computer (but think about the fun of seeing your ancestor’s handwriting). Someday you will be someone’s “living ancestor” and there will come a day when you are simply another person on a family tree. Make your distant descendant’s day when they discover this snippet of your life.

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