Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Their Story is My Story Too

While driving my daughter to school the other morning, I was listening to a Rascal Flatts CD we had recently found while unpacking after our move. The song "Take Me There" came on and while it's meant to be a love song, it struck me how it could apply to the reason we research our family history and heritage. I've included some of the lyrics so you can see what I mean.
Tell me about your momma, your daddy, your home town, show me around.
I wanna see it all, don't leave anything out.

I wanna know, everything about you.
And I wanna go, down every road you've been.
Where your hopes and dreams and wishes live, where you keep the rest of your life hid.
I wanna know the girl behind that pretty stare.
Take me there.

Your first real kiss, your first true love, you were scared.
Show me where.
You learned about life, spent your summer nights, without a care.
Take me there.
I wanna roll down main street and backroads like you did when you were a kid.
What makes you who you are, tell me what your story is.
For me, I want to know everything about my ancestors, not just names, dates and places. I want to know the nitty-gritty bits, the seemingly insignificant details that shaped the man or woman they became.

The average person probably doesn't care that my paternal great grandparents' love goes back to childhood. They probably don't care that when the community did a lunch pail auction, she prayed that my great grandfather would win the pail she had prepared because she wanted to spend time with him. It's probably not important to other people that her mother had sent her out to the garden one day to pick vegetables and when my great grandfather showed up, he proposed to her right there in the midst of the dirt and plants.

It probably wouldn't be that difficult to find a marriage record for my maternal 2nd great grandmother and her last husband. There might even be a newspaper article. What you probably won't find is the fact that they had both been put in the nursing home by their families, which is where they met. It's also unlikely that it's written down anywhere (other than here of course) that they fell in love, ran away from the nursing home together and got married.

With a little bit of research, most people could probably find a death certificate for my paternal 2nd great grandfather. They might even find his obituary. What these two pieces of paper don't tell is the story behind his death. Every morning while my 2nd great grandmother prepared breakfast, he would go sit in the swing under the trees and relax before the day's work began. When he didn't come at her call that breakfast was ready, she went out and found that he had passed peacefully in the swing.

Names and dates are easy for my maternal great grandfather's step-brothers. However, most people probably don't know that both were professional musicians. One was also a composer who worked in theater.

To look at my paternal grandfather, you would only see a man who was always cracking jokes and had dirt under his nails from working with the earth. You wouldn't know that he was one of the pioneers of truck pulling in Florida, that he had an amazing voice and sang in his school choir, or that whenever his granddaughters (my sisters and I) would visit, he'd get down on his hands and knees in the floor with us to play even though he had severe back problems and looking back, it must have caused him a lot of pain to do so.

Unless you were looking for it, you probably wouldn't know that my maternal 5th great grandfather was one of the many imprisoned during the Civil War. A Confederate soldier, he was imprisoned at Fort Delaware Prison in New York, which is where he passed away. From reading accounts of other prisoners that were there, I can guess what happened. The divisions of the prison were filled with bunks, with the lower bunk on the ground, which made them very damp. Even though a stove was provided in each division, the heat it put out was paltry, not even keeping those within a few feet of it warm. This combined with inadequate food, water and clothing led to illness.

I know the names, dates and locations of my ancestors. However, it's the stories of their lives that bring them to life for me, that make them real people who lived, loved, knew joy and sadness, raised families, worked, had friends, fought for what they believed in and died. I want to know who they were, the experiences they went through and what values they passed on to their children. I want to know their story because it's my story too.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! Like you I want more than names and dates. I want the stories.