They made it easy. Really. Whether it was asking questions to discover family members or tracing the genealogy of the family, they – my ancestors – made it easy. They left records, notes, stories. My Grandma Chenoweth had meticulously handwritten the names of her family on the back of photos. She kept a diary also. My Grandma Yess has handwritten the family genealogy. It was important we knew the stories of the family and knew where we came from. She wanted us to know how important it was we were related to the prolific Harrison family of Peoria county. She wanted us to know even though her maiden name was Smith, it really should have been Schmitt. Her grandparents had immigrated from Germany.
My parents are the current archivists of many of the family heirlooms. This includes the old deeds, checks and pictures of the family. It’s a true joy to rifle through the old family bible with records handwritten in German, read the letters written to my grandparents by a World War II soldier who used to work for them, and to gaze at the faces of family members. Is it just me or do you see the same faces repeated over and over within a family?
One year for Christmas my parents gave my sister, my two cousins and I each a cancelled check from my grandfather, great grandfather and great grandmother and 2nd great grandfather. I took those, along with photos of each of those individuals and a couple of the funeral cards from those family members and had them framed. It’s interesting to see who the checks were written to and to compare the nearly identical signatures on the checks.
Many of the family photos have information typed or written on them much like the Levi Franklin Salmans photo above. What a tool this is! I can easily take this photo and compare it to the other loose photos within the box and separate out the different siblings and their children based on this photo.
The family stories are priceless. Someone took time out of their busy day to reflect on what would be important to the family in the future. They didn’t sugar coat the story, but told the reality of what life was like and the challenges they faced. Those pithy stories are what inspire us to persevere.
I’ve begun collecting recipes handwritten by my Mom, aunt, grandmothers and other family members . Recipes tell a surprising amount of information. There’s Ethel’s Salad written in my Grandma Yess’ handwriting. I’m not sure who Ethel was, but apparently Grandma liked her salad. Other recipe cards refer to Aunt So & So’s German Chocolate Cake, or Cousin So & So’s bread and butter pickles. You can tell which recipes were the favorites by the stains on the card.
It may not seem very important to you today, but imagine how interesting it was for me to read my Grandma Vera Chenoweth’s diary and find out she had her FIRST decorated birthday cake at the age of 52! I hadn’t ever considered the idea of how unique a decorated cake would have seemed to her. It gave me a perspective to think at age 54 how often I had a decorated cake for an occasion.
It was very easy to begin my journey to family genealogy thanks to those ancestors. I vow to make it easy for my ancestors to find it easy also. Hopefully this blog can be saved in perpetuity and someday my great great granddaughter can laugh at the picture of me in my high school basketball uniform. My future grandson or granddaughter can grow to appreciate the stories of their ancestors as much as I have.
WRITE IT DOWN, please! Write about your daily life. Write about your first experience at school, your first love, your first job, your biggest triumph or disappointment in life. Share the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak. The more honest you are when writing, the more people understand what a complex creature you are and a treasure.
E – Elaborate – tell as much as you can
A – Acknowledge – share who was important to you. First teacher who left an impact, a coach who pushed you, or a friend who stood by your side should be acknowledge.
S – Spell it out! Write so that the person reading can piece together the relationships of those you are referring to.
Y – YOU – only YOU can leave this legacy. No one else can tell the story like you can. Write when the notion hits you or do it every day. Either will work, but just make sure to write and reflect.