Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who will know?

When I began searching for information about my family’s history I had no intention of publishing a book. (Still true.)  It was more about the thrill of the hunt -- tracking down familiar names, determining relationships, and finding critical dates wherever I could.  It was always exciting to enter new data for people I knew about, and to find relatives  I had never known existed. And along with the satisfaction of solving puzzles, I began to learn a bit more about how these kin must have lived, why they moved from one place to another, and what the political and social environments were like in their times and places. 
In the process, of course, I amassed a huge collection of material, and with it came the realization it had to be arranged so that I knew what I had, and where to find each piece of it. That, as you know, is a never-ending project, much like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. ( And I’ve been writing about it here, off and on, for some time.)
But there is still more I’d like to do.  Why have all these wonderful documents, letters, photos, and mementos, if they don’t make sense to anyone but me? And what will become of them when I am not here any more?  They may be neatly filed in acid-free folders, each with its tidy list of contents, or lovingly placed in archivally-correct photo albums, but … do they tell a story?  As the one responsible for gathering up all this, I certainly know the background myself. I can tell the viewer what each piece of paper means and how it relates to the overall picture. But without my explanation, that overall picture is blurred and incomplete.
The task, then, is to create an album, or series of albums, that hold the sigificant documents and most meaningful photographs, with the words that will tie them all together.  Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, as I soon found out, it is not.
Does one begin with onself and work back in time, the way we are advised to pursue our research? Or should the earliest known ancestor in a particular line be the starting point?  Should “how I found it” be included (sometimes this is irresistible), or do we go for a simple description of who is related to whom, where they lived, and what we know of their lives?  There are, of course, books and articles to help with these decisions, since a single set of family history albums is no different, in that sense, from something written for publication (though we are free of the business decisions, and our layout possibilities are not dictated by a printer).
So far I am planning to take the earliest-ancestor approach: beginning with a great-great grandparent in my father’s line.  Frederick Howard apparently came from Pennsylvania to northeastern Kentucky sometime after 1793, the approximate year of his birth, and before 1811, when his name first appears in Bath County tax records.  His marriage to a woman named Jaley Grant is also recorded there, as well as a court document showing his appointment to survey a particular road in the area.  Frederick and Jaley had three children in this Kentucky county, including my great-grandfather, but in1829 the family moved up to central Indiana, where they settled in Montgomery County, not far from Crawfordsville.
The first hard choice comes when I must decide how to deal with the descendants of Frederick’s daughters.  The whole family fascinates me, but naturally my focus is on the direct ancestral line.  I need to lay out the connections with the son, Samuel Parker Howard, to his daughter, and then to her son, who is my father.  But I also want to include what I’ve found about the others -- not only because their lives were important, too, but  because I have some interesting documents relating to them.  Among these are a clue-filled 1884 letter from my great-grandmother’s half-sister, an 1854 obituary relating the circumstances of the death of my great-grandmother’s first husband, and a photograph of a great-uncle's tombstone, typical of those provided the Civil War dead. 
Have you, dear reader, attempted this sort of project?  How did you go about it? What treasures do you have and how do you incorporate them in your work?  I’d really like to hear from you.


The Path Traveled said...

I too am looking to make my Family Genealogy into a book form. Please visit my Blog click here. I have not posted everything. I have hundreds of names and info. I add something to my Blog every now and then hoping Family would want to help. They only want the info, if I were to hand it to them and I wanted the blog to be a place where they would print out what they wanted. I love doing genealogy so I keep digging. Your blog is really nice. Hope to hear back on what ideas you come up with on making a book.

jody said...

Hi. I have never left a comment before, but I am out trolling genealogy blogs trying to decide if I want to try do do my own blog. I found Tonia's 31 week challenge and somehow found my way to your blog.

I am in the same boat you are in that I want to do some sort of history of my family but am unsure as how to organize it. I know that I want to do a digital scrapbook that I will be able to print. This will allow other family members to have a copy if they want.

I am still in the "organize it in my head" stage. I am interested to find more ideas about how to make this work the best.


Alex W Fraser, Rhoda Ross said...

An interesting page. Keep up the good work

A question from a LinkedIn Genealogy group
If a person who has not yet studied their family history/genealogy

If a person who has not yet studied their family history/genealogy asked you: "What benefits will I receive by studying my family history or genealogy?" What do you reply?

My reply;

Doing your family history is a great history lesson, an eye opener of the present & past. An understanding of the humanness of things. When I started this journey 40 years ago in 1971 there was no cell phones, no internet, no desktop computers. What an enormous change from today 2012.

When my father was born in 1904 travel was horse & buggy, trains & walking or by boat, no phones, no cars or very very few . When he died in 1997 mankind had been on the moon.
From your perspective you may not be able to comprehend how your great great grand parents lived in the 1800's any more than they could if they were alive now to comprehend how things are in 2012.

Family history has the ability of opening your eyes and heart to survive and grow to a wider understanding of where you came from, how that came about and what is possible should a person decide to go forward to accomplish what you are here on this earth for.

Do not judge the past action of your ancestors by to days views. They do not work that way.

Family history is an awesome journey that has taught me alot about people both present & past and has been a very worthwhile journey.

How would you like your descendants a 100 years from now to remember you by?? This is basically what you desire to know about your ancestry. So write your family history for them in picture & works, leaving your legacy as you see it.. Follow the same pattern for filling in the gaps for your ancestors.

Some of our efforts can be viewed at Alex W Fraser books, The Glengarry Genealogical Society Courtenay, BC 1/18/12