Saturday, June 13, 2009

No ancestor left unremembered

No ancestor left behind! That's it after 32 years of researching.

I started my trek in genealogy in the late 1970s (my earliest correspondence files dated 1977) after receiving one of those "fill-in-your-family-tree" books for Christmas. I was like most starters just facing an empty 5-generation chart with little more data than my generation and that of my parents. That handsome fellow pictured to the left in this blog post is my great grandfather Thomas Edmond Fears. I didn't know his name when I first started researching. Filling the blanks was the goal that motivated me at first with who and when. Over the years, my goals changed as I got deeper in some areas of research and broadened as I found interesting side paths to wander down.

It finally hit me this morning as I was driving and listening to NPR -- No ancestor left unremembered. That's what drives me three decades later. And I mean it for all my ancestors and all ancestors of everyone interested in genealogy and even those who could care less.

My religion teaches me that immortality has to do with the soul, and I get that. But I think how sad it is that people live out their lives and, one day, they are lost not only to memory but to history itself.

My limited reading in the development of family trees and genealogy leads me to believe that it is only the royal, rich, and famous who history remembers. Yet, don't all our ancestors who laughed and cried, who passed days and nights of joy and pain, whose blood line and DNA testifies to the fact that they were here -- don't they deserve to be remembered? The common folk worked the fields, marched in the armies, raised the crops, and paid the taxes which allowed the rich and famous to be that and deserve their place in the sun. It is in remembrance and documentation that we save them for now and the future.

I don't know where I will fit in the far distant future. I doubt that rich, powerful, or famous will ever be used to describe me; however, that doesn't matter. My time is now with the resources and the stories which could disappear in a few generations. It is my place to provide knowledge of that which has gone before me so that the greater story might be known or written by future generations. Perhaps as we work and preserve names and memories today we set the stage for tomorrow's more universal enlightenment of the value of all lives which otherwise might disappear into the mists of the past.

Monday, June 8, 2009

One of my favorite resources

Since all of my family lines come through southern states -- North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi -- one of the most valuable background resources I have found for understanding the lives of my 19th Century ancestors is The Dixie Frontier - A Social History of the Southern Frontier from the First Transmontane Beginnings to the Civil War, by Everett Dick, research professor of American History, Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1948). On page 221 of the book, we learn that intermittent fever was another name for malaria. Although girls married young on the frontier (average age 15), the "young maiden" could not "begin to compete with the widow" as a prospective bride (page 135). While a rail splitter did indeed split rails, it was often called mauling rails (p. 313). The book is well documented and offers original sources which can be used for further research.