It’s News to Me

My daughter posted on Facebook yesterday that she’d seen an ancestry.com commercial, signed up and was hooked. Over the course of twenty-four hours, she’s sent me several texts and emails telling me things I never knew and wouldn’t have imagined about our ancestors including her discovery that two many-times great grandfathers had served in the Revolutionary War. She followed that with news tracing relatives to the 1600’s in New York. A former reporter, my girl knows how to get the details of a story in minutes. By morning, she will have everyone’s roots traced back to the minute they landed in America. I’m in awe. But it’s not the first time that she has made the complex simple. She is, after all, the mother of twins.

What amazes me even more than her practically instantaneous tracking of our origins is that no one ever said boo about any of this before.

Seriously, did my father not know that his many-times great grandfathers had taken aim at the British Army? There wasn’t anyone in his family who mentioned it to him? At what point in the transfer of info from generation to generation did it become superfluous to mention service in the Revolutionary War?

This has given me a lot to think about. My ancestors, I know, are English, Dutch, and now German (I learned today). By nature, it seems to me just from observation of the relatives, a taciturn bunch of folk. Conversation at family gatherings centered on how well people’s cars were running and how people thought the Lions were doing. Sometimes there was a family project like a plumbing issue or a stubborn garage door opener that would rivet dialogue on the really important issues. Nobody, ever, talked about anything in the past except in the most fleeting of terms.

The past? What was the past? It was yesterday.

I don’t get it. Where was the oral history? Why did it become unimportant to relay what happened before? How did the past become so submerged that there wasn’t even a bastardized shred of information passed from generation to generation? I’m not looking for a sword or a sketch of Washington crossing the Delaware River, I’m thinking just a casual remark like ‘it was tense out there waiting for Paul Revere to ride by.’ Something. Anything.

It isn’t the first thing about my family that baffles me, believe me. Was it their natural proclivity not to talk about anything, much less about the past? Or had the knowledge fallen away, an appendix of history not needed for day to day life? Of course, my parents aren’t here for questioning. They would just shrug anyway.

And ask me how my car is running.

 

 

8 Comments on “It’s News to Me

  1. I enjoy the way you so often start with an anecdote and then reflect on it, question it, play with it, provide examples of it, and end with a surprise twist that startles me in to laughter.

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  2. I come from a very large family who treasures every tiny little story and can trace the family’s direct line back to the 1300s. We aren’t related to royalty and heroes; one ancestor is famous for stealing art out of Russia, one for breaking the village record on how long someone had to stay in the stocks. And at one time there was a law that if you killed them you wouldn’t be accused of murder because the country wanted the family gone. In contrast my husband knows about his grandparents and that’s it. His family doesn’t get together for huge gatherings, they rarely contact each other, he hasn’t seen his dad in twenty years and their history doesn’t interest them. I don’t get it. I think it’s the difference between storytellers and non-storytellers. And it’s sad when all that’s left are old headstones with fading names no one recognizes, or old tintype photos in antique stores with no names attached. Glad your daughter is capturing the stories before they’re gone.

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  3. The experts tell us most family stories (history) is lost in three generations. That is one reason I think it is very important to record your family history so future generations will know the ties they have with the past.

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  4. I just retired from a small historical society where people came to research their local roots. Everyone says the same thing…they had to dig hard to get any information out of their parents…and…if, usually a woman in the clan like your daughter, gets the Ancestry.com bug and puts in years of work with reams of documents copied, they fear that their own kids will throw it all into the dumpster when they died. Is it some kind of survival technique hard-wired in? Most people don’t usually care or even think to ask questions of parents and relatives until just about time for said ancestry to pass on…And sometimes that’s a good thing. The things I found out about my own mother after she died and I could go through her papers!.

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  5. That is one of the things I find so very sad about genealogy: all families have remarkable stories, whether they are heart-wrenching, inspiring or both. It is such a shame that they get lost.

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  6. Good for your daughter. I’ve got a carefully recorded family tree on my father’s mother’s side of the family. I treasure it more for the fine example of her beautiful school teacher hand writing than anything else. Someday my hope is to frame it, her handwriting was that beautiful. We’ve also got some very carefully preserved (at least the ones my Aunt doesn’t have) examples of my grandmother’s mother’s paintings. A relative took pictures of a couple of others and many of us have those framed photographs hanging on our walls.

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