The Last few days have brought cold weather with temperatures falling below zero. Yesterday we got about eight inches of snow with blowing wind. These conditions have the effect of making the snow harder to deal with and just making it feel colder outside. So I have spent the last few days inside doing things that I enjoy. This has gotten me to thinking about what would a future descendant learn about me if they could observe my day. I mean besides that I ate Maypo for breakfast and a tuna fish sandwich for lunch. Well, they would learn that I overindulge my dog, and I like to watch birds on my birdfeeder. If they take a look around they would see bookshelves full of books read, so they would know I like to read. They will see pictures of family and mementos of times and places that have meaning for me. They would even see that I like to go to online auction sites. But would they really know me and be able to tell my story?
People are a complex mixture of thoughts, emotions, likes, and dislikes. If we were to pick out a stranger and follow them for a complete day while studying their every action and noting their every utterance, we still would not know that person. The same would hold true if we did it for a week, a month or even a year. Certainly we would know them better, but I believe not even close to complete. Years of living together does not bring understanding either. Look at the many examples we know of siblings, not getting along or parents and children are not getting along because of a lack of understanding.
In our genealogy endeavors, we try to break down that barrier of just adding dates of births, marriages, and deaths. We try to do better than a list of children born and perhaps an occupation or residence. We want to know our ancestor’s story and what they were like as people. So we dig and hunt in records and newspapers to find hints that may let us know who they truly were. Sometimes we are lucky, and we find an insight into our ancestor. This can take hours of research and putting these elusive puzzle pieces in the right places. Then we tell their stories. We tell them with pride, shame, and sometimes with amusement. I have read about slave owners and abolitionist. Men or women who abandon their families. Ancestors who worked on the family farm or gave up everything to save the family business. Others who ended up in prison or were in law enforcement. Indian fighters and Quakers. Ancestors who were patriots or loyalist in the Revolutionary War. They were surprised that their ancestor fought for the North or the South in the Civil War. But in truth we know very little about them. Pieces of their puzzle will always be missing and misunderstood.
The best we can ever hope for is to tell the facts as we know them and make the best guesses we can about them. But always being mindful of the fact that we are at best only making guesses about who they are and why they took certain actions or inactions. Beyond the facts, we must be honest with ourselves and others when we stray and start making conclusions about them. But with all this being said that for me is one of the truly fun aspects of family history. Telling their stories is what helps bring them to life for future generations, even if only a shadow of the real person.