Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Loving Genealogy...For Over 30 Years!

This evening I was going through the box of letters that my mother wrote to her parents from Alaska during the years 1966 through 1978. I was looking in particular for letters written around Thanksgiving to see if I could find any that matched my earliest memories of that holiday, with the hope of writing something for the Carnival of Genealogy. I wasn't real successful; the letters Mom wrote about Thanksgiving didn't jar any particular memories, and the memories I do have must have been of years when she didn't tell Grandpa and Grandma about how we celebrated the holiday.

As often happens while doing genealogical research, as I was looking for one thing, I found another. I noticed one letter was dated March 20, 1977, the day after my 10th birthday, so of course I stopped and read through it. I had brought cupcakes to school to share with my class, and then my family put together a treasure hunt in order to find my birthday gifts. I was given the first clue, and each subsequent clue was on the gifts I found. This became a family tradition for many years for my siblings and me, and it appears to be the first time that it occurred. Because my mother mentions that my grandparents' birthday package had not yet arrived from Michigan, I am guessing that she thought up this treasure hunt as a way to keep me from being too disappointed that their gifts would be late (I remember that mail delivery, especially of packages, was not always reliable in Alaska). That evening, we had a nice ham (home-grown) dinner with mashed potatoes (probably also home-grown), ham gravy with raisins, coleslaw (again, home-grown cabbage), with "fresh, sweet goat's milk." Dessert consisted of butter brickle cake with chocolate frosting and egg custard. Yum!

What really caught my eye, however, was a paragraph near the end of the letter. The following evening, our family (my parents, my not-quite-three-year-old brother, and I) had sat and looked at my parents' wedding album, and also read through a typed copy of the Strong Family Tree (my maternal great-grandmother's family). We didn't have a television, so reading books, writing, drawing, playing games, or working on our stamp collection, etc. were our sources of entertainment. Mom writes:
We looked at our wedding pictures tonight and at the Strong family tree. Adriaen [my brother] said, "Mommy kissing Dad" and he was also impressed with the [photo of the wedding] cake we were eating! Miriam liked the old-fashioned names like Return, Experience, Thankful, Josiah, etc. [1]

So at ten years old, I was already interested in the family tree! I do remember being fascinated with all that information going back to Elder John Strong of Massachusetts. A few years later, we made a month-long Christmas trip back to Michigan, and Mom wrote down four pages of notes about my dad's family tree from a conversation with my paternal great-grandmother. I savored those, too! After over 30 years, I still haven't stopped enjoying learning about my ancestors and family history! I hope I have at least 30 more years of discovery and pleasure, research and fascination to look forward to!

[1] Letter from Faith (Valk) Robbins (P. O. Box 97, Klawock, Alaska 99925) to Adrian and Ruth (Hoekstra) DeVries (464 Kenwood St. NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505), 20 March 1977; held in 2007 by Robbins (current address unpublished for privacy reasons).


Lee said...

When I was a kid, I remember asking my mom questions, but she always refused to talk about her family. I think after a few years, I gave up trying. I wish now that I had applied the pitbull mentality I have about everything else to that. And wouldn't you know, mine was one of the few families who didn't write letters, so I'm always slightly green when someone tells about the ones they have. ;-)

You guys are so lucky to have that very personal record of your family's lives.

Jasia said...

God bless those like your mom who took the time to write things down. How I wish my mom had done that. She told me plenty of stories about family but she never wrote them down. Now I struggle to remember the stories and the details are fuzzy.

You need to write a book about those early years of your life in Alaska. I'll buy the first copy!

Janice said...


I loved reading about how most of your meal was "home grown." I too would be interested in hearing more about your life growing up in Alaska.

Congrats on 30 years of genealogy!