Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Maybe, Just Maybe, They're Hooked

Within our own families, genealogists tend to be lonely.

For the most part, we are usually the odd man out, the only one within our family group to be truly passionate about the lives of those who have gone before us. We're treated with a certain mix of tolerance and patronizing smiles if we start talking about great-grandma at any length at the family holiday dinners or if we appear to be doing an "interview" of Aunt Maude under the guise of a pleasant conversation. And while we enjoy the title of family historian when it comes to receiving boxes and envelopes of "stuff" nobody else in the family wants or appreciates, we yearn to have someone come alongside us and share the joy of discovery of our mutual ancestors.


This week, I had a glimmer of hope when, not just one, but TWO relatives showed interest in the family tree.

The first occurred when I received an email on Facebook from one of my maternal second cousins who lives here in the county. He had found some indexed information on his grandfather (a line which we do not share) on Ancestry, but not having a subscription, asked if I could look up the details for him with my own subscription. During a followup chat session, I happily obliged and sent a message with his email address to the contributor of that information. He then told me he had recently gotten married (of course I asked for the name of his bride, her birth date and place, and their marriage date and place!) and that they as a couple were interested in tracing their family tree. As a newlyweds buying their first home, their budget is rather tight, so I said I would notify them the next time the county library district asked me to teach my free-to-the-public genealogy class, and I gave him the addresses of several free genealogy websites that I knew would be helpful.

Maybe, just maybe, Carl's hooked.


The next happy event took place Monday evening, when I babysat my three young nephews. My daughter usually does this several evenings a week while my sister works as a nurse at a local hospital. However, my daughter was ill (possibly with swine flu), so I volunteered to take her place. As I made dinner, my eldest nephew, who is in fifth grade, did his homework at the kitchen table. He had to read a short story and then write definitions for several vocabulary words based on their context. The selection was about Thomas Jefferson and the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese, and as my nephew read aloud about the background of Jefferson's life, I interjected some trivia that I thought he might find interesting: "Did you know that Thomas Jefferson, who was our third president, and John Adams, who was our second president, were very good friends? They used to write letters back and forth because their homes were far away from each other, but then had a big argument and didn't speak to the other for years. Eventually, they made up...and get this: they both died on the same day, the Fourth of July, on America's 50th birthday!"

Later that evening while we were eating dinner, we got to talking about the family members. I asked my nephew if he remembered meeting his great-grandfather, Robert Lewis Robbins. He wasn't sure. I told him that his great-grandpa had fought in World War Two, and that his great-grandpa fought in the Civil War. "So," I informed him, "you have talked with someone who has talked with someone who was in the Civil War!"

My nephew's eyes got very big. "Cool!" he exclaimed. And then the words that will always be imprinted on my heart: "Aunt Miriam, how do you know so much about our family and all those things that happened a long time ago?"

"Well," I responded. "That's what I do for fun. I learn about all the family members that lived in history and I find out everything I can about them. It's called genealogy."

Maybe, just maybe, Cody's hooked.


Anonymous said...

Dear Miriam,

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Your young nephew's comments have me beaming! That's the spark!

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Kathryn Doyle said...

Hooray, Miriam - way to spread the addiction to the next generation! We're gonna start calling you the genea-pusher!

Mavis said...

Hopefully, you will have some fellow family members joining you in the journey.

I too long for that.

Kathy Wait Bjorklund said...

I love the way you're interjecting history into your conversations. My latest was showing my mom, sister, and nieces the Tishue block in Seward NE that my 2nd great grandfather helped build as a stonemason. It puts history into perspective when you can make the connection on how it relates to your everyday life.

Cindy said...

I totally relate to this post - the lonely genealogist is what I call myself. Although some in the family have taken a slight interest, they'd rather just hear a few intersting facts and see some documents, but none take an active part. It's truly rewarding when one of the youngers takes an interest and lots of fun to share it with them. Knowing all the while that if they truly become interested it will be a lonely but rewarding hobby for them for years to come. all the best - cindy

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Congrats on finding some family members who are interested in genealogy - I sure do know how hard it is!

It's very good to "get 'em while they're young." I try doing that with my daughter, even though she's only 3. I hope not to burn her out, though; I don't want see the rolling eyes and hear the sighs of a bored teen in a few years. "Oh Mom. You're so weird with that genealogy stuff." :-(

Randy Seaver said...

Well done! You've planted some seeds - I hope they grow into big old blooming family trees!

My little ones are still too young, but there is hope! My grandson needed a family tree last year for his school and I supplied it. I need to get it put on their family wall, though! He always wants stories, so I tell him stories from my childhood. Hopefully, I can expand my repertoire with stories about my parents and grandparents.

Cheers -- Randy

Bill West said...

Sigh. No luck here. On the way to
a family wedding, my brother asked me to tell my nephews about the
cool folks in our family history.
After a 10 minute talk that included pilgrims, witches, and soldiers in the American Revolution,the younger nephew, age 8, told me "those stories" were giving him a headache.

Ah well.


Greta Koehl said...

You must have the gift. I can't get my daughters into genealogy, though occasionally there is a glimmer of interest, especially on some of the more lurid aspects of family history.

geneabloggers said...

Congrats Miriam - I concur with Kathryn Doyle - you should play your trade over at the playground. Tell them that stories of ancestors are free the first week but then charge after that - get 'em hooked!

Amy (We Tree) said...

What a great post! I totally relate to that *lonely* feeling, so it's really uplifting to hear you've given others the "spark."

Nancy said...

I add my happy face for your post. Not only is your writing great, but the story itself was wonderful. It makes me want to talk with a few nephews. Thanks.

Debbie Blanton McCoy said...

Great stories, Miriam. Hope they are both hooked!

Miriam Robbins said...

George, thank you.

Kathryn, I gladly accept my new moniker!

Mavis, thank you.

Kathy, you are so right, and I wish more history teachers would teach it this way.

Cindy and Amy, maybe we should start a Lonely Genealogist Club...wait, wouldn't that be the Geneabloggers? :-)

Elizabeth, you are doing such a great job with your daughter and DAR and cemeteries...she's bound to catch the bug!

Randy, my parents telling stories about their childhood was a huge influence on me and my passion for genealogy. Keep it up!

Bill, I hope you find someone in the family that you can pass the torch along to soon.

Greta, that's exactly how we have to hook using whatever interests them, be it sports, mysteries, black sheep, fashion, or photography. The great thing is, genealogy is relevant to so many aspects of real life!

Hmmm, Thomas, you have a great idea! Actually, for a number of years now, I've been considering starting a Family History Club as one of the after school clubs available at the middle school where I work. I just haven't had the time to do so, unfortunately. I think I'll have to wait until my son graduates high school first.

Nancy, thank you for your kind words!

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Very nice post, and very nice blog! Can you tell me how you got the two-sided template on blogspot? I haven't been able to find one!

Miriam Robbins said...

Nadasue, I got the template at Blogcrowds. Thanks for dropping by!

Leah Kleylein said...

What wonderful stories!!! You give me hope with my own family! :-D

Miriam Robbins said...

Thanks, Leah! I hope you find someone to mentor, soon!

Ornithophobe said...

My grandfather's idea of quality time with the grandkids involved hauling me to every civil war battlefield within three states. My grandmother dragged me to family cemeteries in the back of beyond, to lay flowers for cousins dead half a century before I was born. I hated every minute of it...

and then I grew up, had kids, and lost my grandparents. Suddenly, I was racking my brain for how we got to those cemeteries, and who we were supposed to have descended from that fought on those battlefields. Every childhood conversation was gleaned for detail, for clues to the whole story, and now I've spent more than a decade putting flesh on the bones of my grandparents' stories.

My point is this: You're sewing seeds. They may not flower for some time. They may not flower in your lifetime. But someday, those seeds will grow... into a genealogist.

Miriam Robbins said...

Bravo! Well said!

And thank you for taking the time to read and leave your kind words, Ornithophobe.

Miriam Robbins said...

Bravo! Well said!

And thank you for taking the time to read and leave your kind words, Ornithophobe.