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    Why Know Our Ancestors?

I love it because it's detective work, finding the facts with a touch of ESP in figuring out what those facts might mean in their lives. And having empathy even this far forward in time.

For instance, in the 1850 census Susan Paschell 17 is married to Elihu H. Hunt 36. She's the second wife, stepmother to Mary C. 14, and mother to Melina 2 as well as the baby of 7 months who doesn't have a name yet. Susan has her hands full with two babies and two boarders. I really admire this woman especially when we see in the 1870 census that she has eleven children at home.

Another reason: "Someone who does not appreciate the accomplishments of his ancestors (and sympathize with their trials) will never amount to much himself." Even the ancestors who made big mistakes can teach us by their example of what not to do.

Some of the hardships back then make ours seem small - like riding in a jolting wagon for hours. Other things haven't changed much - some of our favorite receipes may have begun over fifty years ago or some of our family jokes.

Such as: when my husband was a child, his dog Blaze always got the last word. When scolded and sent to his bed, the little terrier would obey but after a minute or two you'd hear a tiny "wuff." Actually, wuff can mean just about anything depending on your expression and tone of voice.

Some of it must have been very hard... especially for Melinda Gimlin who took a bucket to get water one winter day and lost her little boy to the river. She was also a survivor of the Haun's Mill Massacre. Now we understand that bleak look in her eyes.

If we can avoid making their mistakes and build on their legacy to us, we can feel satisfied with our lives. We don't have to be interested in doing the same things, just upholding the same values, such as working hard and helping others.

As my grandmother taught, "We don't hold feelings." My mother's version of this made me smile, she told me, "Never get so mad at someone that you can't accept a favor." My first thought was that she'd missed getting a ride to Phoenix because she wasn't speaking to someone. In their family if someone was down on their luck, everyone helped out as best they could, sometimes for years.

The romantic stories are fun, like my great-great-grandfather Fredrick Hamblin who dreamed of a girl with a blue pitcher. His older brother Jacob said something about he should marry her if he ever saw her again. Anyway, he did see her and marry her. I'm probably misquoting, that's why it's important to have the original version in writing. This story is in one of the books about Jacob Hamblin.

At a campfire (maybe Scouts?) someone was telling an ancestor story when someone else piped up, "That's not the way my dad tells it!" Oral tradition grows in the retelling. Another great-great-grandfather became (over the years) a cabinetmaker to the Queen of Sweden, although his life story says that she liked his boxes and he made one especially for her. (Now I'm correcting this correction - we found another version of his life story with more sources and he had done both!)

When we meet our ancestors in the next life we'll have a lot to talk about. With Melinda's son we'll say, "Oh yes, I heard about you falling in the river. What happened?"   

Connecting with the past can be an anchor for our families. Start with the photos and stories you have, send them to us to share with others around the world. You'll experience the fun of working with your siblings and/or cousins. And hopefully, the excitement of finding more of your ancestors.

No pictures or stories? You could research your ancestor's times and places. For example, what was rural Tennessee like in 1833? How did they dress? What were the roads like? What did they eat? If you know their names and some of the dates we can make an ancestor page with your "times and places" research being the story pages.

Can't find distant ancestors? Make sure your family life is documented, especially the funny times. Give each child a turn as the family historian who makes sure the stories are written down. Each person could have their own copy and do their own illustrations. Now that's family history!

      Questions or Suggestions?  Email