Someone needs to hear your story. Whether it’s this generation, the next, or even the next. Someone wants to know about you. What you did, what kind of things you liked, and what experiences shaped who you are.
When you don’t tell your story, future generations are left to wonder, fill in the gaps with their imaginations, or just not, sadly, not have enough clues to create an idea of whom you might have been.
I want to know about my ancestors and I’ve had various experiences when doing family history research:
- One relative told their story through letters.
- Another left me to figure out their story through legal documents, and
- Yet another helped dispel a family myth because of something they kept.
Charles: Story Telling
My great-great-grandfather’s name was Charles. In the 1850s, he left a small town in Kansas, making his way to California, hoping to make his fortune in the Gold Rush. During that time he wrote letters to his family members and friends in which he spoke of the hardships he faced. He also wrote spirited letters about the 1852 Presidential election and about the need for the abolition of slavery.
Charles shared his life through these letters, and because of that, we know so much about him. I am fortunate enough to have about 40 of his letters in my possession.
Laura: Non-Story Telling
Laura, my great-grandmother was adopted, but no one in my family knew the story of why or how that came to be. Well, no one that would talk about it anyway. When my grandmother was asked about it, her comment was always, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” It wasn’t until years after my grandmother’s death, by researching court documents and census records that I was able to put the story together of Laura.
Agnes, a 17-year-old girl became pregnant out-of-wedlock. She died in childbirth without revealing the name of the baby’s father. The baby was named Laura.
Census records revealed the names of the families who lived near Agnes at the time of her pregnancy. Court records detailed a contentious custody battle over Laura between one of those male neighbors (who was married with 9 children of his own) and Agnes’s father. Agnes’s father won the custody battle, and the next census showed that the neighboring family had moved out of the area.
Although Laura’s grandfather won the custody battle, Laura was subsequently put up for adoption.
We have no first-hand account of this story but were able to figure it out from government records. But wouldn’t it have been amazing to have had a hand-written diary of Agnes or her Mom? Or anyone really.
Louise Schulz: A Saver of Postcards
Louise Schulz was my husband’s great-grandmother. She didn’t keep a diary. She didn’t keep any secrets. But she did keep some postcards that Paul, her boyfriend, then fiance, then husband sent to her during their courting days.
Sometimes this is enough. Having keepsakes to pass on. I have about 50 postcards that Paul sent to Louise. From these postcards, we can have the address of where Louise lived. We can tell where Paul was and what he was doing when he sent the cards. We were able to reconstruct their path from courtship to marriage.
That is really cool information to have. But because of these postcards, we were also able to dispel a family myth.
Paul’s last name was Schultz. Louise’s last name was also Schultz. (What are the odds that they would have the same last name?)
Family myth, though, tells us that Paul dropped the “t” from his name, making it “Schulz,” so that Louise could change her last name when they got married.
Guess what? Not true. The postcards were directed to Louise Schulz (no “t”) from Paul Schulz (no “t”).
While the mystery of a name-change-or-no-name-change might not be as historically interesting as letters from the 1850s or as scintillating as the puzzle of an adopted child, it’s still fun information to have.
So what about you?
Are you a story-teller? Do you keep a journal that your grandkids or great-grandkids will read with great interest one day? Do you create scrapbook pages or albums that will tell your story? No matter what you do, no matter how you do it, just do it.
Someone needs to hear your story.
Card dated October, 1910; from Paul Schulz to Louise Schulz