Is Your Hobby Genealogy or Family History?

With all the new technology people are taking DNA tests to find out about their genetic make up. As a person who has worked on my family history since the miniseries “Roots” I would say DNA is a third line of family research tied a little into both genealogy and family history.

Thousands of people are suddenly interested in where they came from. They want to know more about their family. I am all for it. I believe it is important that we preserve our family stories. They are being lost as generations ahead of us pass on. As the keeper of the story in my family I find that there are members from the next generation starting to asking me questions about who we were and what we did in history. I think that important when sometimes what I am repeating is nothing more than family legend.

Family legends are one of my favorite things because it is an oral history. It is what our family tells about themselves to the next generation. Sometimes, but seldom is it wholly based on the truth. Details have been left out because they are forgotten or someone sanitized our story. Embellishments have been added because someone wishes the tale was a little more like the story they tell. In spite of the fact that I have found oral history to be only somewhat factual, I always record them as they are told and reference them as a family legend. I think that name bestows on them the honor they deserve. Recording it as it is told will also provide clues to actually trace the story. Almost every family legend is based on some fact. That brings me to family history.

Family history is the story the facts tell about our family. Everything recorded as family history has something to prove that what we said is based on fact. Not all facts are equal. Firsthand facts are from the folks who participated in the event or had direct knowledge. Second or third hand facts are from others who probably know, but were not there at the time of the fact. A birth certificate is usually a firsthand fact of a birth date because the doctor was there. I have often found that the birth date on a death certificate is wrong. That is because it is from a child who assumes they know Dad’s birthday, but he lied when he joined the army in WW2 and he has stuck with the story since then . My favorite family history is when you find some one in your family changed their occupation or moved, because census records have shed an unknown fact. It is when I discover this, that I start looking for more information. I am looking for what made them move, why did the take up a new occupation in a era when people did not change jobs as often as we do today. Family history is more than just birth, marriage and death dates if you let it be so.

Genealogy is about tracing your linage. It is about “who am I related to?” My family legend said we were direct descendants of the Morris men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I spent time tracing the Morris men to see if we had a connection. It was completely false. I kept the legend but added a foot note at the end letting folks know it was no more than wishful thinking. No one talked about anyone in my family having served in the Revolutionary War, and yet that was a connection I made accidently after many years of research. It was fun to order up my ancestor’s military pension records and learn much more about his family and service. Some people just want to trace births, marriages and deaths. They want to make those linage lines and connections. It is another different way to study your family. Genealogy can also be used to help support and document your family history.

The latest family research type is DNA. DNA is interesting because we all imagine we are something…Irish…German…Native American. Yet for the most part it is mostly legend. DNA allows us to see if there was ever that Irish ancestor in our family. DNA allowed me to unexpectedly prove that the family legend was not true and what my facts told me was the truth as correct. The legend told me that my Grandad from Oklahoma was significantly Native American. His looks and facial features supported that. There was a family legend that a Great Uncle caught his mother with a man other than his father at a young age. There were no facts to support this nasty tale. So DNA provided me with the opportunity to look at this in a differently light. The DNA results showed neither my brother nor I had any Native American genetic markers. So it is another family legend disproved and the DNA results boosted my factual research.

Winter coming on strong and fast. I can’t imagine that my cautionary behavior is going to change any time soon. So like previous winters I plan on spending time dusting off my shelf of family history and revisit my brick walls, holes in my history, and documenting where I came from. I am also hoping that I can connect to others who may be keeper of a story I have yet to hear.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Friday night the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” returned. I am torn about the show. I enjoy it because I love to see folks find their family history. I hate it because it all looks so simple; it isn’t.

This week’s show was fascinating because the featured person, Martin Sheen, was drawn in by the stories of not his direct descendants but Uncles. Many of us who research family history find ourselves often in the same place. An Aunt or Uncle has a hugely fascinating history and the search sucks us in. We can not find enough about their story. The holes make us wonder even more.

One of my personal favorites is Dr. Edna Timms. She was a pioneer in women’s health, at a time when women physicians were rare. Edna was concern about women’s health, the concerns of working women, children’s welfare, when such things were scoffed at. I wrote about her on my other blog focused on family history (  Hope you will stop by and check out my written journey in to my family history.

A Piece of History Was Lost

Sunday morning David Sherman Virtue passed away at 94 years of age.   To me this man was my Uncle Sherm, though to be correct he was my Great Uncle.

Uncle Sherm was the keeper of the story, our family story. He carried on a tradition started long before him.   Our first ancestor to come to Northwestern Illinois was James Britton Timms.  James kept a journal of life in on the edge of western civilization.  I can only imagine what he wrote, and wonder what ever happened to that journal.  His daughter Addie would be the next keeper of our family history.  She used James’s journal and her life experiences and began to document life on not only the frontier of Illinois, but her life as a young woman settling in Kansas with her new husband and baby.    Both Addie and her brother, Harvey, made attempts writing something grander, but I have never been able to find anything more than a few starts at stories and notes they wrote.

Uncle Sherm as the modern keeper of our history, worked diligently to make sure that we all knew about our family and where we were in the history of Illinois.  Uncle Sherm was part of a group that ensured that the Blackhawk War Memorial, started by James on a piece of our family farm would eventually become a National Monument.  When the dedication of the memorial occurred Uncle Sherm was in his glory telling the story to all.

Another way Uncle Sherm kept our family history was by keeping the family farm in our family for another generation.  He and my Aunt Leola would retire to the home place.  This farm was homesteaded July 1st 1845 by James Timms and has been owned by a son or daughter every generation since…166 years!  I have read  many a history about this farm, the battles that were fought there and the nursery stock that people came from all around to purchase.  Uncle Sherm has walked my husband and  I around the property more than once telling about the trails that if you look just right you can still see in the grove of oak trees across from the house.   I can remember the foundations of old buildings long since gone and the history they represented.

The house though it looks like a modern farm house, but I know that part of the place  still has some of the original log building underneath the “modern” walls.  A painting hangs on the wall that my Great-Grandmother painted in her youth. My grandparents lived in this house when they were first married and my mom was born there.  Oh if those walls could talk, the stories they could tell.

I have been fascinated for many years about the family history.  I was inspired by  the Roots miniseries and Uncle Sherm. Many of my mom’s generation have bits and pieces of the family story.  But few of my generation know much about our history.  The passing of the person who kept our family history reminds me that I can help be a keeper for the next generation, for stories lost are lost forever.  Facts and figures can later be found again but oral history once lost can never again be found.  I hope that Uncle Sherm, Addie, Harvey and James, the pioneer, look down from heaven and smile as I work to help be a story keeper for the next generation.

Decoration Day – a day to remember

In 1971 the US government passed the National Holiday Act for the purpose of creating 3 day holidays.  In that process many of our holidays may have lost their meaning.  Today many folks are celebrating a day off of work, but are they taking a minute to reflect on why this is a holiday?

Memorial Day began just after the Civil War, to honor those who had fallen.  It was originally called Decoration Day, and was a day for families to honor lost military,  both Union and Confederate.  Families decorated the graves of soldier’s with flowers that were in bloom.   Until 1971 this holiday was May 30th every year.

My Grandma called it Decoration Day.    She would gather peonies, irises and other flowers from her garden into wonderful bouquets.   A trek would be taken to the local cemetery where the bouquets were  placed on graves of family members who had gone before.

The rural town where I lived had an annual Memorial Day parade, on May 30th, whatever day of the week that fell on.   I am no longer sure how big the parade was but know that it had both the junior and high school bands playing, even though school had been dismissed for the summer.   The parade marched down Main street and up to the cemetery where there was a color guard and a ceremony that honored fallen military.   It was a holiday tradition that we attended the parade and the ceremony.

I no longer live near a family cemetery, nor does my local town have a parade.  In honor of memorial day I plan to look at ancestors in my family tree who have served the US military and take some time today to learn more about them, the battles they fought in and how they were part of history.

A new generation of soldiers are giving their lives in honor of their country and our freedoms.  I hope that all of us will take a minute to reflect on the holiday and maybe take a minute or two to Google Memorial Day and find out a little more history about our national holiday. It should be much more than a day off of work.

Before There Was Email, There Were Postcards

A Page from the Scrapbook of Postcards


I have a scrapbook of postcards saved by a family member. I can’t really tell who created the scrapbook because the post cards were sent to several members of the family.  But I am now the trustee of the collection. 

A postcard from my GreatGrandfather to my Greatgrandmother.

I find them very interesting in that the are a slice of life of my family back in 1920’s.   Many of them are from my Great Grandfather to his family.   He worked for the Frisco Railroad and spent lots of time away from home. The postcards were short notes from a man to his children, telling them to do well in school and help their mother.   Other times he comment on his concern for his family who had been ill.     I am not sure if he got mail from his family as he was on the road, there is no indication that he received mail his family. 

I look at these as the 1920’s equivalent of email. They were pretty short, but more than a text or twitter.  It is sort of sad that in this electronic age that these email messages that reflect so much of our life today won’t end up in some one’s scrapbook capturing history for tomorrow. 

Today Clyde would have Tweeted his mother.

Kindness of Strangers

The kindness of strangers is one of those amazing things that make the world go round. TV news features these stories, like it is a rare occurrence. I believe  just the opposite. Each day there are thousands of kind acts that go unreported. I have been a recipient of many, though one stands out.  This stranger who is now a dear friend, Cheri California, as we call her at our house.

Cheri is kind to many in her life. She took in her grandmother’s best friend, Margorie, who had no family, when she could no longer live alone. She turned part of her home into a private living area for Marge. Cheri told her she would take care of her and she never stopped caring for Marge even as she slipped into dementia. After Marge passed Cheri would for enter into to Marge’s private living  area. Though they had shared many meals, trips and holidays together,  she had respected that as adults two women each needed their own space.

When Cheri start cleaning out Marge’s private quarters she would find much evidence of the family who went before her, pictures, old receipts, books, and of history.    One of those sad moments when you look at history and realize it ends here.   So many people would bundle up this history and send it to the landfill or possibly an antique store.  Cheri looked through all this and found 3 things that seemed like they should be returned to some family member…a journal, a bible, and a picture with a name on the back.  I would the become the connection for the picture.

Cheri posted on a genealogy board info about these three items.   When I “met” Cheri she had returned the journal to the family, together we would find the right family and return the bible.  Cheri returned to me the picture and then later a wallet with receipts that all told the story of what happened to my great grandaunt, who married went west and family in Illinois never heard from her again.  I was able to find her final resting spot, and fill in most of her story.  I  shared it my my great uncle who has had a passion for our family history long before I was born.

These acts may not  seem major, but to those who were the recipients they were a major act of kindness.   Great Grandaunt Louisa to no longer be lost to her family. The journal that told the story of immigration in the 1860’s to the US now can be retold to many more generations. A 90 year old grandmother, got to hold and read the family bible that had made its way across the US in search of silver and gold.

May the life of Cheri California be full of blessings for her simple act of kindness.

Genealogy or Family History

One of my great passions is tracing family history.  This hobby is often referred to as genealogy.

I don’t honestly care what you call it, but it is sometimes hard to help others understand why you embrace this hobby.  Genealogy in its purest form is the tracing your direct (blood) related ancestors.  Family history is the tracing of your family including those who marry into the family, step relations and others who become your “family.”

I am not sure where or how I got started.  Maybe it was a byproduct of the historic miniseries “Roots”, possibly it was my Great Uncle’s passion that rubbed off on me, or maybe it was just that it was a mystery and I was curious.  No matter how I got started, I have worked on my family history off and on for at least 20 years.

All these years later what keeps me going is not finding out who I am related to, but the amazing stories that I find about my family along the way. The women who attended college when it was unheard of.  The men who left “civilization” and headed west to the new unsettled lands.  The women who raised their family alone during colonial times, after the loss of their spouse.  The diseases that devastated families that we never hear of today.  These are some of the many stories I have found.

The stories are what keeps me going.  I have come to realize what a wonderful, amazingly, resilient  family I belong to.