Today I want to describe for you what finding our ancestors in terms of being one of the major reasons why I do what I do these days on the Internet, for myself, for my children and grandchildren and for others....and I have an idea, that similar circumstances are the reason many researchers are involved as well. I think more than a few of you will identify with my thoughts and motivations here...
I loved that old homeplace dearly, as many of you loved a similar place that now exists only in your minds and hearts. I frequently "walk" through it, escaping todays to yesterdays and memories, willing myself to remember the touch of fabric, the coolness of hardwood floors on my barefeet, the weight of a fat white china cup in my hands, the way the afternoon sun slanted and cast shadows on the floor of a long front porch. Those memories are a comfort to me, because beyond the "things" I have that were there, they are all I have left of the place I knew. I know that many of you feel the same, and have another place you "walk" for comfort at times.
But those memories I have, and you have, will be gone all too soon, leaving this world at the same time that we do...just as the memories of our grandfathers and great-grandmothers left with them, and unless they are given and passed on, it is as if those things had never been other than what "facts" are left behind on scraps of paper.
This came to me in a very real way recently when the daughter of my first cousin (who is now gone to the next world) contacted me. A young mother, the family's heritage is beginning to be of importance to her. And she asked for my memories, the memories her mother died before she could pass on...and so I have begun to write them for her and to give her what I cannot leave in any tangible form other than description. I have walked her through the family homeplace willing her to see through my eyes, and I have introduced her to the great-grandfather she never knew, trying to give her a balanced picture of him, the good and the bad, making him human and of breathing living flesh for her.
For the same reason, documenting the family line in that country is also important. I want to know who the grandparents of my grandfather were, because I have no memories of him telling me about them. I know he must have treasured memories of those who lived in his time, and I know he must have treasured the stories that he heard of those who did not. Because it was important to him, and knowing him, I know it is important to me. My grandfather was of another world and time, as many of yours were. And in that day and time, the passing on of roots came through the oral tradition. They little understood that the coming ways of this world would leave little inclination or time for oral passing of roots...and that unless a generation following them had the wisdom to record it, all was lost.
I rue that I was young when he sat so long talking his long tales of "who beget who" and of things that had happened, where they happened, and those who peopled those stories. I am frustrated that I, as did his children, "tuned" much of this out. It is not just a matter of "proving" a lineage...much, much more, it is a matter of salvaging that which was important to one I loved...and giving it to those like my cousin's children and my own children.... passing on the things that were of importance in an endless chain of loving memories. I cannot turn back the clock, and I cannot make my grandfather be here again with me at a time in which I am ready and mature enough now to listen to his endless stories that wound on hour after hour....but I still draw breath, and I can piece together what I can find, add to that what I do remember...and give the next generation something far more precious than the money.
We no longer have our Murphy or Howard or Dodd or Greathouse homes in Alabama, and even some of the family burial grounds where my great grandfather, great great grandfather and possibly before that are buried, have been taken from us. All we have is our history....and so you see why it is important beyond description that we preserve our history. It is all we have left of our roots. And I suspect that many of you, if for whatever reason your ancestral lands and homeplace are gone, feel the same.
Please remember this when others contact you. Their reasons may have nothing to do with wanting to join an elite organization, may have nothing to do with idle curiosity, may have nothing to do with simple scholarship and an abiding love of research....more often, I am finding, it is a situation in which family history is an anchor to hold to in this fast-paced and all too impersonal world. It is a situation in which all the heritage or "home" a family has left is its history. It is a situation in which a person regrets not finding important those things elders talked of at the time they talked of them, and with maturity wants to salvage what they can of the memories of elders who went on before them.Your words and help are often far more important than you can possibly realize, and will cause a heart to leap, bring tears to an eye in gratitude.
words, it is
often a matter of the "heart" and any small tidbit or fact, any
you can find time to give, is more meaningful than gold to that person
who longs so desperately to find his or her humble link in a long
pass it on, giving the generation to come roots and a sense of
in a world that is uncertain. "...and departing leave behind us,
in the sands of time."