We spend so much time researching our ancestors and putting their timelines together, finding sources, tracing lines, interviewing relatives we often forget about the most important person in our lives..... Us! We may not feel our lives are that important right now, but many years down the line when our descendants are researching back, they are going to want to know exactly what you are wanting to know about your ancestors. What you did, where you lived, things you liked, etc. So why not make it easy for them?
Where to start?
I've been reading through my new Christmas present from my hubby, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, (a wonderful book you should really have in your collection). It starts out with this fact. Start with you. The most important first step. Although, you may be asking, "Well how do I know what is important?" or "What information do I include?". Since I have been researching for a few years now, I have an idea on what is important. My advice I give now is, think about what questions you have for your ancestors. Think about the things you don't know that you wish you knew. And if something in your life is important to you, then make it known.
Case Study 1: One person that has caused me many headaches is my 2x Great Grandma Maggie Helfrich nee Molten. She is my brick wall. I do not know her parents, where she lived in Tennessee for sure, why she married her first husband, why they divorced and why she came to St. Louis. Especially why she came to St. Louis. There was apparently nothing out here that would draw her here such as family or a job. She could not read or write, and he was a woman which limited her abilities. So she ran a boarding house and was a seamstress. But why St. Louis?
Case Study 2: Another family that has caused much confusion was my Great grandparents Joseph and Margaret ILG. According to records, they were married in 1919 and had their daughter (my grandma) in 1920 in Detroit, MI. Why? All family was here and all records from then have been in St. Louis. When did they go to Detroit? Work? How long did they live there? Well, census records had them in St. Louis in 1920 and both listed as single. So that got me asking more questions. Then, I found their marriage record in Detroit, MI. They were married in 1920 just a few months before my grandma was born. Ok, I get it now. Pregnant out of wedlock. Went to Detroit to get married, have the baby and then move back to St. Louis. To hide this fact, they actually recorded their marriage record as being in 1919 and celebrated their anniversaries according to this fact. So I've had to straighten all this out.
I've taken that information and applied it to my own life. Since I've been married, we have moved from St. Louis, MO to Winchester, TN to McMinnville, TN to Delta, CO then back to St. Louis, MO. But if you were just to trace us by Census records: In 2000, we were both single and living in St. Louis; In 2010 we were listed as married, had one child and were living in Delta, CO. Now we were married in Winchester, TN and our daughter was born in Winchester, TN. But without knowing we moved there, they might questions if this was really us. They would also ask if maybe we had to move because of pregnancy. So in order to make it easier, I've recorded these facts and the reasons.
Let your collectables speak for you
I'm grateful my parents are hoarders. They have saved everything since I was a baby, so that will help in tracing my life. I have lots of photos, papers, yearbooks, school projects from kindergarten through senior year of high school. I've even got all my diplomas, certificates, report cards (scary), letters, etc from school. My husband has quite a bit too, but not as much as I have. So we are working on his timeline from school. I participated in Color Guard in High School for all four years and have saved my uniforms, pictures, medals, and little things I collected while in guard. I have no clue how to preserve these items yet, especially the uniforms, but they are important to me. I know I will eventually have to go through some things and get rid of what's not important. For now, I'm glad to have it.
I've also created scrapbooks from when my husband and I first met and the first 10 years of our marriage. I kept so many collectables, cards, notes, items from dates, etc. Now I'm also working on details from my daughters birth on up as well. I've got to many cards, pictures and other items from her growing up. I keep things with the idea of what's important to her or me. I have her little hat she wore in the hospital. She also wore the same outfit I wore when I came home from the hospital. Maybe one day her daughter can wear that outfit.
Start going through and cataloging items as if they were your ancestor's items. I keep so much with the idea of passing it along later on. My dad has so many antiques in his basement. I love talking with him about these items. Some have sentimental value, some don't. Think of things in that sense. Do you have a item that has sentimental value? Write about it. I know we can't keep everything, but keep the most important.
Let's get serious here for a minute
With this though, comes a very difficult task. Being completely honest. There may be some things in your past that are very difficult. Things you chose not to remember. I've come across some of that in my family. I also have things in my life that I would just soon rather forget. Whether I like it or not though, it is part of my life. My history. It has made me who I am. Yours has made you who you are. If you chose not to share it right now, at least journal something about it for later. You don't have to provide tons of details. That's not the point. But the point is, providing the truth about your life. It may be useful later in your descendants lives. How you ask? Let me give you examples:
Case Study 3: This is hard for me to talk about. My dad and I had a rough relationship. He was an alcoholic and a very factual man. Mom and dad argued a lot about things. Mom is a very strong willed person, but she had it rough growing up. To respect their privacy, I will not go into details. Well, growing up with this dynamic has led me to make certain choices in my life. The men I dated were not exactly the best. I could never please them or earn their approval. I constantly felt like I wasn't good enough. That's they way I felt with my dad sometimes. (Now, he has since quit drinking and it like a completely different man) So that's they type of relationships I fell into without realizing it. Well, I finally found the man of my dreams (although I have learned he is more like my dad than I realized), and after 2 months of dating, we married, then a few months later, we moved out of state. I wanted away from everyone. I couldn't take things anymore. Now are back and things have gotten better with all of us. Ok so what does this have to do with things? Well, as I traced back my mom's side of the family, I saw a trend. The men I have traced back were not very nice men. My grandma's first marriage was to a man who was abusive, controlling, hot tempered. She married at the age of 16, just to get out of her house. Her mom married at the age of 17 to a not so nice man (but I won't go into details). Her mom wasn't even around to take care of her or her sister. She married a few times and lived how she wanted to live. Then her mom (my 2x great grandma) also married 2 men who were mean, cheaters and eventually abandoned her. There was a pattern here. Without meaning for it to be, I fell into it as well. Getting married young (I was 20-Not as young but still) and running away to get away from things. So I've been very honest with my daughter about this in hopes that she doesn't fall into the same pattern. Maybe I can break this cycle of heart ache and pain. No promises, but hopes.
Case Study 4: I have struggled with depression my whole life. Growing up with it has not been easy. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression when I was 16. With my research, I've learned that my mom has struggled with, it as well as my grandma. So this is a genetic thing. With this knowledge I can help my daughter through it. I've also learned Bi-polar runs on my husband's side, which my daughter has shown signs of. It was only recently documented on my husband's side. Tracing back his family has opened up some possibilities of what else runs in the family. It has made it easier to help my daughter cope with these difficult situations. With the advancement of DNA testing and learning what runs in our genetics, this can be helpful as well. Maybe one day we can test and find out what lies in our DNA. Everything people have tried hard to ignore or hide.
I know I'm rambling. So let's wrap this up with one last thing. Please remember your life is just as important as those ancestors you are researching. If you are proud of something in your life, share it. Start preserving importing things about you. Awards, newspaper clippings, photos, etc. Today, most people are not interested in preserving history. Be the oddball out and start saving things that your descendants will appreciate years down the line.
Also, if you are afraid of sharing something because of how it will make another relative look, my advice to you is, be as truthful as you can. If something bad has happened in your life, don't be afraid to share it. You are who you are and those experiences have made you who you are, for better or worse. Even if you have to keep it locked away until after your death, do so. I plan on doing that with somethings I have learned about my family. Out of respect for those that are still living, that information will not be shared until after I'm gone. I'm a big advocate for telling the truth. I tell the truth and I expect the truth to be told to me. So that's what has made me the keeper of the family. I record the truth as I see it. Whether good or bad. I won't be like some of my family and alter records to make the family look better. That's our job as genealogists. To seek out and record the truth about our families. It may not be pretty and at times very painful, but it is the truth and it has happened. Again, you don't have to include details, just the facts. Do not disrespect your ancestors by altering the truth just to make your family look better. Honestly, I wish something had come to light years ago, so healing could have happened to one family member instead of them carrying it around all their life, letting the other relative be looked at better than he deserves.
You are who you are, and the world deserves to know.