One of the things that I have noticed in family history work is that sometimes people just find names and consider their work done. I have a name and a date. I’m good to go. They are found.
But just think about that for a second. If you were meeting someone, let’s say someone who sat next to you in class, would you look at them and ask, “Hi, what’s your name? Oh, that’s a nice name. Where and when were you born?” and then proceed to act like they no longer existed? No. Because they are a human being who you would probably try to get to know a little bit better. “What are you studying? Do you like cats or dogs better? What’s your favorite color?”
Your ancestors are people too. They lived a long time ago (sometimes a really long time ago), but they still lived. It’s interesting for me to think that my great-great-great-great grandma probably wished that she could afford more clothes or was jealous of someone else’s hair or felt lonely sometimes. Because she was a real human being with real human feelings. Emotions don’t change over time. Circumstances do. Clothing styles do.
I took a class about writing family history this semester and one of the assignments we had to do was a family history memoir. The basic idea behind the assignment was that we would research a member of our family who had already died and look for and write about a connection that we found with that ancestor. I wrote about my great-great-great grandmother who was the daughter of Mormon pioneers who settled in southern Utah. In times of struggle in her life, she would often turn to music, even making up songs to fit her current mood. This struck me deeply because I have always connected with music. And so I wrote about it. About how music can touch people’s lives and help them to get back up again when they have been knocked down by life.
If I hadn’t dug deeper into this ancestor’s past, I would not have found that way to see Mary Ellen (that’s her name) as a real human being. She would have just been another name among billions.
Do you want to be remembered as just a name? Or do you want to be flesh and blood?
It can be a hard thing to do, to find out stuff about your ancestors. A lot of records just tell you dates and places. But they also tell you relationships. Probate records can detail every possession that they had when they died. If you’re lucky, there’s a journal you can read. Ask a family member what they know about your ancestors. That’s what I do. My mom has been researching far longer than me so she knows stories that I haven’t found yet. It’s an amazing feeling and process in finding who your ancestors are.