One of my family history professors said something really cool in class the other day. She said, “Your ancestor’s life should be enough.”
Out of context, this might seem kind of like a weird statement. We had been talking about family stories or traditions and how over the years, stories tend to get embellished. A burned barn turns into a burned schoolhouse and an adopted ancestor suddenly becomes the Indian Princess. We all do it. And one of the reasons she said that family stories become less and less true over the years is because everyone wants to be related to someone famous. Everyone wants a bit of royal blood in their line.
“But,” she said, “your ancestor’s life should be enough.”
If you’ve read this blog before, then you know that sometimes I can get on a diatribe about how important it is to remember that your ancestors were people and not just names on a pedigree chart. And because I feel so strongly about that, this phrase really stuck out to me.
I recently worked on a project for a class last semester about my ancestor Kate Kendall (you’ll hear more about her in later posts). She grew up in Hertfordshire, England in the late 1800s through the late 1900s. (She lived to be over 90, guys! She’s pretty cool.) She never married and was a servant all of her life. She took care of her blind sister after her parents died. She lived through World War II. But I never found anything particularly amazing about her life. But what is so cool is that she was a real person! And I grew to love her and her family as I researched them. They weren’t “special” people, but they are my ancestors and so that made them important to me.
I’m starting to sound preachy again, so I’ll wrap up this blog post. But I just hope that as we go about our research, we can remember our ordinary ancestors among those who have been written in history books.