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Special family history insights: "If I knew then..."

Family history. So much more than names and dates

A friend of mine recently died of cancer. She was involved in genealogy and we "talked shop" about family history all of the time. I've taught several of her children in Sunday School classes and currently have her youngest daughter in a class.

She has struggled with her illness for years, yet she fought the battle with uncommon grace and good spirit. I'm telling you this because I want you to know of my regret about what I did not do...and should have. Even though she was sick, I didn't think that her life would end so soon. I thought I had time...

You see, many months ago, I felt the urge (or, prompting) to interview her and record it on audio tape. I wanted to do so that her children could have those tapes. Now it is too late.

I shared my regret with her husband. He told me that a family member had sent her a video camera for the same purpose, so that she could make her own record. But she never did. This made me feel worse because I know that I have a talent for interviews like that, and if I had followed through, I would have been able to do it. She was a delightful person, and she would have agreed to the interview had I only asked.

So, if I knew then...what I know now...I would have made the time to interview this wonderful lady and preserved some of her memories, insight, and council to her children on tape. Month's ago, I asked Treasure Maps readers to share their "If I knew then..." experiences with me. Here are some of them that focus on family history:

  • "If I knew then: I would have paid more attention to the stories that my grandparents told me and taken more of an interest in the scrapbooks and photo albums when we looked through them. Now my grandparents are gone (for the past 20+ years) and no one knows what happened to the Family Bible or the scrapbooks. Luckily I do remember some of the things my grandparents told me and some of those things have helped me to unlock a few mysteries." (Beth Ann Manners)
  • "I would have added every bit of documentation to the notes/sources area of my genealogy as I put it in. It is so much harder to find it again and add it now than if I had added it as I found it." (Marlyne Natali)
  • "If I Knew Then.....I'd ask better questions of the living and not assume it would all be obvious later. I did interview my grandfather a couple of times and got it on tape. But it never occurred to me that I would have so much difficulty figuring out how his "Aunt Delia" was related to him. There are numerous things I have run across that I naively assumed would be clear when organized together, but many connections still elude me as I try to piece together the puzzle of family relations. The right questions asked of my grandfather would have helped immensely since with his death I have yet to find anyone else still alive who knows the answers." (Kay King)
  • "If I knew then where by great-grandparents had come from in Germany when I was stationed there with my husband at the American Embassy and traveling around, I could have probably walked where they walked and met some cousins and seen what they had seen. I am in awe of the things they must have gone through to get to this country and start a new life, leaving behind their familiar life and family members. I don't believe I could have done that! And to think the majority of people today don't give a darn about their ancestors!" (Phyllis A. Jones)
  • "If I knew then what I know now, I would have visited all the cemeteries in my home town of Kingston, Ulster County, New York, and would have taken the time to record in a note book, the names of all the family members, and when they were born, and when they died." (Henry Hamilton)
  • "...that our son would move 3,000 miles away, I would have made it a point to give him a written account of our family and my birth-family. I think I would have written him a book of "Mother's Advice" that could have prevented him from making some serious mistakes he made after leaving home." (Wanda Barrett)
  • "I would have saved years of research. I was told by my mother my aunts the whole family that my grandmothers was Matilda Gray Wells. After years of looking for that name and checking census , birth, records and marriage license I came across a company in Utah who for a reasonable fee would find passport applications for US citizens, within 3 or 4 days I got a letter back, they found grandma's marriage license (something Brooklyn had not been able to do for me, don't know why not.) There big as life Grandma was Matilda Gray Nisbet born not in Brooklyn but in Charleston, SC. I could have saved years of frustration,still don't know why Brooklyn could not find the marriage license for me at the price I paid them but I'm now on the right track...I would still like to know how he got from Scotland to SC to NY. Maybe some day. Oh those elcusive kin of mine." (Pat Battey)

Preserve your family history

Make a point to talk to some of your existing family members about your family history. Can you interview a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle? A lengthy from birth-to-now interview with someone will not work on the day of a family reunion...but recording a few family stories would.

I hope that you will decide to do SOMETHING that pertains to recording other family members this year. It won't be long before the holiday season is here. Plan now for then. Be creative, have fun with it. You may be surprised where it leads you.

And, if those who you want to interview are no longer on earth...write down your memories and what you know. You carry this special labor of love on your shoulders. If your are reading this genealogy newsletter, then you are one of the few in your family that cares deeply about your family's heritage.

Every family has those diligent few, like you, that carry the family history torch. It is an honor. So do something special this year to preserve your family history, won't you?

About Robert Ragan:

Robert Ragan has been actively involved with computers and genealogy since the 1980s and is a former director of a Family History Center in Jacksonville, Florida. He has written several guides, tutorials and a home-study course on Internet genealogy research and has published the Treasure Maps genealogy email newsletter since 1995 and is publisher of http://www.amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/ - Your resource for genealogy, family tree and family history products, research tools and other genealogy search helps.


Copyright 1995-2007 by Robert Ragan - All Rights Reserved.