52 Ancestors: Start
— what a totally strange title for a blog post. Takes a bit of explaining. You see, I subscribe to a genealogy blog, DNA-explained which is obviously about genetic genealogy (DNA). The author/editor, Roberta Estes says she got the idea of writing a weekly post about her ancestors from Amy Johnson Crow, another blogger. After reading about Roberta’s “52 Ancestors” for over a year, I decided to take the plunge myself and write a weekly post about my own ancestors.
I was surprised to find that Amy Johnson Crow’s instruction are a bit more specific (but not too much so). Instead of simply writing about a different ancestor each week for a year, she instructs those who take her challenge by giving them obscure topics. She calls them “prompts.” They’re obscure because she doesn’t explain them. That’s intentional. She wants the writer to make up their own definition of what each prompt means.
Week 1: Start. That’s the first week’s prompt. “Start what?”, you may ask. Well, now you know what I mean by “obscure.” She doesn’t say. It’s up to me to decide what to “Start” or what’s been “Started.” Before I wrote the post I received an email from her, probably a form letter, but with a final sentence that asks, “What got you started in this great journey of genealogy?” Aha! Now I know what “Start” means!
How did my grandparents generation get their “Start?”
How DID I get my start doing genealogy? Pretty strangely. You see, I’ve been doing this for nearly a half century but my “start” actually began a half century before I was born. Two sisters, cousins of both my father’s parents, actually were the first in our family to document their journey on family research. Marion and Maud Kelly were Oakley’s Vincent’s cousins on his dad’s side. His father was their grandmother’s brother. They were also related to my father’s mother, Oma Seay Vincent. Her mom was a Pace before she married and the Pace Family were also in Marion and Maud’s ancestry. These two sisters interviewed my grandfather Oakley and his older sister, Ida. They kept records of their research and correspondence.
How did my father get his Start?
My dad was a teen about the time Maud Kelly began interviewing my grandparents Oakley and Oma Seay Vincent. My father was 23 years old, married, and a young father himself on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 1942 which is the date of a letter Maud wrote to her brother, Richard, concerning the grave site of John Vincent (1787-1871), Oakely’s grandfather. I mentioned the letter in a previous blog post. Oakley knew where his grandfather’s grave was located. He and Oma were willing to show the location to Maud so she and Richard could mark it with a tombstone. This may have been about the time when daddy first became aware of Maud’s research. It wasn’t long thereafter ’til my dad began writing his own family records. I still have his 70-year-old pedigree.
How I got my Start?
I was only a child, not more than a young teen, when I first became aware of my father’s pedigree chart and other family records. He spoke of them and showed them to us from time to time. It was only the sharing of family stories. I never actually wrote anything down and wasn’t interested beyond listening to a good story. But my father was clearly interested and enjoyed sharing his family history with anyone who cared to listen.
In 1969 I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). I learned that they, too, were very interested in family history. In fact, they were quite serious about it and actively encouraged it. I was enlisted in the United States Air Force at the time. In 1970, shortly before I was discharged, I was transferred to a base in California where I took a class in family history at my church.
One of the first things the instructor asked us to do was to fill out a family group sheet. That was pretty easy except for the dates. I had to write home for that information. Then she asked us to complete a pedigree chart. Not easy. I was bogged down, 2,200 miles from home, and I had no idea who my great-grandparents were. I wrote several letters home. My wife, who was home at the time, gathered the information and sent it to me in her next letter. That was in 1970 and I’ve never looked back. I was hooked!
Beyond the Start.
Gathering my family history was only an occasional thing for me over the years but, early on, I promised myself it would be a regular thing. I would be dedicated to it. How much time to spend at it? Could I devote one day a week? Not a chance. How about one day a month? I was a young father with a growing family. A day per month was unlikely. So how about one day a year, surely I could spend that tiny amount of time. Yep! No problemo. When? Well, it just so happened that my employer gave each employee the day off for his or her birthday. I decided to dedicate my birthday every year (and perhaps the entire weekend) to researching my family’s history.
And so it was. One day a year. That’s all. Oh, on a weekend I’d spend two or even 3 days, all day long. Then there were those days or afternoon during the year when a far away relative would pay a chance visit. Mother would call and I would go see them for an interview. Not much time at all spending just one, or perhaps two or three, days a year doing genealogical research. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish. Within 20 years time from 1970 to 1990 I had enough material to write two books, one each on my father’s and my mother’s families. Of course they were hit at family reunions even though they were quite small, 100 pages or less, not counting the index.
No, this blog post isn’t exactly about a particular ancestor. It’s about all of them or rather it’s about how I became intensely interested in them all. As I researched them and began learning their stories, I came to love them all as if they were all yet alive. Some were when I first started. After a few decades of living we come to realize that the information we wrote about them years earlier has since become priceless, of great value. Relatives who missed their deceased parents, aunts, and uncles were so grateful I had interviewed them all BEFORE they died.
My advice today for those interested in their own family history is to never delay. Get started NOW! Don’t wait until you have “more time” when you’re older. Many of those you’ll wish you had talked to will no longer be around to talk to you. You don’t need “more time”, you only need more determination and very, very little time — just one day a year.
This blog post about 52 Ancestors, and perhaps others that may follow won’t necessarily be about a particular ancestor. I’ve written amply about a great many of my ancestors on my websites including this one (MyKinFolks.org and its blog), VincentFamily.org, and on various public websites such as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and Wikitree.com. I wrote about how I’ve been doing this now for nearly 50 years.
One of the projects I’ve recently committed to is to write more and share more of what I know about various families of my ancestors, the surnames of my great-grandparents. I’ve learned that just collecting information about the living can yield priceless information to those who failed to collect this information if you hang onto it for a few decades. I’ve learned that finding out who descended from an ancestor is a lot easier than finding out who preceded that ancestor. I’ve learned that one person may only know a little about the family but each person knows something different. Collectively, they know a lot, they just don’t realize it.
In summary, I’ve taken one day a year, I’ve interviewed my living relatives (oldest first), I’ve written as much as I could, I’ve kept good research notes. As I’ve built family stories piece-by-piece and shared with others, I’ve learned they, too, have other stories to share. Putting all this together has been labor intensive but it’s very, very rewarding learning what my kin and I now know collectively about our ancestors that we never could have known individually. It’s my goal this year, 2018, to share as much about each family as I can using this 52 Ancestors theme and by other means. It ought to be a run ride!