Wednesday, December 8, 2010
How I Got Here - The Path to Becoming a Family Historian
[Please note this article has nothing to do with education or credentials]
In yesterday's blog post "Bridging Generations with Intent" I touched on the idea of raising and nurturing children to become family historians. I thought that this would be good timing to follow it up with my own story.
Professional genealogists are often asked how they came to become professionals at genealogy. It's almost as if non-genealogists are incredulous that someone could become a professional. There is usually an anecdotal story that precedes the education and credentials.
In my case, I became interested in family history on my own, of my own initiative in 1999 when I was pregnant with my first child. It is fairly common that major life events like the birth of children or grandchildren inspire people to seek out of a better understanding of their connection to their own family history. By the time my third child was on the way I was completely absorbed in genealogy and family history research. Shortly after that I decided I wanted to take it to the next level and become a professional.
I could end my story there. That's the very "me" centered story. It's accurate but it's not complete. In the years since then I have pondered the question many times, "Why did I become a genealogist?" The answer is much more involved and complex. In all honesty, it was fairly inevitable. Let me explain.
In order to answer this question for myself I had to look to the past. Seems appropriate for a genealogist. I had to recognize the incredible contribution that my mother had on shaping who I am.
The Influential Genealogist
My mother was a genealogist, a very serious amateur, for as long as I could remember. And she was consistent. There would never be a reunion or family gathering without my mother pulling out family group sheets, interviewing and taping the elders and generally asking questions about people who came before us. She visited cemeteries in search of ancestors, celebrated the birthdays of dead relatives (which, as a kid, I always thought was kind of weird) and constantly talked about family heirlooms and the people who had owned them. Back in the '60s when my Mom was raising young children she would spend every Saturday researching at the Connecticut State Library. Without realizing it, my entire childhood was an apprenticeship for becoming a family historian though I didn't know it at the time. Of course, now I have Mom to thank for all that.
Award for a Supporting Role
But if I'm going to be really honest, it wasn't all about Mom either. How did Mom get to be like that anyway? That answer to that is Dad. It was only recently I learned that my Dad was also a family historian. I'm not going to put him on the same level as my Mom because he hasn't maintained consistent activity throughout his whole life the way my Mom did. But he has maintained his interest and curiosity throughout his life and stills drives me to solve those unanswered family questions. The fun part is that now Dad and I can go on research trips together.
Larger than Life Impact
But, no, that is really not the end of it either. Mom and Dad became interested in family history under the strong influence of another family historian, Uncle Bill. William Henry Edwards (1898 - 1976) was my grandfather's brother. I have no living recollection of him but it is entirely possible that I met him. Uncle Bill, from what I've been told by my parents, was a vivacious man with a passion for family history and the arts. He so strongly influenced my parents that they developed their own interest not only in family history but also in a love of literature and poetry. I think it is interesting that of all the potential disciples (my Dad, his brothers and their cousins (Uncle Bill's kids) it was my Dad and Mom who got bit with the genealogy bug. No one else in the family took as quite a strong interest. (Though to be fair, I do believe Uncle Bill's son was interested in knowing and preserving the family history.)
Where it Began
The paper trail and oral history ends with Seeber and Sarah. Where did they get their desire to become family historians? I'll never know if it was the fad of the times spurred on by the mug books or whether they were influenced by a previous generation to take great care of their family history.
As I evaluate how I got to this point in my life as a family historian and genealogist it is hard for me to deny the strong influence that has been passed through the generations. I could say I became interested on my own and leave it at that. But I think much greater forces were at work. Because I was exposed to genealogy throughout my entire childhood I was much more inclined to take it up as an adult.
Those naysayers out there could be saying, look to your siblings as proof that exposure as a child doesn't turn people into genealogists. Well, yes and no. I have two brothers. Neither of them are professional genealogists nor do they actively do research. But both of them do have a very strong sense of family, a desire to know our family history and a real sense of tradition. And unlike many people, they are interested in listening to family stories and encouraging the preservation of family history. So I'll say it rubbed off on them too.
My Message to You
My message to you is be an example for your children or grandchildren. Don't force them to learn family history but consistently live your life so that you model in all your actions and interactions the importance of family history. I would argue that that is one of the most effective ways to encourage future generations.
photo: Seeber Edwards and Sarah Estella Gurney c. 1897 with their first born son.
Posted by Marian Pierre-Louis at 10:18 AM