Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Keeping In Touch With My Ancestors (2nd Place Winner At Colorado State Society Conference 2013)


Being a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother means I have no shortage of living people to love and cherish.  Being a genealogist, I have an endless supply of ancestors to love and cherish.  Because the thrill of genealogy is the fun of getting acquainted with my ancestors, my favorite motto now is “Keeping In Touch With My Ancestors”.
Of course, the challenge in this is finding them in the first place.  Once the names, dates, and places are found I begin to try to find clues about their lives, personalities and activities.  To do this means a study of the time they lived and what was typical in their world.  This also means I have to uphold the genealogists golden rule, do not judge.  Until I learn about my ancestors in the world they lived in, with all of their human frailties, they are just names, dates, and places on a pedigree chart. 
It was a revelation when I learned that an ancestress became disillusioned with marriage and began a life as a single working mother in 1880.  This is a time that we generally associate with, “a woman’s place is in the home”, and that was the end of the story.  How brave, Sarah Huffman Reaver, was to leave, with the youngest of her four children, and support herself and her child in the big wide world.  I smile as I imagine the talk of Columbus, Ohio when that happened.  And Sarah became someone I am proud to know and belong to.  I can relate to her as a real person.
Finding my Revolutionary patriots has afforded me the chance to learn about life in the 18th Century. I can feel the sadness and fear that, Esther Sanford, felt upon learning that her husband drowned in the Hudson River at West Point. She had a new born son and eight older children to support.  I can feel the heartache felt by, Abigail Parmenter, when her patriot husband was sentenced to hang for his involvement in Shays Rebellion.  Each of my patriot ancestors tells me a different story as I begin to know them.
I marvel at how thin the thread of life is.  This was a profound thought when I discovered my existence is due in part to a baby boy born four days before his mother died.   Charles B. Sanford survived, matured and produced the only progeny of his father, and it is something I consider a miracle.  So many people are alive because that baby boy survived a difficult situation that could have easily had a sad outcome.  His father had no one to help raise Charles, so he had to pay people to take care of him.  My ancestors were strong in handling what life dealt them.  Charles B. Sanford is not just a name on a pedigree chart.  He is someone I know and cherish.
It seems only human nature to remember and report the sad times and the struggles of my ancestors.  However, I have learned about happy times as well.  When I plotted the close proximity of the family farms of two of my ancestors, I could almost see in my mind the corner of the two adjoining properties where they may have rendezvoused, courted, and fell in love.  Jeremiah Thompson was thirteen years older than, Rebecca  Sankey, and I imagine that to her he was quite the man of the world.  And he was indeed, having fought in the War of 1812 and moved from Kentucky to Missouri and finally to Indiana where they met. Theirs was a love story that lasted the rest of their lives and produced eight children. The world is different now, society is different now, but human nature is constant. 
Gone but not forgotten is a popular saying found on tombstones, but, I believe that as long as someone is not forgotten, they are not gone.  Gone is a term I try not use in regard to my ancestors.  The best way I can insure that is to write about them and share their lives with my descendants, and other people that descend from them.  
To learn what their world was like and the struggles they encountered and overcame is an adventure.  It is more fun than reading the latest fiction novel, mystery novel, watching the most popular television program, or movie.  It satisfies my curiosity, which is the main ingredient in my recipe for keeping in touch with my ancestors.  
          As long as I remain curious, I am still interested in my world, as well as, the world of my ancestors.  It is the best mental therapy for me.  It is the best antidote for boredom.  It is the best anti-aging product on the market.
          I think I will change my motto to, falling in love with my ancestors.  It better fits the way I feel about my connection to them.  I wish for you the same joy that I find in knowing my ancestors.  If not for them, we would not  be.

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