Showing posts with label family interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family interviews. Show all posts


Family History – why is it so important?

About 8 years ago, I started to do my family history. This is the searching for who the people who make up my relatives through both my mother and father. Then I took a break on the searching and recently I have started again.

Why do you want to know? 

Contemplating the complex family history I have
I want to know who made me who I am. I know my own experiences made part of my personality up, but what about those other characteristics come from? Who were those people who came before me? What diseases did they have and, in turn, could I have? These are just a few of the questions I have. To me, they are very important because I want to know why I am the way I am because of my family’s history. 

I never knew either of my grandfathers at all. As for my grandmothers, I used to spend some time with her each summer vacation from school. My other grandmother I saw 3 times my entire life and then she just sat there. My parents never talked about the past – at all. When I was growing up, I always had friends that would talk about their grandparents, and in some cases, great grandparents. I had a grandmother, but that was it and it never occurred to me to ask that one question – why? 

Family Interviews

My grandparent’s headstone in Salisbury Mills, NY
When I first started the journey to answer some of those why questions, I took out my grandmother’s obituary, which had passed when I was a teenager, and found I had a starting point. I started looking up the names on and found – almost nothing.  As I’m pretty stubborn, I figured the only other way to find out any questions would be to start to ask those questions to the oldest people in the family, which at this point are my mother and father. It was a starting point. 

I asked my father some questions and it was glanced right over and not much else was said. I asked a second time and got a “Ya know.” and “You’ve met your grandmother.” and that’s as far as it went. As for my mother, I asked her and she said, as plain as day, “Why do you want to know? They are all dead.” And I told her that I wanted to know my past relatives which included her side. She got really quiet and then went onto another subject. The next time I asked her about family, my grandmother directly, she told me very upset “She is dead. Leave her ALONE. She’s finally getting the peace she never had when she was alive.” I told her I wanted to know where she was buried so I can pay my respects and she just told me “NO”. Another dead end. 

This is when I left the conversations. Then a few months ago, my husband found more information and told me about it, and that got me interested again. Round 2 had started. My father’s been very helpful but in small doses. The last time he brought up the subject, as “your little project”, I asked a few more questions, but he let information out. I know it hurt him because, for once, I could hear the hurt and loss in his voice.  Finally a win.
My Great Aunt Genevieve
On my mother’s side, I tried again as well. I got a very terse email back stating that a picture I sent to her was of her aunt and that her grandfather wasn’t very nice. I then emailed back stating some of the facts as I knew them, but she had taken them the wrong way and got very ticked off and I could hear the hostility in her writing about her relatives. It was very little that she let go and some of the information she mistook. The last email I wrote to her on the subject, recently, was about what I knew as fact and what I wanted to know. Since then, she hasn’t emailed me back, so I guess I have a mother that is currently not talking to me. 

Family Interviews are very important. They can give you information in small doses that you might never have known before. The way a person says a word, and a word or more can also cause you to ask more questions. 

Why is this so important?

This is very important to me because once we lose that generation, then any information we had about our great grandparents is gone. Any luck with knowing if we have other family out there is completely gone. As my parents are getting older, we have to face the facts that someday in the next 30 years; they will not be with us any longer. If we want those ties to our ancestors then we need to get that information NOW. I feel for some families because the generation that they have left might have dementia or some other trauma which they cannot get the needed information. 

I would love to know if I have first cousins out there. We might be able to talk about our family and how we’re alike. Then there’s the medical history as well. How can you be preventive when you don’t know anything about why your past relatives have died? Are there things we can do now, to prevent the current and future generations from getting a disease or illness and live longer?

The past is just a story

I have seen the above picture on Facebook, and told myself that it is a story, but it’s not JUST a story. Each of us has a story to tell – just like our past family has, and in researching them, you can finally tell their story. Sometimes in telling that story, it will actually change a current story – and in some cases break the cycle. For each one of us, that story is different and in others it can be just the same. Don’t believe me? Then let me focus on one circle in my family. 

I have been told my grandfather had diabetes. No matter what I did, I couldn’t lose weight, but kept trying. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with it. I took a stern stand and controlled all sugar I was eating. After years, I finally lost weight, and in doing so, I actually reversed the diabetes to normal levels.  If I hadn’t known about the diabetes, then we wouldn’t have been looking as early as we were and I could have done real damage which couldn’t have been reversed. 

I have broken the cycle on my side by watching and tightly controlling the sugar and diabetes. It was extremely hard, but it can be done. Now everyone in the family is watching what they eat and is encouraged because it can be done because they have seen it. So by breaking the cycle, it’s changed my story and my sibling’s story. 

Can you imagine what can be done if it had been physical abuse? Or mental abuse? Researchers have said:
“Emotional abuse of a child is commonly defined as a pattern of behavior by parents or caregivers that can seriously interfere with a child’s cognitive, emotional, psychological or social development.[6] Some parents may emotionally and psychologically harm their children because of stress, poor parenting skills, social isolation, and lack of available resources or inappropriate expectations of their children. They may emotionally abuse their children because the parents or caregivers were emotionally abused during their own childhood. Straus and Field report that psychological aggression is a pervasive trait of American families: "verbal attacks on children, like physical attacks, are so prevalent as to be just about universal."[23] A 2008 study by English, et al.found that fathers and mothers were equally likely to be verbally aggressive towards their children.[24] “and physical abuse is aligned with this view. If we find that our past family members had any abuse in the family, then we can break this cycle. That way no abuse happens for further generations. That is an important story – stopping or limiting what we can. 

Staff Sgt J. Sherman's wings
There are good stories as well as bad stories to be given. For instance, my father was in the US Navy. My nephews, two of them, have either served or are serving. Upon my research, I found that my mother had a cousin which served in World War 2. He died on a training mission. His memory is being kept alive by a plaque in France, as he had no wife or children. 
Further, I want to “visit” any relatives… they have lived and loved or we wouldn’t be here. I have to respect that. Why did they do the things they did? If they didn’t then we might not have been here at all, but you ARE here so shouldn’t we honor them by remember what they were – both the good things and the bad? 

People who take on being the family historians are trying to do just that – show both the good sides and the bad of each person and to tell their stories. In doing that, it will release whatever good and evil is known so it cannot be done for future generations. That is the important part. 

I do know this – family is important. When you have nothing, they will still be there to give you confidence and unconditional love. Should those who have lived before us have any less of a story to tell or be unrecognized? I don’t think so, as people, we are all important. Further, those of us who want or need to know this information, please give some family historians some respect and information after all, its for the future generations of your family.

Family History Week is going this year for the whole month of August. To find out more here's the website
Some of my family in 2004