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Genealogy - We Love It!

The Storytellers

We are the chosen. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the storytellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called, as it were, by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story. So, we do. In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors you have a wonderful family you would be proud of us? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.

It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can't let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today. It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family. It goes to deep pride that the fathers fought and some died to make and keep us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us.

It is of equal pride and love that our mothers struggled to give us birth, without them we could not exist, and so we love each one, as far back as we can reach. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do. With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are they and they are the sum of who we are.

So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take my place in the long line of family storytellers.

(Unknown Author)

"The Gift of Living History"

from the "Sunday Afternoon Rocking"





Jan Philpot

Malissa looked up from the garden and pushed a strand of hair from her

sweaty face. "Where's Jim?" Nate hollered, drawing his horse up and

ignoring the cries of the children welcoming their uncle. Malissa blinked

and Nate did not bother awaiting an answer…of course Jim was down

pasture. He galloped off and Malissa stood with her hands on her hips and

a feeling of alarm. Her alarm was well grounded, for Nate had come with a

warning. War had entered their homeland… and nothing would be the same

again. Tonight she and Jim would bury the six place settings of family

silver and the few coins they had to their name. They would bury the

silver teapot that had come over the mountains with Jim's grandparents.

Tonight they would convince their twelve-year-old son to wear a dress

and a bonnet. Tonight they would warn their children to stay close. They

 would hide away food provisions. And in the days that followed

they would cringe at the sound of the cannon fire. Folks would drop by and

speak to Jim in whispered tones. Finally Jim would arm a gun for Malissa

and one for himself, he would remind her what they had planned in case of

trouble, and he would ride off with his brother. And when that was over,

the nightmare would just have begun…and it was not even the armies

themselves to fear, but the drifters who took advantage of a war ravaged

country. And when that fear had abated, the carpetbaggers would come…

I do not know that this scene ever took place, but it might have, might

well have. For my family lived so close to a battlefield that my

grandfather was able to tell me of his own grandparents telling him of it,

of the sound of the cannon fire, of the dark days afterward. He would

stretch a hand toward me, and uncurl his fingers to reveal a mini ball, and

as I sat rolling it in my own smaller palms, he would talk of those days he

did not remember, but the scar of which was firmly imprinted on his memory

of those who did.

All too often, all I have of my ancestors is the paperwork that prove they

existed, if I am lucky a tombstone, sometimes a living memory link, but no

more than a wisp… And so I look at the time frames they lived in, and

where they were, and try to visualize a scene that was likely to have taken

place, a word that was likely to have been spoken, a worry that had to have

been carried on a heart. Maybe you do the same.

It has occurred to me often to wish there were diaries, journals, something

to tell me what they witnessed, what they lived through, what they

remembered… but there is nothing like that. There are letters of a

grandfather and a great grandmother, and the telegram they received telling

them a brother and son had been killed in the first World War...there are

his letters… I touch these, read them, feel the emotion…and wish for all

of the stories of the past…the Confederate soldiers I know were there, the

Revolutionary soldiers, the natives and the native fighters…that there were

words on paper, words written by them.

The act of pursuing genealogy, ancestors, has made history live for me, and

just knowing they were in a place I have read of, a part of an event I have

memorized in a class, has been thrilling. None of my ancestors were

important enough to have been documented in history, none of them made

great names for themselves, none of them were anything more than the common

people who made up the backdrop for history to unfold. And all of them were

the quiet characters on the stage that gave the scene the energy and

vitality to unfold. I can use that which is documented, and my imagination

and fill in what might have been their thoughts and their fears, their

dreams, their motivation. But oh to have it in their words! That would

not change history, or give insight into the power bases that made

history…but it would do something more. It would give a glimpse of what

each event was to the common man and woman who lived in its time…and that

is what most of our families are.

My life is but a short strand in the long links that make up time, but my

children think it amazing I remember when John Glenn took his historic

flight around the earth. They think it amazing that my husband was a part

of the blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. It came to me recently to

make a list of all of the things I remember of historic importance. The

Cuban missile crisis, fallout shelters and drills, the assassination of

JFK, the clips on evening news of war zones in a tropical country… For

such a short strand in time, it is amazing the list that unfolds. And for

each of these times and events, I have written a short paragraph telling

where I was, why it is that the moment is carved so poignantly in memory,

what the words were I heard spoken about me, what the feeling was. My list

is not so long ago, it seems to me. For my children, it makes history

live. I wish my parents, my grandparents; all of my ancestors had done

such a thing… It is not too late to begin.

Such a simple idea…why did I never think to do it before?

For Christmas, my children will receive a living legacy and a

beginning. My mother, myself, my husband will list all of the events that

shaped a nation and a world, and which we personally remember or were a

part of as common people. We will write a bit about each time, and try to

make our adult children feel the mood of the times, and see it as it

was. And we will end this notebook with blank pages that they might begin

the same such documentation to pass on to their own children. And…we

hope…that at least some family lines will continue this tradition of

making history a living thing. We hope that at least some of our descendants

will keep the tradition, and that for many, history will become a real and

breathing thing, a link to the past…and a glimpse of a future should history

repeat itself. And something more…a source of pride, a feeling of belonging

to some great chain of events much longer and more meaningful than our

own singular strand in it.

We invite you to do the same for your children, grandchildren, nieces and


Copyright 2002JanPhilpot

Sunday Afternoon Rocking columns are distributed weekly on the list Sunday

Rocking. This is not a "reply to" list, and normally only one message per

week will come across it, that being the column. To subscribe send email to

Comments about the content of these messages can be sent to

Ode to my Ancestors

Ode to my Ancestors

  Alas, my elusive kinsman
  You've led me quite a chase
   I thought I'd found your courthouse
   But the Yankees burned the place.
   You always kept your bags packed
   Although you had no fame, and
   Just for the fun of it
   Twice you changed your name.
   You never owed any man, or
   At least I found no bills
   In spite of eleven offspring
   You never left a will.
   They say our name's from
   Came state side on a ship
   Either they lost the passenger list
   Or granddad gave them the slip.
   I'm the only one looking
   Another searcher I can't find
   I pray (maybe that's his fathers name)
   As I go out of my mind.
   They said you had a headstone
   In a shady plot
   I've been there twenty times, and
   Can't even find the lot.
   You never wrote a letter
   Your Bible we can't find
   It's probably in some attic
   Out of sight and out of mind.
   You first married a .....
   And just to set the tone
   The other four were Sarahs
   And everyone a Jones.
   You cost me two fortunes
   One of which I did not have
   My wife, my house and Fido
   God, how I miss that yellow lab.
   But somewhere you slipped up,
   Ole Boy, Somewhere you left a track
   And if I don't find you this year
   Well...... Next year I'll be back!


Contributed by: Jane Combs

Playing Among the Stones

I am hooked on genealogy! So, one day while baby-sitting my granddaughters (ages 4 and 2) I decided to visit a local cemetery. I had been asked to take some pictures of stones. It was a small, country
cemetery down a dirt road in Iowa. So, I just let my granddaughters play. They ran, gathered sticks, and played "hide and seek." We also had a snack.

When I called them to leave, the oldest had to go back to one stone, which had a picture, to tell the person "goodbye." When we were getting
in the car, she said, "Thanks, Grandma for bringing me to play with the people under the stones."

I laughed to myself and thought of all the people buried there who had had a good time watching and playing with her. It's never too early to start them on genealogy.
--Linda Mc

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: Vol. 5, No. 42, 16 October 2002.

Dear Ancestor

Dear Ancestor

 Your tombstone stands among the rest,
 Neglected and alone.
 The name and date are chiseled out
 On polished marble stone.
 It reaches out to all who care,
 It is too late to mourn.
You did not know that I exist,
You died and I was born.
 Yet each of us are cells of you,
 In flesh, in blood, in bone.
 Our blood contracts and beats a pulse,
 Entirely not our own.

 Dear Ancestor, the place you filled,
 So many years ago,
 Spreads out among the ones you left,
 Who would have loved you so.
 I wonder if you lived and loved.
 I wonder if you knew,
 That someday I would find this spot,
 And come and visit you.

   Author Unknown

Contributed by Jane Combs

The Family Tree


They think that I should cook and clean, and be a model wife.
I tell them it's more interesting to study Grandpa's life.

They simply do not understand why I hate to go to bed . . .
I'd rather do two hundred years of research work instead.

Why waste the time we have on earth just snoring and asleep?
When we can learn of ancestors that sailed upon the deep?

We have Priests, Rabbis, lawmen, soldiers, more than just a few.
And yes, there's many scoundrels, and a bootlegger or two.

How can a person find this life an awful drudge or bore?
When we can live the lives of all those folks who came before?

A hundred years from now of course, no one will ever know
Whether I did laundry, but they'll see our Tree and glow . . .

'Cause their dear old granny left for them, for all posterity,
Not clean hankies and the like, but a finished family tree.

My home may be untidy, 'cause I've better things to do . . .
I'm checking all the records to provide us with a clue.

Old great granny's pulling roots and branches out with glee,
Her clothes ain't hanging out to dry, she's hung up on The Tree.

Contributed by Jane Combs

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August 15, 2002

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