I received a wonderful email last week after my SCGS webinar, "Grandma's Flak Jacket: Why your children need you to do genealogy." The email illustrates so beautifully how nourishing family history is, even when there are hard things going on in your family. Jo-Ann said I could share the letter with you, so here it is. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me.
I attended your webinar last night (am the one who's
husband's father was one of 22 children... he's also Swedish). I've
attended probably a dozen different webinars over the past year and most
have been very good, but yours was different. I've not felt compelled
to contact a presenter afterwards, but this time I have to. Your talk
touched me like none of the others have.
I come from a very dysfunctional family, with alcoholism, drug
addiction, sadism and lots of irrational (and unsavory) behaviours.
Thusly, there was never any closeness and no one ever talked about
family history. I am 56 years old and about 3 years ago, just on a
whim, I decided to draw up my family tree. I was stuck almost
immediately on my paternal grandfather. My Dad (now deceased) was
entirely unapproachable on the subject, but he had 2 sisters. He was on
good terms with one, but estranged from the other. We were never
allowed to talk to that second sister because she was apparantly so
horrible. Trouble is, the first sister was like him and would not
discuss the family, so my only choice was to approach the second one....
even though I was risking being disowned for doing so. My whole world
changed at that point.
Not only was she not horrible, she was WONDERFUL. She was thrilled
to hear from me and shared openly. She inspired me beyond all belief
and I am eternally grateful to her for that. She is 82 years old and I
regret all those lost years. But it is what it is and at least we can
carry on from here with love instead of resentment and maybe heal some
of those hurts. I guess you could say I am now obsessed with genealogy,
making it practically my full time job. I think what drives me is that
need for connectedness. I have come to believe that I am part of
something much bigger and I finally feel "a part of". I've had some of
those woo-woo moments that you talked about last night and those are
very cool. I absolutely love having made contact with previously
unknown relatives and especially being able to share things with others
that they did not know before. And have put people together that
otherwise may never have found each other, or even known of their
There was one defining moment, which may sound like nothing, but it
impacted me. My grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Canada. He was
following his sweetheart who had emigrated the year before. They
married, had children and when the Great Depression hit he had to travel
to the other side of the country for work. For various reasons, they
never reunited. Once he landed work he sent for her and the children,
but her family interfered and prevented her from going. Very sad. She
always kept his picture beside her bed until her dying day some 70 years
later. It breaks my heart to even tell this story. But the haunting
question is... whatever happened to him? I have really tried hard to
find him, but so far to no avail. I did trace him to a town in 1935 and
had the strangest sensation when I first saw his name on the printed
page of the City Directory. Nothing earth shattering. Just a phone
book. But it was him. He was real. I felt a connectedness I had never
felt before. Was weird.
I'm still searching for him and will not give up. I don't know what
kind of man he was. I like to believe he was good, even though he had a
brother who was very much NOT good. My Dad and his one sister hated
their father their entire lives because they believe he abandoned the
family, but I don't think they had all the facts. I think they robbed
themselves by not trying to learn and understand why their parents did
what they did. They preferred to carry the hurt. So... because the
trail on grandfather went cold quite quickly, I turned my attention to
his wife's family and have mapped out quite a large tree. Details have
come much more easily and I've made many contacts. Here is where I'm
finding more than just the facts. I'm learning of behaviours and
personality traits and seeing very clear patterns. It really explains
so much of how and why my family (and it's branches) is the way it is.
It allows me to have more compassion.
And physical traits.... there's a whole 'nother fun subject. My
grandmother was from Scotland but her ancestors were from Ireland. Her
surname is rare, so I've been making a one-name study of it and tracing
everyone I find with that name. I have mapped 3 major branches and
traced them all back to the same place and time. I just can't prove the
link, but there have been tip offs. Like pictures of 2 men, each from a
different branch. They look so much alike they could be brothers.
Another story is I found a second or third cousin recently and he sent
me a picture of the GG-grandparents we share. It took my breath away to
see that GGGF and my nephew are spitting images of each other.
This whole subject is awesome, awesome, awesome! I would love to
publish my findings some day, to pass down to future generations. I
often sit and think what life was like for my various ancestors and
picture myself standing beside them in their time. I also wonder what
they would think about how hard I'm working to learn about them. What
would they have thought about someone being so interested in them as
they were just living their ordinary lives. Will someone in the future
be this interested in me and what I am doing today in MY ordinary life?
Anyways, I've written much more than I intended to. I just wanted
to thank you for the webinar and confirming that I'm not the only one
who approaches my research with these same thoughts and intentions. I
don't even know if I've adequately articulated what I am trying to say
to you, but .... thanks.
Jo-Ann (in BC, Canada)