Going Beyond Just Names and Dates

The stories of our ancestors are also important

History is not just names and dates. In fact, genealogy, if it is part of the general area of history, should not be just about names and dates. There is a famous quote from a movie that ends with the statement "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them". Well, there are uncounted millions of stories about our ancestors that are still waiting to be told.

We need more than just names. We need more than just dates. We need a sense of place, a sense of the surroundings, the people and the events that made up the lives of our ancestors. Some people approach genealogy as if it were a contest, with the prize going to the one with the most names. If this is the case then why not simply look at all the online family trees, copy as many names as possible and declare yourself the winner.

The stories of the lives of our ancestors is not the side show, it is the show. It is the main feature. Sometimes we think we don't have time to spend on mundane things like the lives of our ancestors; we are too busy pushing back the years and marking off the check boxes on our pedigree charts to waste our time with stories.

Surprise, the stories make the people and the people make the stories. The two are really inseparable.

When I was a lot younger we used to try to build towers of blocks to the ceiling. Inevitably we would get higher than our heads and someone would bump the stack and it would come crashing down. Building a pedigree further and further back in time is like a child's tower of blocks. There is really nothing holding it up and it is very likely it will come crashing down. Stories give a wide base that will sustain a lengthy pedigree. Your building blocks become even more stable when they are made up of complete families, rather than son to father or daughter to mother chains.

Let's broaden our base and build a suitable, long lasting structure. Will your children and your grandchildren hold you in high esteem because you were able to trace your lines back to the 15th century? Or will they only remember the stories? What if there are no stories to remember?

I must admit that when I started examining my own ancestry I was more interested in the names and filling the charts than I was in the stories that went with those names. But over the years I found that it was only through knowing the setting, the place, the surroundings, the people and the events, that I was really able to be sure the names were correct. How do you tell the difference between five men named John Morgan, all living in the same town without examining the history, surroundings, place, setting, and the events of those people and all of the others living in that same town. Or you could, like has been done countless time before, simply give up and pick one of the five, preferably the one with the most illustrious ancestors that are the easiest to trace.

People sometimes look at me as if I have lost my mind every time I suggest that they read the newspapers or a county history, or order a book about the place through interlibrary loan. Do you want to not care about the stories and get back to the interesting stuff, like names and dates?

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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