Recreating Our History

I love history. It was one of my favorite subjects in school. There is something about learning from the past that helps us understand where we are now and how we got here. Now, I am looking into my family history. While my mom was still living, I would ask her to tell me stories from her younger days. She told me many times that she had a lot of stories to tell. I asked her to write them down as she remembered them, but writing stories wasn’t her thing. She loved sharing her memories though, and they would pop up now and then in our conversations.

About five years ago, I started to search the internet for my history. I chose a genealogy site that I have come to love and trust. It’s amazing the information that is out there. I have heard of people that spend hours working on their history, and I think that’s amazing. I can’t do that though. After an hour or two, at the most, I am ready to shut it down. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. I wish I were more knowledgeable about genealogy, but I persevere and work on it as I have time and learn by doing.

I recently learned that I am related to Winston Churchill and Lucille Ball, both on my father’s side of the family. Lucille Ball is my sixth cousin once removed. I smiled when I saw that I was related to “Lucy.” As a young wife, my husband used to call me and my friend Marcia, Lucy and Ethel, from the old “I Love Lucy” show. We were always getting into what I like to call wayward adventures or misadventures, just like they did.

Although it is exciting to find out that I am related to famous people, the people I am most interested in are all the others, those that weren’t famous. I wonder about every single one of them. How did they make their living, what were their hardships, and what did they enjoy? I wonder about their thoughts, their adventures, and what their lives were like.

I love seeing my family history come alive. I also enjoy writing stories about my ancestors that I’m aware of and sharing them with others. I had written a story about my grandfather on my dad’s side. I never knew much about him because he died at the old carbide dock in 1926. I had never seen a picture of him, and my dad didn’t have one. Maybe he had one when he was younger, but for whatever reason, it may have been lost or damaged in a flooded basement. A distant cousin I didn’t know existed, sent me a message on the site. She had read my story, and she sent me a picture. I think her great-grandmother may have been my grandfather’s sister. The photo contained a whole family of brothers and sisters. He was a young man and a very handsome one. I cried because I wished that my dad were still here so I could have shown him what his dad looked like. Chances are he had never seen it. Finding that picture has been my most rewarding experience so far in tracing my ancestors.

I have also purchased old journals and letters from different sites on the internet of other people’s families. I have never purchased pricey ones, and I always made sure the ones that I did buy were legible and readable. When I bought my first stack of old letters and journals, I felt as if I was doing something I shouldn’t, as if I was spying or secretly reading the mail of others. I told myself if I didn’t buy them, someone else would, and I knew that I would take good care of them and eventually pass them on to others.

I am inquisitive by nature, and when reading old letters and journals, I come away with many questions that I know won’t be answered. It’s like catching a glimpse of something you want while knowing you will never get it. I love reading other people’s journals and letters, and although they are not my ancestors, it’s fun to read about another person’s life. It’s history. I wish I had had some of those letters and journals as a child. I could have written a book report for school and probably aced it. It would have contained personal information others didn’t have available, a first-hand account of what life was like back in another time.

Reading an old letter is different than reading a journal because they are usually shorter. I like to create a picture of what was written in the letter, imagining the person writing it and the one reading it. I love looking at the old stamps on the envelopes too. Some envelopes only had a name and a city in the address, but they got delivered to the right person. I noticed in old letters, especially from around WWI and WWII, people were more respectful in addressing each other. Many letters I have read begin with “My dear” or “Dearest.” I often wonder where people read their letters. Were they read while sitting in a train station, on a front porch, or a battlefield? I have all these questions I want answers to, and yet I know I will never get them. I have learned to be grateful for everything that was shared, though.

These letters and journals are part of our history too. I think it’s important to write letters and journals to share with others at some point, whether with family or given to an old bookstore or other shops, to share with strangers.

As I get older, I have thought about where I want my letters and journals to go after I have passed on. I would love for them to go to an antique shop, thrift store, or an online site where someone can buy one of my journals or a bundle of letters. Maybe it will be an unexpected purchase, something they weren’t looking for but happened upon. I want someone to understand who I was and what I dreamed about. I also hope they end up in different places throughout the world, so people can get a glimpse of someone they have never met from another time and another place. I hope they wonder about me and create the rest of the untold story, and I hope it’s a happy one.

I hope that people everywhere will keep their own journals and stories to be passed on from generation to generation. I hope they take the time to listen to their family stories too. I wish I had started at a younger age and questioned my grandparents and older family members about their memories. A family’s history is something to be treasured and cherished, to pass on to the next generation, or to a place far away where someone may read your thoughts, dreams, and hardships and wonder about you.

Written by: Laurie Davis

Laurie Davis, Columnist
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