Who's Your Great Grandma?
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2015
It seems to me that more and more friends are investigating their "roots." Genealogy used to be just a pastime (excuse the pun) and now the search for one's ancestors is taking hold with children and adults in families all over the world. Even news anchors are tracing and documenting their roots: (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/10/world/gallery/roots-cnn-anchors/index.html).
Not only does this searching personalizes history, it can make events that children, in particular, study come to life. Each of us recognize and feel connections to places and people in unimaginable ways. When we engage in this type of search we have the opportunity to "solve mysteries" about our family which may turn out to be informative, embarrassing, awe-inspiring, or whatever. We feel that we are part of a larger story which enhances the significance of our personal chapter.
Whether or not we do a formal search, it is hugely important to share family stories with younger generations. Although everyone's story is different and everyone's memory focuses on different aspects of their story, sharing perceptions of who our forebears were helps solidify connections among generations.
What happens when we ask questions about relatives whose stories we have never heard? Stories that are not shared? Who were they? Did they suffer? What qualities did they have? Were they generous? Loving? Hard working? Humble? Short -tempered? Did they cheat? Gamble? Drink? What were they like with their families? At work? In the community?
Sometimes in our search we hear stories from relatives. We discover things that are contrary to what we believed. We were told someone was our aunt but she turns out to be our mother. We believe a woman to be our grandma and we discover she married our grandfather years after his first wife died. She surely was our grandma (but not by genetics). Now we understand why no one looks like her. We never even knew there was a "first wife."
What about the story we heard about our cousin who died of cancer when in fact, he shot himself? Or the father who had an entire first family that was killed before he came to America and never spoke about those who were lost? Or the father who had two families simultaneously, one in Chicago and one in Houston, neither of which knew about the other until his untimely death. Or the young mother who discovers she is pregnant with twins and confidently believes that there were no twins in her family until her grandmother admits that she in fact was a twin. Her twin died at birth and she never told anyone. The stories are as varied as imaginable.
The search can be your own magical mystery tour. Just know, you can gear up and become Sherlock but be aware that there will be surprises and that not all family members may be eager to learn what you discover.