Leaving a legacy

By Carla Weber | Published Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed finding all about your ancestors. I know that almost weekly I find something I didn’t know about mine or those of my husband. My efforts these days are reaching out to those who are also researching.

I am corresponding with those who are descended from lateral ancestors: those not in our direct lines, but the siblings. Somebody somewhere has information and probably pictures that I would love to have. In my effort to know the past, something keeps whispering to me. It tells me that I need to be better than those before me. I need to include my perspective.

I grew up in a unique environment. Let me share just a little. My parents swapped families when they married. At least, that’s always the way they explained it. When my father’s cousin would misbehave, for example, he would tell my mother, “Marie, your cousin did such-and-such recently.” Now, we children knew that said cousin was really related to dad. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

My maternal grandmother had four sons, but if she needed help, she was more likely to call my dad, her son-in-law, first. My paternal grandfather would not allow any of his children to help when he got sick, he wanted my mother, his daughter-in-law. My parents walked that fine line of familial relationships. We knew who shared DNA with one another, but we never favored one family over the other.

I grew up 10 miles from my grandparents. The siblings to my parents and grandparents had all moved miles, even states and in some cases, countries away. When any of them chose to visit, they came to my house. Our house was headquarters for any family gathering, funeral, reunion, wedding, anything. As a result, I grew up knowing not only my aunts, uncles and cousins, but those of my parents as well. I’m not sure I met all the cousins of that generation, but I’m sure I met at least 80 percent of them. So family was always underfoot. I guess that’s why it was so easy to acclimate myself to genealogy when it was brought into my life.

I attempted to follow my parents’ example when my husband and I married. I’m not sure he was as thrilled as I at swapping families. After all, he had been to a couple of family reunions and realized just how many crazies with whom I share DNA. On blind faith, I took his family to heart, only to realize he had crazies of his own. As a result, we reared our daughter to know her family. She has also met all our aunts and uncles and a great number of our cousins. She does not research with me but enjoys tidbits I find. She will inherit all my research and by that time, I hope, will have a great respect for it.

Now, to my perspective. I have begun recording stories and memories. As my husband shares a particular memory, I write it down or ask him to do it. I have begun putting to paper those recollections only I have. Oh, there were other people involved, but no one has my perspective. And no one has your perspective.

Take time to record and share your memories. Ask your siblings or cousins about a particular event. You’ll get a different version from each one you ask. Leaving your legacy is not just about being able to claim kin to royalty, or acknowledging the outlaw in your history. It’s about letting the future generations know about your life. Talk about places you’ve lived, friends you’ve kept in touch with and those who have moved out of your life. Write what you liked, admired or detested about family members.

Did you have that great aunt that insisted on squeezing you to death when she hugged you? Did you have that special cousin with whom you played pranks on others? Did you have that older person who scared you? What about that jokester? There’s always at least one in every family. Did he just annoy you? Or did you laugh every time, regardless of how many times you’d heard his jokes? Did older cousins have mercy on you younger ones and take you to make the drag with them? Did you ever have family reunions that seemed to drag on forever, or those you wished would last forever?

I’ve tried to give helpful hints on researching your family’s past, recording the data, keeping good records and finding out just how you became you. Now, after all this time of frustration because you couldn’t find answers to the questions in your head, you can leave a smoother path for those in the future.

Someone someday will wonder about you, and you won’t be here to explain.

Take time, enjoy your family, see your life through their eyes. Yep, a legacy is a nice touch.

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