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Monday, May 23, 2011

With Memorial Day around the Corner Consider Starting a Family History or Genealogy Project

Family History is a hobby that can bring out the detective in us and also help us to have a stronger identity and sense of belonging. That was not my initial reaction when I accompanied my aunt to a family history center and searched name after name on the list on microfiche or maybe it was microfilm on screens straining my eyes with no results. Fast forward to several years later when I received a used computer as a gift and decided to put some family names in a search engine. Eureka! There was somebody who was talking about two of my family names, Bohan and Plymesser. I left a message regarding this and later received an email from the person who posted there. That is how I first became acquainted with my Grandpa’s great niece, Sherri Bohan. She has been very generous in sharing her research and other family documents with me.

Sherri was looking for a hobby as her children were a little older but still needed her to be accessible so family history was a great match. At reunions, they asked people to submit a one page biography and that was a fast way to get a lot of information. This was a hobby that she could put down and revisit from time to time. Curiosity kept her going. She does advice those doing family history to question the accuracy of information from family members and to check original sources such as birth certificates and marriage licenses.

I feel a bond with Sherri as she went back to the county of our ancestors in Ireland with other relatives including my Grandfather who was then 92 years of age. She was a stranger to me at the time of the trip and also years before when my grandpa and his youngest brother were in Minnesota for Sherri’s grandfather’s funeral. It warms my heart to know that Sherri heard the brothers tell the family stories. I will have to compare notes to see if she knows about the “wolves” in our Great Uncle’s Wayne’s story that I think was just a tall tale by his father to a gullible boy.

About a year ago, my dad’s first cousin, Gary Pettit, sent a biography request to the family for an updated version of his family history book. In his letter there were descriptions that were like a code signaling that we were family such as the talk of the fowl that greeted you at my great-grandparent’s farm. He also spoke of the warmth of my great-grandparents and my great-grandpa who died when I was too young to remember. After reading his account, I called him for the first time and we have kept in contact through the year by phone and email.

The Bohan Family Farm
Gary is certainly into the history side of the family history as well as getting the accurate data. In the rough draft of the book that I have, there are email exchanges that give you a sense of the character of the people who exchanged the notes. Drawing from the family book that he had seen, he wanted to make this family book like a time chest for future generations with pictures, recipes, family stories accompany the family charts.

Gary, a veteran of the Gulf War, assisted family in obtaining military records including documents from the Cold War. He has honored the veterans by placing copies in the family history book. The promise made to his mother and many aunts and uncles who have passed away drives the work. He deeply misses his mom and other loves ones. As he does the work, he feels a closeness to those who have passed away in the family and believes he receives divine guidance for the direction of his work. Gary regrets time lost and information lost as a result of being busy with other endeavors. He encourages people to take a lot of pictures and communicate so that history may be preserved for the next generations.

Thanks to Gary, I have met more of my relatives on that side of the family. My Grandma and his mom came from a family of 14. Because of Gary, I read the somewhat parallel life of the granddaughter of my Grandma’s twin as she visited her grandparent’s farm. I have also relished reading about other relatives in the book and have learned more about my great grandparents and great aunts and uncles.

I don’t want to discriminate in my reaching out to family past and present. In the words of my great-grandmother who had fourteen children, “I have a large family with none to spare.” The past was at one time their present and stories passed down about the Dust Bowl, great-grandmother feeding drifters, the rescue of a toddler floating on a mattress on water, the voyages to America with peril and loss of life put my life in perspective. The legacy of my family is one that I hope that each family member will learn about and claim because it belongs to each of us. We do not all have to be expert researchers to join in the quest to learn more about our family.

A quote by C.S. Lewis explains how we may be even more connected than we realize, “Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing--rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other." With Memorial Day coming soon, this may be the perfect time to find out more about your family and more about yourself in the process.

Note: Check back from time to time as links will be posted in the comments for “Who Do You Think You Are” on NBC, Find A Grave, “The Generation’s Project” on BYUtv, and other sites relating to family history. There will also be other thoughts, quotes and comments about Memorial Day and Family History. We welcome your thoughts on Family History and Memorial Day traditions Perhaps the comments will never close as one can never learn too much about family history.
 – population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
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  1. Before I give my first link, I wanted to talk about Memorial Day traditions in my family. I invite people to share their traditions about Memorial Day and also any experiences with Family History or Genealogy that they would like to share. Tips will be greatly appreciated. Even if you come to this thread months or years later, your input is still very welcome. :)

    When my grandparents were alive, we would sometimes go to their town in Greenfield, Iowa and place the floral arrangements and other decorations that my grandparents saved on the graves in the main cemetery and also go to winding country roads to family cemeteries off of a farm. I was amazed at how many generations I have in that area. At some point prior to my Grandpa moving, he gave the decorations to my oldest cousin and I know of at least one year where she carried on the tradition to decorate the graves of family in that area. We also try to decorate the local graves of my grandparents in my city with fresh flowers. I do try to reflect on family on that day in some way whether it be reading histories or looking at pictures.

  2. First link "Who Do You Think You Are?" I have mainly listened to this program when I was not in the same room as the television. Without seeing the people for most of the program, the emotional impact was still very powerful. The episodes that I have listened to were with Ashley Judd and Lisa Kudrow. There are some happy surprises and very sad times. The content may be too much for young children as they deal with very horrible chapters in human history.

    The first link is a TV Guide Link

  3. The next link tells the emotional experience of Lisa Kudrow tracing the past of an ancestor who was in the Holocaust. Do not read if you would rather try to watch the video first because it tells all of the details. Also, some of the content is too mature for children.

  4. The next link is for the Generations Project on BYUtv. I'm not sure if I first started hearing the word journey on the Bachelor Shows or American Idol, and then later on the Dancing Shows, but nothing epitomizes journey more than the experiences on the shows tracing family history.

    The show seems to really find compelling stories to tell of average people. Family History shows make history show much more personal and there are often visits to historical sites. This show is very tastefully done. If someone is confronted about the past, the cameras are not close enough to hear the words and may exit that period. People learn about their past and receive healing when they learn about their ancestors. They also learn more of the traits that may have been passed down to them or the attitudes.

    Last season, I think my favorite episode was called Bridget and recounted someones journey to Ireland where her Grandma had immigrated from. She had the experience that I dream of having some day as far as feeling such a connection to the place. When she left, her mother said it was like a breakup with a boyfriend as she longed for the land so much.

    I also really enjoyed the episode on John who learned about his ancestors that included information during the Civil War Era.

    The interviews in the studio are very warm and thought provoking. Everything is done in a sensitive and respectful manner. I feel a connection to the people going on their journeys.

    This year I have not had a chance to see much but have watched much of the very dramatic episode with PJ and Heidi and parts of others.

    Every episode that I have seen is fantastic but I will let you be the judge. :)

  5. Next, I post a link to Find a Grave. My dad's first cousin, Gary Pettit, believes this site will be around long after we are gone for future generations to visit and learn about ancestors. For only $5, you can remove advertising from your ancestors site and post more pictures. There is a place for biographical information. Gary thinks it is a way to place flowers of remembrance and notes when you are too far to visit the cemetery. A neat feature of the site is that they will send a volunteer to take a picture of a grave to post on the site as they have volunteers across the country(and possibly world). Gary wants all of the aunts and uncles to have their own page.

  6. Very nice comments and I enjoyed reading!

    In this time of financial issues in our country, in this time of danger and crazy people here and there. What really counts is thinking of the good times and family. Appreciating though that paved the roads for us today - is thanking though that raised us and watched us grow to be good people today.

    It's not thinking of myself nor is it all about me - It's about being a better person and giving respect to our passed on loved one - who did so much for me and so much for us!

    Best Regards, Gary

  7. Barb: Thanks for your population-we ™ post and all your family genealogy efforts. With your gift of prose and doing research our family history is in very capable hands.

  8. Thank you Becky and Gary. I always appreciate the heart that Gary has for family and the work. Yes, it is so important to reflect on the good times and gain the strength from our family. Gary often reminds us that we are where we are because of the sacrifice of our family including our grandparents before us. -Barb

  9. Ladies ! My Cousins and fine ambassadors for the Lydon family.

    You both have done a outstanding job on this blog. I wish more of the family would find energy and the thrill of paying tribute the old family! I would be nice to repost this offen and maybe it would bring more people / family to this page.

    I know doing things for people is good and a way of paying it forward, as well as paying it back!

    Thank you Barb and Becky for paying it forward and as well as paying it back to the family of Velva Cyde (Nelson) and Bernard Martin Lydon (of the small but humble town of Greenfield, Iowa) !

    In your debt and honored to be your older cousin, but still kind of good lookin older cousin ! lol

    Best Regards, Gary

  10. Gary,

    We appreciate your kind words! In addition to this post, Becky has given tribute to grandparents on other posts and dedicated them to them. I am so happy for the legacy we share as Lydons!