Friday, August 17, 2012

Bringing the Dead to Life

No, I'm not talking about zombies here. I'm thinking about a question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. Will I be remembered when I'm gone?

In my opinion, when we genealogists learn about the lives of our ancestors we can, in a sense, bring our people back to life. I'm not simply talking about plugging a few vital records into a genealogy program. I mean really looking at the events in someone's life and thinking about how they were shaped by their circumstances. A good place to start is by creating a timeline for a person you wish to understand better. For more on this see:  Understanding Ancestors Using Timelines . This is a situation in which a lot of little things might not mean much individually, however, when added together a larger picture emerges.

Once you have a basic scaffold begin adding little tidbits from elsewhere. If any of your relatives have any memories or stories about the people you are attempting to flesh out this is the time to record everything you can find. Was great aunt Myrtle a drama queen or did uncle Joe love to tell corny jokes? All of these things can add up. Even newspaper snippets can tell you something. One of my ancestors put a notice in the paper about his lost dogs. “Kindly turn these dogs loose, as there is no reward on them,” he wrote. This was a man who lived in town so these dogs must have been pets and weren't merely farm dogs. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting him, but that strikes me as a bit cold.

A series of these tidbits it can make a difference as I discovered to my pleasure. I shared a genealogy report with a newly found “cousin” of mine in which I had typed in every newspaper reference to my family of Flynns. My “cousin” emailed back to say that after reading all of my notes she felt like she knew our shared relatives. For more on how little things can add up see: Little Clues, Big Insights.

As for us, we have the ability to increase our chances of being remembered by our descendents. If you would dearly love to have a diary from your great-grandmother, then be sure to start writing now so that your great-grandchildren can understand your life and motivations. The better you document your own life, the more likely it is that you will be remembered by those who follow you. In short, whatever you wish you had from your ancestors, be sure to leave the same for your descendants.

If that task seems too daunting, break it down into manageable bits. You might begin by listing all of the places you have lived, with dates, so that you can be readily found when future census records are released. Be sure to include this information in your genealogy software. Other items for your to-do list could include: scanning old photos of yourself, scanning your own vital records, diplomas, newspaper articles in which you appear, etc. You get the idea. Obviously, these things just scratch the surface, but even a few of these things can make a difference for a future genealogist to learn more about you. And don't forget to convert your digital documents to newer formats when they arise or else your efforts will be for naught. If your descendants are to bring you back to life you need to help them to do it.

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