Three deaths, which have deeply affected me, have occurred in the past three weeks. The first was my 57-year-old cousin. The second was my friends’ 36-year-old son. The third, today, was my sister’s 73- year-old husband.
Some people automatically think that being a genealogist is a rather morbid hobby and I can see their point. After all, I am digging through dead people’s lives, mining for clues and information that tell me about the lives they led.
But that doesn’t make me emotionally disconnected from those near and dear to me and mine when they pass away. It makes me want to know more about their lives—how they lived and loved and why.
As a genealogist, I consider it a blessing when I stumble onto letters or a personal journal. They give me far greater insight into a person’s life than routine facts like when and where a person was born, married, lived and died. For me, the person becomes alive as I realize and begin to understand the setting of their life through their own words. It is information you simply can’t get from the SSDI, a census record, or a marriage register.
I’ve always loved history—in particular—personal histories. I have been honored to read letters expressing sympathy over the loss of a loved one; in many of them a humorous or touching story about the deceased was shared.
In 2013, I was enthralled by the diary of William E. Foster. It is part of the Wade Hall Collection at the University of Kentucky. Mr. Foster began his diary in December of 1862. It was actually more of a memoir because he wrote it to pass the time while he was in poor health. Mr. Foster was very detailed in the 55 pages he wrote. I lived through good times and tragedies with him and he became more than “some dude who wrote a diary during the civil war.”
Prior to reading Mr. Foster’s diary, I attended the Kentucky Genealogical Society’s annual seminar where I purchased a book entitled, To the Best of My Recollection by Kathleen Lashier. It is a daily journal which helps chronicle your childhood through your young adulthood. Each page is a day and each day you are asked a question. It makes you think and you wind up remembering things you haven’t thought about in years. After reading Mr. Foster’s diary, I resolved to make a better effort to write in My Recollection each day. Amazon.com customer comments imply that it is a great gift for seniors, but I am glad I found it before I forget any more than I already have.
Another journal I used in the past was Reflections From a Mother’s Heart by Jack Countryman. It asked more in-depth questions such as, “What is your most treasured possession and why?” and “What individuals have had the greatest impact on your spiritual life?” In writing this blog, I went back to Reflections and was surprised that my “favorite” author in 2009 was John Jakes. Today it would probably be Steve Brown.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is the implication of the honest answers to the following four questions:
1. If you died tomorrow, would anyone know very much more about your life than when and where you were born, married, lived and died?
2. If you died tomorrow, would there be a record of how you lived and loved and why?
3. If you died tomorrow, would you want your loved ones to be able to read about something you did as a child (or as an adult!) and to belly-laugh about it in the midst of the sorrow, relieving just a bit of the pain and tension of their loss?
4. If you died tomorrow, would you want your loved ones to have your life story, written from your perspective—not necessarily apologizing for any of it, simply telling the story of your life the way you remember it—as a family keepsake?
My answer is “yes” to all four.
That is why I use the journals . . . as I recollect . . . .
What is your answer?