Even at a young age, I was fascinated by family history. I pumped my grandparents for information, lore, and personality profiles of the sepia faces that stared solemnly out of dusty photo albums. I begged my grandpa to release old photos and mementos into my care and slowly, over time, he did.
The hotel stationery where he recorded the exact minute of his marriage:
Scores of crumbling old letters:
Telegrams from World War II:
He let go of the old photos, too...one at a time. It's a good thing he did, because his house was destroyed in a flood and the old photos I'd cached are now the only ones that remain. So many were lost. I got my favorites, though, including this one of my Great Grandma Grace, who was the founder of the Humane Society in Anderson, Indiana. This photo perfectly captures her - surrounded by her beloved flowers and pets.
I knew nothing about my paternal side of the family, and my maternal family is extremely small. There are only a handful of people that remain. No one really remembers the old stories, and I knew I needed to find a way to flesh out the meager facts I'd been compiling in a notebook. I decided to join ancestry.com and went to work.
Weeks of hard work and seventy-five pages later, I am really pleased with what I've found. I knew that my grandfather came from a long line of United Brethren ministers, stretching back to pre-Civil War days, but I was delighted to find actual photographs of some of them!
I found lots of military and census records...
I found birth and death certificates, and marriage records.
I found scores of newspaper articles. Charming articles, including one about my grandfather being kicked in the head by a horse when he sneaked away to see the circus at age 10, and more serious articles, including one that described the rather gruesome death of my distant relative Leonidas.
I knew that my grandmother had two relatives that had come over on the Mayflower, but I had no idea that one of them (Edward Doty) was the settlement punk, getting into knife fights and suing anyone who dared to cross him. This is only ONE of the pages of his legal tangles.
Above all, I found the stories I'd been looking for.
*Second cousins who'd run away to Canada to elope, only to perish in the great typhoid epidemic in the early 1900s
*A patriot during the American Revolution that was such a thorn in the side of the Crown that when general amnesty was extended to the unruly colonies to avert war, he was excluded from the list
*A relative whose whole family was scalped and killed by Native Americans and who was adopted into another family, later marrying one of the daughters and becoming the son-in-law of the founder of New Richmond, OH
*A distant relative who was embroiled in a murder trial, accused of murdering her second husband for the inheritance (she was later acquitted)
And so on, and so on.
I learned that Lydia is one of the most common female names in my family, and Cornelius is a very common male name. But I found some delightfully unique names, like Mayflower, Featherstone, Mastin, Aquilla, Azor, and Greenberry. Some relatives had nicknames like "Danger Nick", "Boss", and "Jinsy". Many were slave owners and passed slaves to other relatives in their wills. Many fought in both the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. Some were unbelievably wealthy, others quite poor. They were solidly German, all the way back.
I have pages and pages and pages of stories, photos, and documents. They are really important to me and I enjoy digging through them, but I'm not sure how or if I'm going to display some of the mementos. I may just put everything in a big binder. I did find a really charming family tree stamp set at TJ Maxx today.
It might be fun to make a series of "mini" trees, all compiled together in one big book. Or, I may just use the stamp set for something else. It's nice to have options, though!
I hope you take some time to peer into your family history. You might be surprised by what you find!
Have a great week!