This topic isn’t exclusively about DNA – but then sometimes it’s all about DNA and the discoveries I’ve made in my family using genetic genealogy.
By the time genetic genealogy came along, I had spent 25 years, a quarter of a century, working on my genealogy. There was no low-hanging fruit left – just the tough stuff – those brick walls and dead ends. A few fell pretty quickly with DNA, but now, every new piece of genealogy information is like a gold nugget.
This brings me to the topic of Sunday stories.
Every Sunday I write something to my family. Let’s put this in perspective. What would you give to have a journal from your great-great-grandmother? A letter she wrote once a week?
My cousin gave me part of a letter (page 3 of 4 is missing) written by my great-grandmother, Eva Miller Ferverda, to someone about what was going on in her life at that moment. I cherish that letter and the oh-so-brief glimpse into her personality, writing style and what she thought – as told by her, in her own voice and handwriting that was silenced before I was born.
She lived from 1857 to 1939 – so if she had written Sunday stories, they would have covered what was going on that affected her life from about 1870 or 1880 through 1939 – a span of more than half a century. Think of all the things she could have discussed and how well we would still know her today.
She could have talked about the Spanish American War which took place in 1898 and in which her son fought, in spite of the fact that the family was of the Brethren faith. That must have caused her a great amount of consternation on several levels. It seems that topic would have been good for several Sunday stories, all by itself.
She could have talked about getting electricity in her home. She could have talked about the fact that her son’s house (my grandfather) had indoor plumbing, at least in the bathroom. In the kitchen, we still pumped water in the 1960s.
She could have talked about riding in a car for the first time, as an adult.
She could have talked about the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
She could have talked about moving to town from the farm.
She could have talked about WWI and the effect on both her family and the Brethren Church.
And she could have talked about what her family and church groups were doing.
But she didn’t. She wrote a letter than someone gave back to the family. We have pages 1, 2 and 4 from her – and other than a poem she wrote or more likely, copied, and gave to her husband for his 46th birthday, that’s it. That is all of her voice that is left, and we consider ourselves lucky to have that much. I know very little about her as a person, aside from those oh-so-dry birth, marriage and death dates.
A few years ago, I attended the Caruso Leadership Institute. Joe Caruso hosted this seminar in Hawaii, at Kapalua Bay, an experience unlike any other, and Joe’s father, Mickey, came along. By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Joe speak, by all means, do.
Mickey was a very nice older gentleman, and he was everyone’s father or grandfather. Born in Italy in a different time, he had all kinds of little anecdotes and tidbits of wisdom. He made us laugh and cry and we all loved him.
Somewhere in one of our conversations, Mickey told us about what he did every Sunday. He wrote a letter to his children. He wrote one original, and then on Monday, he went to the copy store and made enough copies to send to all of his children who were scattered to the winds, across the US. I asked him what was in the letters, and he said whatever he wanted to write about. I asked him what was in the last one he wrote, and he said he told his kids about the “old country,” which was Italy, and what life was like there. He said that he knew that if he didn’t tell them, whether they wanted to know or not at the time, that the knowledge would be lost. He said that sometimes he wrote about current events, sometimes about what was going on within the family, and sometimes, just shared his thoughts. At the time, I thought about how wonderful that was, but I thought about it as an adult child, not as the parent. I thought about how wonderful it would be to receive those letters, and as a grandchild someday, how I would love to receive that box of letters, and how much they would be cherished eventually by descendants a hundred or two hundred years hence.
Someone asked Mickey if he thought his kids actually read the letters. Mickey’s eyes lit up, and he got this mischievous twinkle in his eye, and he said, “I know they don’t, but someday they will.” He winked at us, and the topic was changed. We all knew what he meant.
That was in 1997 or 1998.
A couple of years later, I attended another Caruso event, this time in the midwest, and Joe told us that his father had passed away. That was a very sad say for us, as we all loved Mickey.
There were several of us at that event that has been to the Hawaii seminar. At one of the meals, we talked with Joe about Mickey, and someone mentioned the Sunday stories. I don’t remember if that was his name for them, or mine, truthfully. In any event, someone, maybe Joe’s brother, said “You wouldn’t believe what happened.”
It seems that after Mickey died, those letters somehow became valuable commodities to his children. Some of them had been unopened during Mickey’s lifetime. Can you imagine? But after Mickey’s death, his kids wanted Mickey to speak with them one more time, and what better way than the letters he wrote to them. But somehow, some of those letters shoved into drawers got lost. So the kids set up a “swap” – “I’ll trade you an August 7, 1993 for a September 3, 1996.”
Now, they wanted to read those letters, to cherish every single word. Now that Mickey couldn’t talk to them, they desperately sought his voice.
But there was a problem. There were a few letters that no one seemed to have a copy of. They were entirely lost to posterity. Do you think we should have told them that Mickey kept the original copy of all of the letters? The funny thing was that many of us knew that, and not a soul said a word. We figured that one day, they would stumble across the treasure chest that we knew awaited them someplace. Mickey’s ultimate poetic justice:)
It was a few years later, after my own grandchildren were born, and after my Mother’s passing, that I decided that yes, Sunday Stories were a wonderful opportunity. I began to view them from Mickey’s perspective, as the author, instead of being the recipient. I knew that the torch had somehow been passed to me even though I wasn’t ready for it and surely didn’t want it.
I also realized, from Mickey, that indeed, the stories wouldn’t be read consistently. I know that to be true, because the “prize” of $100 to the first person to come forth with one particular Sunday story has remained unclaimed. I intentionally don’t ask questions that would “reveal” whether or not my children have read them. My goal isn’t to embarrass the kids. I don’t want them to dread receiving them because they have to read them because they know a quiz is in the offing. I know that if they don’t read them today….eventually, they will. Sometimes when I write the stories, it is with “someday” in mind.
What I have to say really isn’t so important that it needs to be read immediately. These stories are probably more valuable to future generations. It’s important that the stories be passed on. And yes, there are many DNA stories – stories about family discoveries, stories about haplogroup discoveries that I’ve been involved with, stories about the National Geographic team, stories about the DNA conferences, and more. DNA discoveries, the leading edge of this wonderful new scientific field is a part of my life and because of that, it’s also part of the Sunday stories in various ways.
Cat Got Your Tongue???
How are you passing on your important stories to your as yet unborn descendants and relatives? How will they know you? What is your voice to the future? How will they know what important family information you’ve found? And yes, what about documenting your DNA journey? If you think finding out about your ancestor getting electricity or maybe their role in the Civil War is exciting, just think about the journey of DNA discovery. Don’t let your family miss it! You too are a pioneer.
Don’t know what to talk about? It doesn’t matter, just talk and be yourself.
Here’s a small example of my recent rants, err, I mean topics…
- Spring Now and 20 Years Ago – The Blizzard of 1993 (I was trapped in Mt. Airy, NC)
- Easter and USA Today (family member in the paper)
- A Sea of Red For Equality (DOMA and Facebook)
- The Bombing of the Boston Marathon and the Week of Terror
- Mischief – Saying Goodbye (to the family cat)
- Near Death Experiences
- Mother’s Day 2013 (mostly pictures)
- Dad, Beginning and End (my father’s delayed birth certificate and a photo of his tombstone)
- John Y. Estes, Confederate Civil War Soldier (new genealogy discovery)
- PreSchool Graduations and other Happenings
- I Hope You Dance – June 2013 (dance recitals)
- Still Missing Dads (Father’s Day memorial to my father and step-father)
- Elizabeth and the Bowling Family of Charnock Richard, Lancashire
There are a few differences between what I’m doing and what Mickey did. I’m distributing all of my stories electronically as PDF files which is so much easier. Size then becomes entirely irrelevant and photos are easy to include. People like pictures and my stories are photo-rich.
And yes, of course, I keep an “original.” I print these once a year too and I keep a book of each year – 52 stories. So that is the functional equivalent of Mickey’s original. This is my 5th year, so at the end of 2013 there will be approximately 260 stories. That number sounds overwhelming, but believe me, one at a time, it’s fun and rewarding and helps you organize your own records and thoughts.
Hey, this article, slightly adapted, could be my next week’s Sunday Story!!!
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You are awesome.
I will be amazed if this blog entry doesn’t get tons of replies. It’s why our name has changed from genealogist to family researcher. It’s not just about names, dates, places. We carry the blood of these people in our veins. Who knows this better than a DNA expert. Thank you so much for sharing this to help keep us focused on what is really important.
This is absolutely WONDERFUL, Roberta. What a great idea — and a challenge to us all.
A great idea! Several years after my mother passed away in 1980 my youngest sister started a newsletter for our siblings to share experiences, etc. You can imagine the experiences we each had considering there were 11 of us. Since then, that sister and two others have passed away. Time to get that newsletter going again. Thanks for the reminder.
Living history, you have inspired me Roberta, congratulations for this topic
Very nice. My nephew just turned 18 and opened a time vault his mother prepared for him when he was just born, filled with letters from those who loved him. One letter was from his great-grandmother. Knowing that she wouldn’t be alive to see him open it (but her grandchildren most likely would still be here) she wrote in her letter, “Please visit your grandparents often, they will be lonely as I have been.” Talk about guilt ! Loved my grandma, but she had a roundabout way of getting to us grandchildren, even years after her departure.
After my mother’s death, I found several flyers and brochures and some booklets about loneliness and depression in senior citizens among her things. I felt terrible. I was very very glad that I made time for the grandparents when my kids were young. It certainly wasn’t always convenient, but I think it was important for both of them.
Two friends from work (which ended a few years back) and i ‘conversed’ via email all the time until one of us suddenly died. If we conversed about something (maybe something in my childhood or about family) i thought the kids might want to know about someday i just pasted it into a file on computer (i called it ‘memoir’ — eventually it got labeled with the year and i started a new one with a new year in the label). Very painless. I print it out once in a while so there’s a hard copy as well as digital versions. Some categories got separated out, but usually it’s just by year, and then another year. My sister is working on the diaries of my parents . . . a big job . . . . My kids will find this somewhat easier, i think.
This is a beautiful post. Your Sunday letters will one day be precious treasures for your descendants. Who knows, maybe one day your great-great-great-grandchildren will read them?
If not mine, then maybe the great-great-grandchildren of my brother, or my niece or nephew:) At least that’s what I’m telling myself.