Into the Silence

I really want to encourage each and every one of you to work and speak “into the silence.”

What do I mean by that?

When we document something, write something or make something – we do so alone. Just like I’m doing right this minute. I’m writing “into the silence” because I’m writing on faith that people will read and, fingers-crossed, enjoy and utilize my articles.

Often, we write or create with the hope that some particular person, or persons, will appreciate our endeavors. Maybe we created a loving holiday or birthday gift for someone special.

Or, perhaps, our goal is less specific and more intangible.

Think, for example, of a journal.

Each person who writes in a journal generally isn’t journaling for someone else. If so, the “someone else” is a matter of faith – that they *will* exist someday in the future. Journaling is private and the eventual consumer, if they ever exist, is a byproduct of the journaling process, an accident.

In essence, the diarist is writing into the silence because the future is uncertain. Those future readers may not exist. That journal may not survive.

I ask you to ponder how grateful you would be, today, for your great-grandmother’s journal detailing everyday life in her house and garden. Her trips to the market, how and when she did laundry, did it rain or snow, are the tomatoes ripe, who misbehaved at church, along with her thoughts on what was happening in her life and neighborhood.

Or your great-grandfather’s journal about his time separated from his family while in the military serving his country. Did he serve in the Civil War or in WWI, living in a tent-hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic? What was that experience like on a personal level?

Maybe letters from your ancestor as they made their way to a new country, seasick the entire time, but filled with hope.

What I’d give for any of those!

Today, maybe you’ve created a book about one of your ancestral lines. Or, maybe you took weeks to sort out, assemble, scan, and organize the photos of your grandparents to share with your siblings.

And perhaps no one even bothered to acknowledge your gift or say thank you. Did they even look at them? Do they care, at all?

That would leave anyone somewhat dejected with hurt feelings.

But if you think about it, what you’re really doing is writing, creating, into the silence.

Not their silence today. No, not that.

But the larger silence of time and space that exists between you and future generations. Without your endeavors, they have no opportunity to glimpse today, or your shared past.

This silence – this silence is what connects you. The umbilical cord that links them to their ancestors through you.

That document, or collage, or scrapbook, or quilt – whatever you created out of love will, hopefully, be passed along. A form of prayer on wings – winging its way to the future with a mission of its own.

The person who will most cherish that gift across time, who will love you for it even though they will never meet you, hasn’t yet been born.

So, I encourage you to continue to honor your ancestors, to tell their stories, to document their lives – and your own.

Yes, someone will care.

Speak into the silence by testing your DNA and making sure it’s available for future genealogists. By researching and documenting your ancestral lines. By ensuring that your work is photographed if it’s a quilt or scrapbook. By placing stories and other writing into repositories where they will be available for those listening future generations even if the current generations seem to be stone-cold deaf.

In my case, my 52 Ancestors stories fall into that category. I’ve written one each week for 320 weeks now, more than six years as hard as that is to believe, and I’m no place near finished. I search for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of each ancestor and document discoveries.

I’m planning to compile the articles, by family line, into books. I will probably use a self-publishing platform such as LuLu.com to assure that their stories are available indefinitely. I’ve linked each ancestor’s story to the proper ancestor on my tree at Ancestry and MyHeritage and I’m in the process at WikiTree as well.

I’ll be donating the books, when created, to various local and regional libraries and genealogy/historical societies, along with both the Allen County Public Library and Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Remember that activities, pictures, stories, and memories that seem mundane to you today will be someone else’s goldmine happy-dance one day.

It’s not so much the silence we’re speaking into, but acting to honor the past and present for future generations – on faith that someone “out there” will care. We are being that ancestor who we wish would have left something, anything, telling us about their lives and family. How they felt, what they did, what was transpiring around them.

Especially in difficult and trying times, keep on doing what you’re doing and answering that call.

Be encouraged, take heart, and know that your efforts today will cause your name to be spoken with gratitude long after you’ve left this realm.

75 thoughts on “Into the Silence

  1. Nice blog Roberta. In our family we encourage people to document recipes and voice recordings and all kinds of family stories as well as pictures with captions. I create html pages with links to all these kinds of media and the captions identify the occasion and the people involved.

  2. Well said, and thank you for the reminder of the value of preserving information about individuals and families for future generations! I’ve been blessed to find some success with two books based on my career as a national park ranger, but never thought much about them in terms of their role in preserving part of my life story for my family.

  3. I started a daily journal in 2004 to record my deepest thoughts. I haven’t had one yet, however, if I should ever have one, I am ready. It has been most useful for knowing when the plumber was here, what I was doing on this day 4 years ago, and for some strange reason, what I had for dinner any night. If read by my descendants, I think they would be mostly bored stiff with a nugget in there now and then. I journal to make up for my faulty memory and because I enjoy it.

    • My Mom had a calendar she wrote just a few words in the day’s space everyday. Sometimes appointments, sometimes weather, and sometimes what she wore or was maybe planning to wear. I didn’t find them until after she passed away.

      • My Mom did the same thing and when I retired 3 years ago I started doing the same for my future grandchildren. In fact I just learned that my Daughter is pregnant with twins! My first grandkids!

      • I have a collection of years of calendars with my notes written on them, along with the photos of butterflies, flowers, or historic buildings, whatever was the theme photos for that year. I saved them because I would forget when something happened. The calendars keep me straight on my time line, but some years are missing, lost. The notes are there if I ever do decide to write anything about my life.

        I have tried to write a short autobiography, but it is difficult. I am not sure how to write about the painful experiences, but it is not a good thing to leave out all these kinds of experiences. I hate reading bographies of people who lived perfect lives. How does a person write this

        • Hi Rosemary,

          One of my three best mates was Mike Taylor. After two lots of tumours from three car accidents … he and I were in the last accident …. he died in 2006. His new wife had contacted me from Queensland and handed him over to speak to me. I asked him if he knew who I was and and after a silence he replied, no ..not really. About a month later his wife rang to say he had gone Home.

          I was working for the Community Based Corrections in Ballarat quite some time before that and they handed me a small Diary to use if I wanted. That didn’t excite me and so I handed it to my wife and it sat there for a few weeks and then she started filling it in with the weather forecasts and then making personal comments about her day etc. Many years later and she is still doing it. Of course I am not allowed to look at it and nor do I have the wish to if she does not want me to. If she were inclined to she could use those comments to help write her story of life but somehow I do not think so yet. After all she is not interested in her Family Tree, so I doubt it will not be until I have gone Home that she might consider such an action eh.

          I am slowly writing 26 (letters of the Alphabet) Sagas of my life. At present I am doing the ships I lived on. Write everything you remember of each story and if you remember something you have forgotten later add it in and keep it as a never ending story until you have everything you want put in there. With the painful experience put it in as much as you are game enough to start with and a few days/weeks later read it again to see if you have remembered something more; and if you are happen with adding it in then, if not maybe later. Remember … come twenty years after you have gone Home your great grand daughter might appreciate that painful experience as one of her ancestors real experiences and will feel for you the way you wish someone now could, or would.

          Here is an easy one that I have written about my days on a Light Cruiser of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Others I have written is my maternal grandfather’s time during WWI and he was shot in the stomach where the bullet lodged against his spine and he carried that for twenty years before they had to operate. He was shot on the 15 September 1916, the first day of the second push of The Somme when the Allies had the first Tanks of a War.

          And the last flight that my Uncle flew as a Loadmaster on a Caribou aircraft where all but four finally survived. He went Home! He was three years my junior and my paternal grandfather’s third son.

          https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0?ui=2&ik=82fb745614&attid=0.1&permmsgid=msg-a:r-2274662083839840118&view=att&disp=safe&realattid=f_kki1b8y20

          Try that link, appears to work …. maybe if you can not get it to work email me at mokurai@outlook.com and I can post it to you.

          Haere,

          Warren.

  4. As your 4th cousin on your Miller line I would be happy to purchase what you put together for that part of our shared family. I have meant to express to you several times just how much I appreciate what you have done! My mother worked on the Miller’s for quite some time prior to her passing, and we did not find that last piece of evidence that linked Mary Miller/Bright/Stouder to David Miller while she was still living. While reading one of your articles a few years ago, there it was, you had uploaded a document where she was listed as Mary Stouder. My mother would have been so happy to have her ‘theory’ proven, and I wished that I could have shared that with her while she was still here.

  5. I love this, Roberta! I have been journaling since I was 11 years old. Most of that is junk, but as I am now MUCH older, I have been thinking of ways of trying to pass on the research I’ve done. There are no immediate candidates for taking custody who are much younger than I am. So the suggestions you’ve made about self-publishing, donating copies, and that sort of thing are very encouraging. Thank you!!

    • I started keeping a diary when I was 10. Not terribly reliably. I have no idea whatever happened to those, but they are long gone. I’d like to meet my 10-year old self again. 🙂

  6. Very nice Blog Roberta… and great ideas…i started a journal years ago and for whatever reason i stopped… to busy i guess.. but you are right about future genealogists.. i hope they will exist.. otherwise why do i bother?.. i do so enjoy your Blogs.. they are always full of you and your wisdom… i have gained much from reading your blogs…thank You Roberta…

    bob

  7. What a cherish legacy you are leaving for future generations. My siblings and I wrote a book on our lives growing up, our parents, grandparents, etc. Anything we could remember and our memories on the same subject were often quite different. We each bought books for our children or grandchildren in hopes that one day they will pass it on. You have inspired me to write what I have learned about our ancestors and I pray I will have time left in my life to do this. Thank you! Sharon

  8. Roberta, Thanks for the sentiments and ideas. I have another feature to this
    issue. Last year I was given the family Bible that belonged to my four times great
    grandmother, Elizabeth Sidensparker Newcomb. (unbelievable selfless gift) When
    Covid is over I will most likely donate it to the museum in Waldoboro, Maine where
    she was born. (early German community in Maine) It makes no sense for me or my daughter to keep this in our possession. It needs to be shared with the thousands of
    Elizabeth’s descendants and families of her sisters and brothers. (the Bible included her parents and sibs) Somehow I will need to let folks know that it is located in Maine.
    I plan to also leave a document about the Bible and it’s travels and how it is a window
    into the education and life of Elizabeth. Her first language was German, but the inclusions are in English and the Bible is an English Bible, so she could clearly read
    English well.

  9. This is lovely. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not being “weird” about wanting to document ancestors. My family members ask, “Why do you ask so many questions about that?” Luckily, my husband encourages my curiosity, but he’s the only one. Our ancestors endured things we will never have to face, so this is just a little way to honor them. I will re-read this article the next time my family members make a sneering remark about the joy I get from discovering ancestors. Thank you!

    • I know where you are at Rebecca; I collected all my wife’s side of the family and she asked me why I bother, she does not know who they are, and anyhow they are all dead!

      • Well, as this article shows, it matters on some level, even if we can’t explain it. Also, we never know what is driving someone else’s viewpoint. I often wonder if I am dredging up some long-ago hurtful memory associated with a particular side of the family, so I have learned to navigate more carefully. Regardless, keep up the good work!

  10. Thank you, Ms. Roberta.

    I am truly grateful for your sweet, serene spirit. It always shines thru every article you post.☺

  11. You are so right about writing without expectations of gratitude. Then suddenly someone reaches out and says thank you for the story about a family member, and I know it’s important to keep sharing the stories.

    So thank you, Roberta, for sharing with us and inspiring us!

    • Yes, and sometimes I do get discouraged. Then someone emails me that found one of my 52 ancestor stories and it’s all worthwhile.

  12. Nicely put, Roberta. I spent a couple months labeling the backs of all my photo prints from 1973 to 2004 and then writing down the stories they brought to mind and putting them in the albums with the pictures. I’ve written way more than anyone would ever care to read about my life, especially since I don’t have children!

    • Wish I was as good as you Eileen, and then I realised you have an unusual spelling of your name, guess that was the beginning of your cleverness eh. One thing you have over me … I can’t remember some of my photos …. where was that taken? Who is that guy? Sometimes me doesn’t look like me 🙂 Kia Ora.

      • I don’t remember all exactly, but for some reason the older ones stick. Group photos? Forget it. I remember one or two names. But I also have been keeping diaries (off and on) since 14, which come in handy!

  13. As I read your story it reminded me of an event that happened just last week. My grand-daughter Vanessa posted a photo of a blanket my wife Helene made for her 20 years ago. Helene had included a label on the blanket with the following words “Made with lots of love – Grand-Maman”. Vanessa still cherishes the beautiful gift her grandmother made for her when she was only 5 years old. I am sure Vanessa will keep the blanket close to her heart until it comes time for her too to pass it on to one of her own children. As you stated above and which I believe to be quite true – “ The person who will most cherish that gift across time, who will love you for it even though they will never meet you, hasn’t yet been born.”.

  14. What a lovely article. I share with my family as much of my research as I dare, hoping not to scare them away. I see their eyes roll when I get excited about a new discovery, but I feel better about it now after reading your thoughts. I do keep a journal, haphazardly, but I do it for the generations later down the line, who I know will be so happy to have it. I so wish I had the diary my grandmother kept. My mother told me that when my grandmother died, when mom was 16, her aunt in law threw it away because there were things in it she didn’t think my mother should see. What I wouldn’t give!!!

    • I try to hold out hope that someday they will be interested. But I’ve decided that just doesn’t matter anymore. I’m doing it for the ancestors, for me, and for that unknown someone someday. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Hi Jude,

      I know that roll of the eyes and it may not even be talking about genealogy. Actually I think they follow their Mum as she taught them that roll ..I’m certain. I actually searched for both sides of her family and found things she never knew …. well she never learnt anything from her Mum about the family so that must mean something I guess. Anyhow her stock reply to anything, why bother they are dead. I am sure I have her side still in my camphor box but it can stay there until she has to clean it out when I have gone Home eh. Perhaps our great grandchildren will take an interest as we have eight of them to date.

  15. Thank You Roberta,I was one of those someones yet to be born. My ancestors letters during the Civil war were donated to a university and published as a rare book. They are so gut wrenching I had to read only a little at a time. I wish I could tell them how grateful I am for ever word. I feel like I have walked in their shoes.
    Danielle

    • I’m so glad they were donated. That sounds like one of those situations where you want to read, and you desperately don’t want to read. And to realized they LIVED it. My great-great-grandfather was never “right” after that war.

  16. HI Roberta,

    I first tested with 23&me several years ago for the medical data which has been helpful. Not too much later I pivoted into the genealogy side with the help of your easy to read posts, and a few other sites. I don’t always find the time for research, my work life has been overwhelming since March, but genealogy sometimes gets me off my work computer and I’m reading dna-explained again, at least some weeks. I really appreciate what you have done for the genetic genealogy community, I generally steer newbie’s to your site.

    Thanks again!
    -Dale

  17. I am so glad my paternal grandmother, who was a genealogist, wrote a manuscript about her findings and included beautiful stories about her father, who died when my grandmother was only 14, and her older brother who struggled with alcohol and eventually committed suicide. From her, I know her brother as she knew, and loved, him before he began drinking.

    • I’m glad you got the opportunity to know him “before.” And that she provided you with that opportunity. Bless them both.

  18. Brilliant Roberta, I totally agree with your sentiments. A couple of decades ago O sent a copy of of my research into the Kelly’s of County Down to various repositories around the world, e.g. LDS Salt Lake. I had been trying to find a Kelly cousin in Australia even longer but had given up.
    Then about 10 years ago I was contacted out of the blue by my Australian cousin whose wife had come across a copy of my work in Sydney. Pure serendipity or was it?
    Anyway you never know who may one day benefit from your work.
    Regards, Charlie Kelly (Scotland)

    • I know. I was recently contacted by someone whose ancestor literally owned the meadow next door to my ancestor on the mountainside in Switzerland, in the 1500s and 1600s. How is that even possible?

      • I was going to ask a question about Switzerland then; and Austria but then thought maybe not ………. OK a Hypnotist regressed me back to a previous life in 1980 and I ended up in an Alpine village at the age of ten in 1610; died in 1694. The guy did not ask me where I was because he thought I was in Switzerland, whilst I automatically thought I was in Austria. Never been to either place so don’t know if they are similar. My name was Hans BORG and I became an Engineer at the local Timber Mill. My parents had a wall full of book case loaded with books and the Hypnotherapist said I must have belonged to a rich family to have all those books. I had one son in that life called Karl. Have asked all the BORGs in Australia where they came from and they all said they were in transit from one place to another and stopped off in Malta and stayed there!?!

  19. I wish I had your gift of writing! But a few years ago I did attempt to write small one page descriptions of some things from my life. For example, games and toys I played when young with my friends; Describing my parents house I grew up in; My wedding, etc. It was fairly simple writing, but hopefully some descendant will enjoy reading them.

  20. Wow! Your “into the silence” article is great. I am going to print it out and tape it to my wall near my computer. I am so tired emotionally and physically I feel like I caught hold of a lifeboat. Thanks.

  21. My great great grandmother’s diaries are stored at the county library! What a wonderful resource they are. Interesting to read about the daily goings-on in the family and wider community of the time.

    • I really enjoy reading other diaries from the same region and timeframe too so that I understand the larger environment of where my ancestor lived. Such a gift to find your ancestor’s diaries and to have her actual handwriting.

  22. Thank you Roberta. This thought, like dropping a pebble into a pond, has resulted in so many “ripples of possibilities” I find myself compelled to “pick up the pace”. Time is definitely not on my side (I turn 80 in a few weeks) but if not now then when?

    I’ll be forwarding this article to my daughters and grandchildren to hopefully inspire them as well.

  23. I have not been faithful about a journal, sorry to say. Good intentions are are so much easier than actions. But just last night I was writing a letter to accompany the copies of our tree that I hope to have ready by Christmas for my “eye rollers”. I told them about how I did not get serious about our heritage untill I was sixty. About how little I knew about our family, which was nothing much beyond my maternal grandparents. Over ten years of research has amassed a history far beyond what I could have ever imagined, To pique their intrest, I included a few facts and stories that might reel them in and they will want to know more and maybe even someday break through a few brick walls. I hope they read all the stories I have gathered and feel the connection to those who came before, like I do, Now that may not happen until I leave this world to go to another, no matter, they will never have to wonder, where did we come from. Thank you Roberta for ths reminder. In these uncertain times we have no time to waste.

  24. I love this concept of silence and how we do our work as genealogists. This is a post I’m bookmarking to re-read next month while still hunkered down for winter and this pandemic and need some inspiration.

  25. Thank you for this inspiring and encouraging post, Roberta. I have only a few cousins who are also interested in the family history. My ongoing project is to get what I have in better order for the next generation. I am childfree, but I hope my sister’s children and grands will be interested someday. In the meantime I am sharing information with various historical and genealogical societies in areas all over the country, where my family lived.

  26. Thank you Roberta! An excellent article that touched my heart. In 2020 I decided to create a blog as a type of journal to tell the stories of NPEs that I have worked with during the past four years (all of whom are DNA cousins to me!). Although I have few subscribers (I am certainly “writing into the silence”), creating the blog has helped me stay focused and given me courage to share my personal experiences with genetic genealogy. I hope one day my journaling will be of help to others searching for clues to family mysteries.

    Many thanks for your words of wisdom!

    My blog – Family Search Angel: https://familysearchangel.com

  27. Thanks Roberta! This article touched on so many points that I experience every day in both my professional life, and in my family history research. Bravo for putting into plain words something that touches many of us so deeply. -geo

  28. This is beautiful!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge, thoughts, resources, and so much more through your blog. It really is a gift.

  29. As always, another great article to encourage us to write about our discoveries as well as about our own experiences. Thank you for writing into the silence so that I can read your articles as time allows me to catch up.

    Ally n Cali

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