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One reason why I do this

By Natalie

Not only did my grandfather, “Gran” (William Ricketts Smith), lead an interesting life, he was someone I felt very close to and still hold dear. I’m so grateful he left behind a record of his life, even a relatively short one, in his own words. What a treasure it is. Because he took the time to write it, the great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren and so on will all have a chance to get to know him.

The same with Grandma Keen (Alice Muriel Johnson) – just that one brief sketch of her family history and her childhood, really helped me get a handle not only on her family’s comings and goings, but on her spirit and personality. I know from talking to older cousins that her life, and her parents’ lives, were very hard, and full of heartbreak. To read her take on it – “What an adventure!” – points out the sweetness and optimism inherent in her nature.

By contrast, here’s what I know about Gran’s grandfather, William Raymond Fox:

1) He was an undertaker.
2) Every morning at 9:00, he had an appointment… with his outhouse.

Gran once told me (I don’t know why on earth this was our topic for discussion, but there you go) that Grandpa Fox was so regular, you could set your watch by him. If anyone asked him to meet somewhere at 9:00 AM, he would even tell them, “I can’t.” I’m pretty sure Gran also said that Grandpa Fox would tell the person why.

Unfortunately Grandpa Fox left no other record of his life, and everyone who knew him is gone also. Well, maybe Neenaw (my grandmother) knew him, but obviously not as well as Gran did. Consequently, those two facts – aside from his birth, marriage, and death information – are all I can pass on to future generations, and all I’ll ever know about Grandpa Fox until I see him when I die. I would really like to have more to say to him than, “So what was it like, being an undertaker?” and “Wow, so… 9:00 every morning, huh?”

That’s why I do this: I want some say over how people remember me. I’m interested in preserving not only my family history, but also the life stories of the people I knew and loved, whom future generations will not have the chance to know in this lifetime. It’s important to me that my descendants know a little more about me and my ancestors than our occupations and (ahem) personal habits.

Otherwise, Heaven is going to be kind of awkward.

About Natalie

Natalie was born in the summer of her twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place she'd never been before. When she realized she was married and had two kids, she drowned herself in genealogy and never looked back. Having given birth to three more children (but still ignorant about "what causes that"), she finds herself a blogger... Natalie lives in the Northwest and loves her husband's hot legs, baking anything with "chocolate" in its name, and the occasional blue sky.

11 thoughts on “One reason why I do this”

  1. I love this story! This is kind of why I blog (I know, blogging is so not nearly as elevated as genealogy…).

    But now I'm afraid that should all my stories somehow get lost out in cyberspace all that will be known about me is "she spent an awful lot of time of the computer."

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  2. I love the story of your grandpa!

    I've been reading my husband's grandfather's extensive personal history. It's well-written, funny, and full of great stories and insight into his character. I am so grateful he took the time to write it. I think, as you say, it's important to have some say over how people remember us.

    At the same time, as I have begun (just barely this year) to work on my own family history, I have seen the names of my ancestors scroll down the screen, and been impressed just by the power of naming people who are connected to me. I love the stories, and I'm excited to learn more of them as I dig deeper into family history. I'm also grateful, though, for the connection I have felt to people who are, for now, only names.

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  3. Knowing those two facts about your Grandpa is something more than most of us get to know.

    When my great-grandfather was quite old, his daughter cared for him and took the time to ask him to tell about his life. She recorded it and bound it simply and distributed it to the family. She wrote it exactly the way he spoke and so I could picture him totally.

    I think Family History is so moving!

    And one more thought: I was watching History Detectives on PBS the other night and heard the story of a forger who abandoned his two-year old son in Pittsburgh. The boy was adopted and raised by a good family. Anyhow, the people in the show met the boy, now an old man and found out more about his rascally father. They presented him with information they had found. He was so touched and it really surprised me, but even if our family is less than perfect, we still hunger to know who they are.

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  4. Dalene, same here. I worry that that's how my children will remember me – "She had her head in the computer monitor all the time." That's another reason why I'll be writing a glowing life story about myself. 😉

    Emily: I loved "the power of naming people who are connected to me." Seeing their names does something for me too – gives me a deeper sense of who I am, and curiosity to know more about them. Some of them, I want to know how on earth they ever got their (interesting) names.

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  5. Tiffany: It's so great when loving family members take the time to do what your aunt did. What a treasure for your family.

    It IS moving. That veil gets so thin sometimes.

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  6. My dad's biography has been in the works now for about seven years. It was begun just after he died. The circumstances of his death were so upsetting that it was difficult to do much for a while. Many of the documents that were generated during the last couple years of his life are still difficult to read.

    It wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I began to see him as he really was and it is not at all easy even now to find the real man underneath the myth. Some of my children use him to justify various decisions they have made. But, I know who he was well enough to recognize their rationalizations for what they are. So that is why I am writing about his life. I want his life can be the example that is true the how he lived. I still miss him.

    As for how I am known. I have many journal pages for someone to glean information from.

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  7. How fun! I'm glad that you are taking the time to do all of this family history. It will benefit a lot of lives! And I'm grateful that you are taking the time to write it all out. I never met Gran, he died right after John & I met. I've heard some stories but this one is the best!

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