Monday, April 13, 2009

Secrets, Part I: They Were Just Farmers...

A couple of months ago at my son's basketball practice, I was sorting through some information that I'd found on an ever-elusive ancestor who may or may not be a connection to a pirate [a story for another time]. One of the other mom's asked me if I was a teacher. [I get that a lot. I guess I look like I'm grading papers...] I explained to her my passion for all things genealogical and my business plans. She remarked that my possible relation to a pirate was exciting. She went on to say that she wished she was related to someone as exciting as "my pirate". She also said they [meaning her family] didn't know a whole lot about their ancestors, but they did know, though, "they were just farmers", and she inferred they probably wouldn't be worth looking up.

"...they were just farmers?...not worth looking up?" [Definitely "challenge" phrases for any genealogist.]

I thought about what she'd said a long while afterwards. As other mothers [or fathers] know and as my blog profile indicates, we tend to wear many "hats". My husband is always giving me a hard time because I'm bad at conversation with people I've just met. [My husband is great at it, so we're a perfect match.] I'm a stay-at-home mom and when I meet someone, I don't ever think to ask, "So, what do you do for a living?" I just don't think in those terms. I personally don't want to be limited by just 1 or 2 things. Individually, they don't define who I really am.
Likewise, I like to think about those who came before us as more than the occupation that's listed on whatever census that I've found them on. It does tell me that they worked to provide for their families and how they went about doing it, but it doesn't tell me what their favorite food was, whether they liked sunrises or sunsets better, or what their secrets were...They weren't "just farmers" [or any other occupation]. They were multi-faceted people who had dreams and hopes for the future...

Growing up my mom and dad always liked listening to Paul Harvey, and so did I. He was always able to bring a story to life, then leave you "hanging" through the commercials [impatiently, I might add]. Then he'd give you "the rest of the story". For me, the occupation of an ancestor is just part of the beginning of the story. You have to "dig" for the rest.

In high school, my dad wanted me to "find" our family tree. He explained that the grandfather that I never knew [his dad] had not spoken much [in fact, hardly at all] about his family. Additionally, my dad didn't have a very good relationship with my grandfather. The few things he did know were: my grandfather had been born and raised on Galveston Island, Texas and had fished there; what he did for a living after moving to San Antonio, Texas; his birth and death dates/places; and a vague impression that my grandfather had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church. I was 18 and didn't really have any inclination to find out about my grandfather because I never knew him, and from what my father had told me about him, he didn't sound like a very nice man. As time wears on, though, you start to wonder just where you came from...who you came from...

At the time, I didn't realize just what he'd been asking from me. He wasn't just asking about names, dates, and occupations. While these are important, they don't give you "the rest of the story." My dad had been asking for his family story...and my family story, too. My dad passed away 5 years ago last month. Though I am "a day late and a dollar short" for my dad, I'm not too late for my kids and the rest of my family.

So, what is the rest of my grandfather's story you ask? Well, it wouldn't be any fun if I told you everything now. As Paul Harvey used to say, "stay tuned for the rest of the story...". In the next few posts, I'll take you back in time and give you a glimpse of my grandfather who had secrets that involved love and betrayal; a natural disaster that almost completely destroyed his family as well as a whole community; and the influence of a Greek family. Now tell me, doesn't this sound better than "he was just a farmer?"

So, what's the rest of your family story? Are you satisfied with thinking of them as "just farmers"? Well, I'm not. Get your bags packed and join me as I look at the rest of my grandfather's story...and my family story, too...


  1. This is a fantastic post. So many people don't understand that all families are interesting, even if they are "just" farmers, like all of my ancestors. Thank you for reminding us of this.

  2. Well said, I love it when I find a story to add to the dates. It brings genealogy to "Life" as it were.I recently received info on my wife's ggg grandfather that I posted on, which made him much more than "just a machinist". Its an insight to their life and times.

  3. Thank you for discussing this issue. I love my "just farmer" families! And they have their own interesting stories and mysteries, too.

  4. Every family story can be interesting, it's all in how you tell it.


  5. Hey Caroline: I finally found you. I haven't been able to link from the follower thing. Weird.
    Great blog and I can relate to what you said about "So what do you do for a living?" Everytime I come home and tell Keith that I met a new neighbor or something. He asked me "so who does he work for?" I'm thinking I never thought to ask the guy that. haha.
    Anyway, I'm excited about your blog.



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