Watching the Genealogy Road Show on Public Television got me to thinking. The show has genealogists researching people’s pasts looking for interesting stories; illustrated with census reports, photos and newspaper clippings. In each segment they try to discover something specific about a person’s ancestors. They are looking for a story. Last night it dealt with orphan trains. You can read the book: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline; or watch the PBS American Experience show about the trains.
I have had enough of most museums and natural wonders. I don’t like to drive on the freeways and I am interested in small towns. Like many old people I am interested in what my ancestors were up to. I am looking for stories. No one has ever wanted to hear about the museums I have been to or the tours I have taken.
I belong to the local genealogy society and have discovered a whole new world with amazing resources.
My wife and I have decided to take two trips to trace some of our respective ancestors. We already have stories we want to track down and, as an entre , we have donated family “treasures” to local historical societies.
We will make two trips; first, to several small hamlets in upstate New York; then, to small towns in Kansas and Nebraska.
Prior to leaving we will chart our last 150 years so we know the names and relationships of those we are seeking out.
We will contact and visit local Historical and Genealogy Societies. We will check with libraries – remember inter-library loans. We will practice our hand-eye coordination spending more time on our laptops than even our grandchildren.
We will get maps showing roads before the interstates and research census and newspaper records.
Our guide will be a chart with names, dates and places. Our goal is to add stories to the chart. We hope to discover 100 stories about our ancestors along with pictures of their homes, businesses, families, and of course scandals.
Some of the stories we know about now, but which need to be documented and fleshed out, are:
The sheriff who, as a boy, stole a train at lunchtime in upstate New York.
The Nebraska doctor and the first Woman, Indian Doctor who covered for each other.
The white, great-aunt from Iowa who taught at a “Negro” college in Arkansas in the 1920’s.
The great-aunt from small-town Iowa who established a Methodist girls boarding school in Szechuan, China in about 1912 and who ran it until 1938, when she returned to Iowa to take over the family slaughter-house and ice plant.
The grandmother who patented a children’s car seat in 1922.
The grandmother who arrived in Iowa with her single mom in a horse-drawn wagon.
If this trip works, and is as much fun as we expect, the next stop is Ellis Island and an international trip.
Old people, like children, love stories. If they are true and if you can document them, so much the better. That is what we are up to. And, it beats watching TV, except for the Genealogy Road Show, and talking about who has what illness.
Watch this space.
We will keep you informed.