In working on our family tree, I benefited from using charts and documents already filled in by other family members who did extensive work. I’ve also benefited from having the wonders of modern technology available to me. Notes I jotted down years ago while talking with grandparents have been valuable as well. From all of these resources, I have been able to form complete family units with birth, marriage and death dates. It’s been fun.
What has been most fun though, is recording stories – stories told through generations at family reunions, memories recounted by close relatives, and memories of my own. Dates are important. Pictures are great. Notes and information are interesting. But when you put all of those together, names and faces become people you can relate to and history comes alive. I’ve spent time matching pictures with words to chronicle the lives behind the names of the people I knew, so the value of the lives they lived is shared with those who care to know about them.
Recording names of those who came before my time has caused me to realize many things. The stark contrast between what life was like a hundred years ago and what life is like now has struck me in many ways. While I admittedly didn’t see much utility in high school history class all those years ago, the history of the people in my own family line makes history real in a personal way.
The things I have realized have already been recognized by many and likely studied as cultural changes, but I have now watched these changes happen in my own family as I have viewed the generations, moving forward and backward as I record them. These changes in our daily lives are significant and the impact of these changes by many families together have impacted our society as a whole. I have been intrigued as I’ve contemplated the individual day-to-day lives and events of my ancestors compared to our lives today.
Professions in our country have changed drastically. Many of my ancestors were farmers, working the land so the land would work for them. I believe it’s safe to say that years ago a larger percentage of people did more physical work overall than they do today. A great number of people now spend all day doing sedentary jobs, then must spend extra time exercising to remain healthy.
Infant mortality was higher and death was more common. Many of the families I recorded had one, two or more babies who died in infancy. Life expectancy was shorter overall. It was not unusual that women would die during childbirth. There were wars and more illnesses and accidents. Death was much more a part of life for them, and there were more multiple marriages as a result of death than divorce. They likely didn’t have time to dwell on the grief they experienced, for their survival and the survival of others depended on daily chores. And they certainly didn’t have professional counseling to help process their grief.
Family size has decreased dramatically from past generations. It wasn’t unusual even a half century ago for families to have up to 13 children. Farming families needed working hands to keep the farm going. But more important to recognize is that there were almost no birth control options. Looking at family compositions shows babies being born every two years or less in many cases. Women’s reproductive systems worked hard back then.
Joseph (1887 Died at 10 days)
Louis (1889 Died at 1 year)
Caring for parents was an expected duty. Reviewing census records reveals that once parents were older, they moved from being head of the household to becoming a member of a son or daughter’s household. How our society has changed – whereas it was commonplace for parents to live with one of their children years ago and be cared for by them, now it is commonplace for parents to live in an impersonal skilled care facility while their children continue to work and lead their own separate lives, apart from the parents who loved and cared for them.
My time here is incredibly short. Before long I, also, will be just a name and dates. In the end, my statistics will be grouped with others in my family, immediate and extended. Family – it’s where we start and finish life. What are we doing with the time in between to love and care for those we’ve been grouped with? How are we making our time, actions and words matter? What am I doing that will last in the hearts of those I leave behind?
I wonder, will my life be worthy of a story?