You have some interesting tidbits about past family members, but not enough information to tell a good story? I think I can help you out with this. Read on!
In a previous blog, I told you about a great website that has suggestions for how to write an ancestor story. I've included the website at the end of this blog. One of the things they suggest is to pick out ONE ancestor and ONE story to tell. Don't try to write about all your ancestors, and even when you pick out just one interesting ancestor, don't try to tell their WHOLE story. But I love their advice: one ancestor, one story.
I loved sitting with my mother when she was still alive, and reminiscing about our youths and childhoods. But I also liked hearing about grandparents (her parents) whom I barely knew. I savored everything she told me. One story that I loved and always wanted to tell was about my great-great grandfather. Mother told me he had been in the Civil War. The information I found so fascinating was that, when the war was over, he had to walk home, and on his way back to Texas, he spent some time in Arkansas. There he met his wife, married, and eventually brought her to Texas. I loved that story! But that was all I knew--those few sketchy details.
Getting more details!
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was fascinated that the man had to walk home. All the way to Texas. He didn't take the train? I grew up in the 1950's and '60's, and had seen my fill of TV westerns--no stagecoach for him to get a ride? He didn't ride home on a horse? Of course the answer is "no," to all these questions. Those Confederate soldiers walked home. They had a difficult life on the front lines of battle, they had a difficult time getting home, and Reconstruction brought its own set of pain and heartache. I want my children and grandchildren to know this story. To know what their ancestors had to endure.
So it was off to the library for me!
What I discovered!
First of all, the Union soldiers had a little easier time of it. Not easy you realize, just easier. After all, they won the war, and they had a government in place. There was a system to address the mustering-out of Union soldiers. They stayed with their units until they got word to travel to various cities to be mustered out, usually Cincinnati or New York City. And travel included returning to those cities where they had mustered-in, usually via train or water transportation. There they would receive their papers and a paycheck. Then they could return home.
Confederate soldiers didn't have it like that. No official mustering out. No lining up to get paid. No money to travel home by boat or coach. Mostly just that long walk home. If calvary soldiers could prove they had brought their own horse, or had been in the calvary and provided a horse, oftentimes they were allowed to keep the animal. And it's important to remember, they had no government to help out. The Confederacy of America no longer existed. And the U.S. government felt no obligation to help out these soldiers. They simply turned in their weapons, received their parole and walked home.
This photo I copied from the book, Civil War Journal, The Legacies edited by William C. Davis, Brain C. Pohanka and Don Troiani. It's a great reference book on this war.
And that's a story I want to tell.
I can imagine after the war, these men walked home along dusty country roads, either alone or in groups. I'm sure they often stopped in little towns or small farms and looked for work. Perhaps their only pay was to sleep in their barn and get 2-3 meals a day from generous farmers. I'm guessing that's where my great-great grandfather met his wife. This story with these details is one I want to write for my kids.
And that's it! Just flesh out any story you have with some historical background. Do you have an ancestor that was in World War I? Make that trip to the library like I did, and get some background on that war. Have a great-grandparent that lived through the Great Depression? Again, spend an afternoon in your public library! It's fun poring through those big volumes and visiting with the librarians. And speaking of the librarians, one sweet lady told me about a library not far from my home that has a great Confederate soldier research center. I plan to visit!
I just believe telling stories of ancestors is important to our children and grandchildren. They need to know they come from "good stock," and that their forefathers and mothers were strong people and endured many hardships, but came through it all. Now that's a story to tell!
And the website with tips on writing your own ancestor story:
"Individually, every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation." Raquel Cepeda
And this quote from previous blogs about writing about your ancestors...I just love it: "You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors." Toba Beta
I totally agree with the late Barbara Bush. And grandparents play a huge role in this. Let's face it, we have the time to do this. We have time for small love notes, texts, and little heart-to-hearts when they come to visit. There are lots of ways to nurture family relationships, and one I found quite by accident.
A few years ago, I was with my grands and was putting my granddaughters to bed. They always bring me a stack of books to read, and one of them was "Sisters," by David McPhail. As soon as I saw it, I knew we had to do a book about my two granddaughters and their sisterly relationship. I think we started the interview process that night. I'm sure you can guess the premise of the book--it was all about how the sisters were the same and how they were different.
That was a couple of years ago, and as we've worked on the book since then...taking photos, adding text....I've come to realize other components of this venture. Both the girls' grandmothers are sisters. Their mother has a close sister relationship with their aunt. I realized we needed to celebrate not just Abby and Emma's relationship, but all the sister relationships in their family. We need to honor these family ties and learn from them. They can make our family stronger and tighter.
So back to our book~
As I said, the girls came over on a later date, and posed for pictures. Pictures that would illustrate what they said in their interview.
Then I went through the photo file on my computer, and realized those candid shots were really the best, so I'll use some of those for the book.
But wait! There's more!!
As I went through photo files on my computer, I also found photos of me and my sisters to add to the book, as well as cousins of the girls who have strong relationships with their sisters. I plan to add their photos as well.
And still more!
I plan to add quotes that I've received from these same cousins and others--quotes about the values and benefits of having a sister:
Lizzy - "There are so many things I could say about my amazing little sister, but I'll just simply say my sister is my built-in best friend."
Emily - "My big sister is my absolute best friend. The bond I have with my sister is very special thing that we share. I wouldn't want anyone else to be my big sister."
Lyndsey - "A built-in best friend--whether we like it or not!"
CJaye - "Friend for life!"
Brandi - "Having sisters means having many extensions of my heart."
Beth - "It's the next best thing to having your mom..."
Gigi - "Having big sisters means having special advisors and life-coaches."
A peek at some of the pages in my granddaughters' book~
Things you can do~
Fun quotes about sisters~
The girls' cousin Brandi sent me several quotes. I thought they were their own quotes from both Brandi and her sisters, but it turns out they are quotes that they've seen and loved. I like them too:
I found some fun quotes as well, and plan to add them to the book:
As grandparents, I think it is up to us to facilitate all our family relationships, and not just sisters. All the relationships within the family and extended family, and not only with books like I've presented here; it can be with phone calls, texts, chats, family get-togethers, and sharing of traditions. The list goes on and on. Let's do this! It's things like this that make our golden years GOLDEN!
Looking for something to do over spring break with your children or grandchildren? This is a fun one, and one they can then share with others! Make bookmarks for others and use watercolor techniques.
I had seen a watercolor craft online and realized it was something I had never done with my grandchildren. I decided it was a nice relaxing activity, and if we watercolored bookmarks, we could share with our local nursing home. So when they came over yesterday, that's exactly what we did.
The sentiments we wrote on each we deemed appropriate for the residents of the nursing home. It was a fun half-day activity as we did a watercolor wash on 8x10 paper, left them to dry and then ran errands and went to lunch. Always fun with my grand girls!
We had fun with this craft. We tried a few different techniques including a stifle technique as well as a watercolor wash, all of which you can find online. We used colored markers to write our words of inspiration, and got out all my leftover ribbon to add to the bookmark. We eventually decided we could do these for our friends as well. They would kind of be like "kindness bookmarks" instead of kindness rocks.
And as always seems to happen when I'm writing this blog, there was an article in Parade magazine by Lori Greiner. She makes uplifting posters for kids and schools, and you can get her wall decals for free. That inspired me for a summer craft for my granddaughters--we can make kindness posters using our watercolor techniques. Check it out:
Pass the above web address on to your kids and grandkids so they can get the free posters for their school. I know I'm going to!
As usual, I'll end with some points of inspiration:
"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For indeed, that's all who ever have." Margaret Mead
"Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." Desmond Tutu
Have you ever had a special remembrance celebration for a deceased loved one on their birthday? Several of my friends have done that, and I simply must share.
It all started one summer day when I called my daughter-in-law to see if I could arrange a playdate with my two granddaughters. When I talked to Lisa about putting it on the schedule, she said they were so excited to be going to a tea party at their Aunt Bonnie's that day. She explained that her Aunt Bonnie and her mother decided to have a tea for their dear mother who had passed a few years earlier. Bonnie and Linda had a keen desire for their own granddaughters to know their mother. And what better way to do that than with a tea party on their mother's birthday! I was so taken with that idea.
Here's what was included in their planning:
The two women had their mother's collection of teacups. Of course they would use those. Their mother had also started collecting beautiful china plates from antique shops and flea markets. Every time she came to see her daughters in her later years, she would bring them antique plates she had bought for them. So they had those plates for the celebration as well.
The two women then collected various photos they had of their mother and framed them to put around the dining area where the tea party would be held. They chose photos from various stages of their mother's life. Unfortunately I have only a couple of those treasured photos to share, but you get the idea. They wanted to capture for Grandmother Betty's great-granddaughters the vibrant life and personality of their mother.
The setting-up before their honored guests arrived.
The guest list included their daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters. They set up enough tables for all their guests and got out their teapots, teacups, and other serving pieces. They were also sure to add the foodstuffs necessary for a proper tea--lemon curd, coddled cream, lemons, cream, honey, sugar, finger sandwiches and scones. They did it up right!
Let the celebration begin! They were sure to show their granddaughters each and every picture and describe them. As they dined on tea and crumpets, they told stories about their great-grandmother, and offered traits their mother had that they had seen in their own daughters and granddaughters. I am sure on that day, the young girls' great-grandmother came alive to them. And they plan to continue the tradition. Besides sharing their mother's stories and life history, Linda and Bonnie see it as a way for at least once a year, getting all the cousins together. That's often hard to achieve in our busy world.
But wait, there's more!
Other friends have reported doing something like this to honor their loved ones on their heavenly birthdays. One friend told me about her granddaughter having everyone over on her great-grandfather's birthday. It was a casual summer celebration in remembrance of their beloved Bopie. The granddaughter served his favorite summer treat, Coke floats.
Another friend lost a beloved nephew just last year. His mother (her sister) had everyone over on his birthday for big bowls of chocolate ice cream--his favorite! And this grandmother presented them all with tee-shirts with his favorite saying, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."
Live and learn and pass it on!
I hate to tell you, but I had never heard of having a special remembrance celebration on a deceased loved one's birthday, and I think it is such a wonderful idea. And I wanted to pass it on to readers of my blog. If you've done something like this, please write me. I promise to share here. As grandparents, we've come to that time in our life when we want our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to know their departed family members. We want them to know our history and our stories. As I've repeated many times, we are the link between the two generations that came before us and the two generations that come after us. Besides telling those stories, we should celebrate their lives just as these people have done. What a treasure! What a remembrance!
Retired school teacher and now full time grandmother sharing ideas and looking for new ones about grandparenting!