Sparking Ancestor Passion in an Unusual Way

I’ve written before about the many ways I’ve tried to get my family interested in learning about their ancestors. Swedish Death Cleaning was the key for one of my relatives who had recently purchased a new home and was needing furniture – along with the sewing machine cabinet went great grandma’s hand made doilies, a thread chest with great great grandma’s wooden sock darner and several homemade quits and afghans. I’ve helped several relatives apply to lineage societies and although they gained membership, I was disappointed that the result wasn’t a larger interest in learning about other ancestors.  Although I never tried this trick, I did contemplate  hiding cash in a book I wrote about three generations in one line thinking that if the receivers got that far in the story, they would like the extra reward.

What occurred last weekend was unintentional and what made me come to the conclusion that making a connection has to evoke a personal passion in the living; one that you might not even know exists.  

We had a family gathering that was unexpected – the adult kids happened to just show up at our house at the same time.  Since I had been hard at work checking relationships to see if I could qualify for a new society, I made a note of where I was in the pedigree and then joined the rest of my family.  While we were all catching up on careers, shared friends and the state of the world, I mentioned I was confirming relationship to Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys, who was the last prince of all Powys, Wales.  I certainly didn’t expect the response I got from one of my children…”He’s a real guy?!  I always thought he was made up.”  I replied that Madog was indeed real and his grandfather, Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, was widely regarded as one of the most just kings who revised Welsh law making inheritance fairer for those that were not rich.

The response from my kid, “Wow, I didn’t think the guy was real.”  I asked both kids where they had heard of Madog.  Evidently, he had been mentioned in Madeleine L’engle’s Wrinkle in Time series.  Turns out, the protagonist in the series discover that there is a lineal relationship and by learning about a treacherous incident in which Madog’s brother was involved in, saves the world from destruction.  So, my adult kids were interested in how Madog was their 23rd grandfather.  

No way I could ever predict a science fiction novel they read in 4th grade would light a genealogical fire in them two decades later but it did.  We live in a very strange world, indeed.  

Heirlooms and Hand Me Downs – Who Cares?!

A FABULOUS FIND of 13 May 2016

Originally published on 11 May 2016.

I read recently an online article about the glazed over look that family members often get when we genealogists start talking about the past.  The author mentioned that he was frustrated that his family doesn’t seem to care while the actors featured on tv shows are always so excited about their genealogy finds.

I understand why our family members often don’t get it.  Here’s my top 5 reasons for the disconnect and a way to get around it:

1.  The past is done and it’s not relevant to me.  Geez, I even had that philosophy when I was young.  Think about the 1960’s mantra of not trusting anyone over 30!  It’s rare that young people can connect the dots of how several times great grandpa’s life could be meaningful today.  It’s not just young folks.  Some people never out grow this belief so don’t get me wrong and think this view only applies to youth.  The solution is simple – tell or write engaging family stories that are applicable to life today. Write the story as a cliffhanger and I bet your relatives will want to learn more about their past.

  1.  Concrete tactile learners – there are many learners that have to SEE the picture, TOUCH the artifact, or LISTEN to the voice in order to process the information so show that photo taken at the 1920 family reunion and point out the resemblance to Great Uncle Fred.  Caution is needed, though.  Don’t overload them with a lot of photos or items as they’ll disconnect from sensory overload. A little goes a long way and what you’re aiming for is to pique interest.
  1.  Money, Money, Money!  Of course the television actors are excited about their family history finds.  Your relatives would be, too, if they were being paid for appearing on tv.  This is not a suggestion to pay our family members to listen to us but it does explain why there may be a lack of enthusiasm.  D. Joshua Taylor, of Ancestry Roadshow, mentioned at the National Genealogical Society Conference that his grandma updated the family history annually and every one expected to receive a copy gift wrapped under the Christmas tree each year.  That tradition, coupled with the $20. bills she hid in the pages, did help family members look forward to the gift. (And he’s interested in the family genealogy so clearly this approach worked.  Thank you, Josh’s Grandma!)
  2. Individual Attention.  Another reason tv actors are enthusiastic is because they are exclusively meeting one on one with noted researchers who sweetly answer their every question and have the documents all nicely transcribed for them.  I tend to talk family genealogy when everyone is together and that may be counter intuitive.  Instead, mention some tidbit that can easily blend in with the conversation when you are with only one of your family members.  A few weeks ago, while cleaning out a closet, I wondered what happened to a collection of needles I once had – darning, knitting, embroidery, tapestry, etc. that originally belonged to various females in my lines.  When I was into arts and crafts, I used them and always thought about the original owners.  Daughter said, “Oh, I have those.” She brought them over on Mother’s Day and I pulled out a few and said, “I remember when your great grandma used these to embroider a kitchen towel” and “Grandma Duck used to use these when she repaired the hallway stairs carpet, the one I told you about that I used to slide down on my derriere when I was five.”  Will daughter remember and cherish?  I don’t know but I gave it my best shot!  She is quite artistic so I suspect she will make the connection and remember it.
  3. Road trip needed!  When you think of “Who Do You Think You Are?” or “Long Lost Family” you know the participants get to travel.  Most family members would just love it if they got to go somewhere, all expenses paid.  I always sneak in a side trip whenever we used to vacation and my family still talks about the house on Long Island that several times great grandpa John Hicks Williams had built that just happened to be for sale so we got to see the inside (online – couldn’t find an agent who was available to give us a tour). Walking in your ancestor’s foot steps is a powerful experience and with summer coming, perhaps you can take the most interested of the family on an excursion.

Hope these suggestions help get your family interested in your findings – Happy Hunting!