Our Past Experiences and Those of our Forebears.

by Elaine Garrett

Sonestown Cemetery

Sonestown Cemetery

I’m an only child as was my dad, but his mother came from a large family. A couple of years ago, a second cousin of my father decided to put together a family history.

To get the ball rolling on his project, Cousin Sheldon asked each of us to supply the birth, death, marriage dates, locations and occupations of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

This was shortly after my father died, so Mother and I tried to come up with a list from recollections Dad and his mother had shared with us.

I felt pretty confident that the information we had supplied was accurate. But Cousin Sheldon used that information as a starting point. He plumbed federal Census Records and other public records that proved inconsistent with the memories my mother and I shared.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Much of how we view ourselves is based on who we believe ourselves to be which is deeply interwoven with our past experiences and those of our forebears.

In my case, I believed my great-grandfather was the son of a federal judge in Vermont. This man, Fred Eddy, ran away from home at an early age and worked for the railroad. His job was to walk the railroad tracks to check them for safety issues.

In the course of his travels he met my great-grandmother Jesse Gansel, the daughter of hotel owners. Fred boarded at the family’s hotel.

Years later, a 24-place setting of Havilland china would sit untouched in two barrels in our attic. Jesse inherited it from her mother; my grandmother inherited it from hers. Havilland china has always been pricey and my great-grandmother never used it in her own home, fearing one of her children would chip it with rough handling. We never used it either.

These stories and additional anecdotes surrounding them were told time and again to me over the years.

So it was quite a surprise to learn from Sheldon that our common great-great-grandparents never owned a hotel. Public records reveal that Gansel was a farmer, dry goods shop owner, sheriff, and judge!

While we can all name a judge or two on the Supreme Court, it is doubtful we know any. This is because compared to the general population; judgeships are few and far between.

I’m having a tough time accepting that both of my great-great-grandfathers were judges. More than that, I cannot think of a single reason for a couple to own enough matching china to feed 24 people in a household of 4.

I also cannot figure out why my grandmother would have lied about the circumstances of her parents’ meeting or about the occupation of her grandparents.

Worse, my cousin’s research places great-grandfather Fred’s father in Pennsylvania—and not affiliated with law in any way. More peculiar, he found great-grandfather Fred’s birth records in Vermont! Shouldn’t his dad have been living there, too? Of course, families move. But the implication is that the Gansels and Eddys lived in the same area of Pennsylvania.

Because I know my cousin is meticulous, I know his research is accurate—about someone!

I’m busy but I devoted a day to trying to locate past federal judges in Vermont. Unrelated to the people mentioned in this story, I also tried looking up professional licenses for others now dead. None of this information seems to be available online.

A curious lapse in information is newspaper records. Some of these publications have been operating for 150 years or more. Imagine the value to genealogists if newspapers were to transfer their old clippings from micro fiche and put them online. They could even charge for searches!

If you live nearby, you can visit newspaper libraries and conduct your own search. You only pay for copies of any material you make. But with families spread around the country, this isn’t always feasible.

About 20 years ago, friends of ours decided they wanted to create their own family genealogy. They had anecdotal evidence that they originated in France. Try as they might, they could get no information on their family history, but they had contacted a number of others who shared their family name: Rideout.

They gave up before they got started until they heard from one of the people they had contacted. It turns out their actual surname was Rideoux. Someone on Ellis Island had written their name incorrectly! Armed with this new information they took up the hunt again and a few years later the Rideouts and Rideouxs met for their first family reunion!

Some genealogies have happy endings; others leave us with more questions than answers.

Comments for Our Past Experiences and Those of our Forebears.

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Oct 08, 2015
by: Elaine

Thanks for sharing your story. It was a pleasure to read it.

May 21, 2009
Family Histories
by: Elaine

Thanks, Mack, for your insight.

Apparently, this is a common problem in trying to write a family history.

And it isn't just a problem facing family biographers.

As a keen student of all things historical I am constantly amazed at all the conflicting evidence offered in books and articles about well-known events that you'd think would contain identical information.

Take the pyramids, for example. According to Egyptian records the Great Pyramid was constructed in 22 years. Yet if you count the number of actual stones that went into its construction, it could not have possibly been built in so short a time.

In fact, if someone was crazy enough to take on an identical building project today, the newly constructed pyramid using modern methods would still be unlikely to be completed in 22 years.

To build the Great Pyramid using the same number of stones would require fashioning and placing a stone every 9 seconds for the next 22 years!

I guess the lesson here is that not even written evidence is always reliable - much less anecdotal evidence!

May 20, 2009
Which is the Truth?
by: Mack Baxter

I thoroughly enjoyed your tale of the imagined, and the 'real'(?) history of your Grandparents!
I too, have had this same experience-- and right now I am not sure which to believe, either!
My Dad (deceased 10 yrs ago) and my Aunt-- (still active-- in her 80's) both tell of occupations, and have memories of their parents adn Grandparents, when younger-- that do not seem to line up with the Census reports that I find in searches!
My question I ask is: Did the Census taker write down accurate information? Did my ancestors 'tell all' when the Census taker visited their home?
How will we ever know, in this system of things? At least we have the resurrection to look forward to, when we can ask them ourselves, -- and they will then truly 'Tell All'! :-)
Mack B.

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