One of my grandsons is a cub scout. His pack is working on a “Heritage” project to earn a belt loop and a pin. The gist is that each scout must learn about where his family came from, choose a part of his heritage (family line), then learn about its culture, language, and family traditions. Contacting family members and doing some research is part of this.
Various family members put their heads and prior research together for him, and he ended up with a reasonably complete family tree going back more than six generations. Pretty cool. Of his sixteen great-great-grandparents, seven were German by birth and one was Dutch. Four were Polish, three were Scots-Irish, and one was Canadian.
Since there are German ancestors in all of his grandparents’ lines, I expected he’d identify most with that heritage. There are lots of fun German holiday traditions, recipes, and stories from just my Dad’s family, and I have some familiarity with the German language (including nursery rhymes, songs, and the necessary vocabulary to complete the requirements), so we had tons of data for him to use.
But that wasn’t his choice.
My grandson actually knew only one of his great-grandparents, and that was my Mom. She was born to Scottish immigrants from Scots-Irish families. It was her story he wanted to follow, her ancestors’ language he wanted to learn about, her traditions he wanted to know. It probably didn’t hurt that they shared left-handedness and a sense of humor.
So, yesterday, we spent all afternoon into the evening, doing the requisite online research, having him interview me, and learning to say some Scottish Gaelic words from an online tool in learngaelic.net’s “20 Words” section. (We giggled a lot at some pronunciations.) He will also make scones with his mom, and has drawn his family tree for the poster he is making (another requirement.)
As we were going through the files on my computer and portable hard drive, I was reminded of how much fun genealogy can be. It connects us to the people we love, and to the people they loved, and the people before them. When my first grandchild was born more than sixteen years ago, I realized she would remember me, as I remembered my grandparents – and as my parents remembered theirs. I started asking my folks and my father-in-law about their families.
Many of these people, and other extended family members, had wonderful records – stories in a family Bible, letters and other documents from their youths, to say nothing of the photos, anecdotes and songs they shared with us. They wanted their histories and traditions to be remembered. We uncovered one new item at a time, and now my family tree contains 879 individuals, including the family members of our siblings’ and children’s spouses. I have thousands of images – photos, birth, marriage, and death certificates, and more.
This will be one of the legacies I leave my family someday. I still have so many photos to scan and stories to record. And I will keep finding new information for some time to come. Just yesterday I learned new info about my son-in-law’s ancestors from my grandson.
I don’t know if our little scout will continue his interest in the history of his family once this project is finished, but the information will be waiting for him when he’s ready to share it with his own children and grandchildren. And when he does, I hope he’ll remember me and the fun we had yesterday.