The Family Historian
The phone rings right after dinner and we cringe thinking itís another telemarketer calling but itís that worrywart Doug Phelps wanting to know when did Aunt Bessie die, and who did she marry and not only that but when did it happen. Then he wants to know about all her children and even her grandchildren. We never cared for Aunt Bessie that much to begin with so why should we care about these silly little details of her life. We just want to be left alone and not have to get involved in this family business!
How many people at your workplace or the neighbors you bump into can tell you who their 4th Great-Grandfather was or much less what his life was like. Many people never knew their Grandparents much less anybody past that. Ask the average person what their Great-Grandmotherís maiden name was and you probably get a blank stare. I myself have Presidents in my ancestry and much is known about these people because they were important and someone bothered to write down their history so that generations later their story could be told. Itís just as important to the Family Historian how the modest farmer in Caswell County, North Carolina in the 1700ís made his way through this mortal life.
The first time you gaze upon a document that was written over 200 years ago about someone that had the same blood coursing through his or her veins as you do today, itís an absolutely mesmerizing experience. Just try it some time and youíll see. Go to a county courthouse and read an old will, land deed or marriage certificate about someone that lived during the time of the Civil War or even better yet during the Revolutionary War. See their signatures there on the 200 year old paper, see how simple their possessions were, see where they lived, and the legacy they left to their family however humble it may be. Some were better off than others and could leave large tracts of land or dozens of slaves to their descendants but most left a small piece of what it had taken them a lifetime to achieve and just wanted to share it with his family in the hopes that it would always remain a secure place for generations to come.
How many people could even fathom a time when young girls married at 14, had 14 children and faced death at every birth or feared the child most likely wouldnít make it to itís first birthday. When a simple cold that we treat as a mere inconvenience today could send you to an early grave, unless you were just tough enough to survive. Many didnít! You exist today because someone made it through the diseases, the wars, the trials that man has faced throughout the annals of recorded history. They survived so you could have a chance to face the brave new world of tomorrow.
Being a Family Historian is most of the time a thankless job. Countless hours researching old documents that you need a degree sometimes just to translate it. Running down leads only to crash headlong into a brick wall because a careless census taker didnít do his job, or the British Army burned the courthouse and all the ancestral records that it held. Traipsing through snake and tick infested cemeteries that are sometimes scary even in broad daylight and after having risked your personal well being to find you have just completed another wild goose chase. Your spouse is angry because youíre chasing the dead when youíre among the living. Otherís think youíve flipped your wig because all you want to talk about is someone who turned to dust 100 years ago. So why do they do it? Because they think itís important to know where you came from, that some day when theyíre too old and feeble to continue, that someone in the family will pick up the family flag and march proudly forward into the future, while preserving the past, so 200 years from now when someone asks ďWhat was you Great-Grandmothers maiden name?Ē They can say ďSit down and Iíll tell you all about itĒ
Latham Mark Phelps
August 15th 2003