Monday, March 5, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am . . .

How Does It Happen So Quickly?
As genealogists, we delight in uncovering "facts" about our ancestors.  Those of us with a particular love of family history try to place our ancestors in "context" by familiarizing ourselves with the history, economics, living conditions, and social realities of the time.  The reality is, however, that we often try to build a plausible story based on a few precious facts that we have uncovered.

Typical information about an ancestor might include birth, death and marriage dates, number of children and a list of residences.  From Census documents we may be able to assess an ancestor's overall financial situation, occupation, year of immigration, etc.  We can determine whether or not they were literate and probably have a pretty good idea of what religion they practiced.  But then what?

I, like many of you, want to get inside their heads, understand their world view and learn what may have motivated them to stay put or move on.  It occurred to me that interpreting the "facts" is more than a minor undertaking. Let me demonstrate how tricky this can be by sharing some of the facts of my own life.

  • 1949 - born in Cincinnati, Ohio to John T. and Virginia Jones
  • 1950 U. S. Census - my parents now have two children.  We are living in an apartment in Wyoming.
  • 1950 - Move to first house in Golf Manor
  • 1960 U. S. Census - parents had 7th child and we are living in a house in Pleasant Ridge.
  • 1963 - Graduate from 8th Grade at Nativity School Pleasant Ridge
  • 1967 - Graduate from Regina High School, Norwood
  • 1970 U.S. Census - still living with parents in Pleasant Ridge and attending college at the University of Cincinnati. Education Major.
  • 1972 - Start first job as a teacher at Bond Hill School.
  • 1976 - Marry Robert J. Hellmann
  • 1977 - Build first house with husband in Landen, Warren County, Ohio
  • 1978 - Give birth to daughter, Elizabeth Ann Hellmann
  • 1979 - Divorce.
  • 1980 - U. S. Census - living in apartment in Symmes Township with daughter, single parent.
  • 1987 - Marry William E. Reed
  • 1990 - Living in home in Pleasant Ridge
  • 1999 - Buy home and relocate to Kenwood, Ohio.  Daughter spends college-semester abroad.
  • 2001 - Retire from Cincinnati Public Schools but continue working.
  • 2010 - Still living in Kenwood, daughter married, one grandchild.
OK -- so now you've got more information than most genealogists have about their ancestors.  Pretend you are my great-grandchild.  What will you decide about me?  What were my hobbies?  What was my religion?  My politics? My financial situation? How did I feel about being a wife, parent and grandparent?  What about divorce? How was my health? I'd love to see what they decide about me.  Will it be accurate?  More clues tomorrow.


  1. 1993 - Born in Cincinnati, OH on December 15, 1993 to Sally Miller Jones & Theodore Jones.

    1998 - my brother, Harrison is born.

    2000 - Started kindergarten at Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge.

    2008 - Left on February 29 for a two week exchange trip to China. Graduated 8th grade at Nativity. Got into Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash with a scholarship.

    Present - still a work of art in progress.

    1. Rian,
      I love this. Thanks for commenting. Let me tell you this -- even at the age of 62+ I can tell you that we are all still works of art in progress.

  2. Very nice! I am going to have to do this. So much the photos and the info don't tell us. Way to show, not tell.

  3. Hi Kathy,
    Wow! You and I are exactly the same age and the historical events that had such an impact on you did on me as well. You make a good point about what descendants will know about you based just on the facts. Not much, really, right? Now I'm spending all this time trying to figure out what to write about my ancestors, but have written virtually nothing that will give my kids a clue about me! (except that I'm obsessive about my family history, but they already knew that!)\
    :-) Thanks for dropping by again!

  4. But aren't you going to leave a journal or two (or many years' worth of journals), Kathy? Even with journals there will probably be one person who will get all of them, and then the next generation might not want them and into the trash they'll go. (Or not.) My mom kept journals. When we were cleaning out her house, I left them till the next weekend. When I went back the next weekend either my brother or sister got rid of them. (Unless they still have them and they're not telling me....)

    It's an interesting exercise. I feel the lack of information acutely when I try to put together the pieces of my ancestors' lives.


Join the conversation. Comments are appreciated and keep me motivated.