Growing up far from family, I often feared what would happen to me if my parents or only brother died. I would feel like an emotional orphan even if I returned to Columbus, Ohio to live with my Grannie.
My mother did a great job of telling me a few things about my Papa, her daddy that died when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I knew that Papa was watching over me and there are times I felt him holding my hand as a latch-key kid walking to school. My greatest desire is to meet Papa and have him dance with me. Do you remember any commercial that shows little girls dancing with their feet on their daddy’s? That’s the image my mother painted about Papa, and I want to have that experience, though I probably shouldn’t step on his feet since I’m not so little any longer.
My fear of my children not knowing their grandpa came true when history repeated itself when my father died. Two of my superheroes have met him, but they were so little that don’t remember him. My mother lived long enough to meet all of my children, and my oldest kids have memories of her. They’ve had a closer relationship with my in-laws that I ever had with any of my grandparents, and for that, I’m grateful. They will experience less loneliness than I did as a child.
But I share the stories of my ancestors that I’ve discovered to better arm my kids to face this world. The challenges they face are just as troubling as those of their forebearers. There will be wars, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, challenges to their faith and their personal worth. If I can arm them with a religious conviction and stories of their ancestor’s, they will be better prepared to face those challenges. They will have power and resources that many of their peers lack because they don’t know the tragedies and triumphs of the past and how to build upon them.
They will have counter-narratives to a culture that celebrates drunkness, debt, and infidelity. They will know what true love is, and what it isn’t. They will know that family is more than just blood ties. They will know that where you start in life does not determine where you’ll end up. All of these lessons lie within the stories of my ancestors.
I’ll keep the negative stories in the home, but let me share the positives.
True love is when a barren couple adopted a sickly baby who was not thought to live long. They said, “if anyone needs a home, it is her.” That sickly baby was my Grannie, and she lived to be 92!
The family is more than blood was taught by my Great-Grandmother Evaline Townsend Geiszler who treasured the mother of her deceased fiance til the end of Betty’s life. She also cherished her husband’s mentor at the railroad and knew enough about his family to fill out an accurate death record when Samuel Barton died. Both of these names were recorded in Evaline’s personal Bible, though they weren’t blood-relatives.
And Great-Grandpa Victor Zumstein started life in a small rural village in Gainsborough, Ontario. Yet he became a Professor of Physics at Ohio State University working on spectrometers, which were a precursor to modern telecommunications. Who knew a farm boy with limited primary education could teach at a major university?
Why do I share family history with my children and encourage you to do the same?
Because there is a greater sense of belonging through the stories of our families. Because I don’t want my parents, my grandparents, or any ancestor to be gone but not forgotten. And I want my ancestors to be just as real, if not more, than Batman, The Rainbow Magic Fairies, Artemis Fowl, Frodo Baggins, or America Schreave.
Just in case you didn’t think you could do family history, my son has his opinion on the subject:
Why do you share family history with children? Leave a comment below.