For some genealogists, completing their family tree when they are young means they are half-completed entries for their parents and grandparents. Why? Because these relatives are still living and the death blank cannot be completed. This is a good thing. You spend your time working on the relatives starting with great-grandparents and working backward.
In my youth, I had one grandparent’s blank complete as my grandpa Lew Brown had died when I was nearly 3. I was fortunate enough to have met and had a few memories with my dad’s parents and many with my mother’s mom. The Geiszlers were placed in a nursing home when I was in middle school. I was never able to visit them in the nursing home and they both died when I was in college. My Grannie Louise Brown lived and was a part of my life, despite the great distance between our homes (Texas to Ohio) and pre-Facebook days. She died at the ripe age of 92 and I was in my thirties. The grandparent’s death date blanks were now all complete.
In the meantime, I had started a family and had two children. Shortly after meeting my second child, my father died, 10 years after I graduated high school. My children would have the commonality with me. They would not know one of their grandparents. My mother died not long ago after meeting all of my children. My oldest children have some memories of Grandpa Penny. However, the youngest two won’t have many memories, if any. My ancestral family tree now has all of the blanks completed for my nearest ancestors. My children’s tree have my half of their tree with completed entries. Their father’s side still has their grandparents incomplete as they are living and active parts of their lives.
Grannie’s family tree had completed death information for much of her life: meaning, her grandparents and parents had all died before she was 17.
Since my mother died, I have felt like an orphan. Then I had a realization, that my Grannie was an orphan with a completed family tree when she was 17. She had one grandmother whom she never met because her death line was complete long before Louise was born. Her grandfather William Lester Long, owner of Long’s Pharmacy in Columbus, Ohio, died when she was 5. In the 1930s, Louise would complete the blanks for her remaining two grandparents and her parents. Her Grandma Angie died when she was 11, Grandpa Smith died when she was 13, her mother died shortly before her 14thbirthday and her father died when she was 17. She was more of an orphan, meaning at a younger age than I was, including the fact that her birth mother died due to child birth.
Then I thought of my mother. She never knew her grandparents, again, because Grannie’s parents had died long before Mom was born. Grandpa Lew’s parents had died many years before Mom was born as well. However, mom grew into adulthood and was married with two children before her father passed away. Her grandparent’s blanks were completed before she was born and now she had her father’s death information to add to her chart. Her mother’s death blank was completed long after Mom’s children were born, raised, married, and having a family of their own. Mom didn’t really feel like a total orphan.
As I said, the family tree that my children will complete has all the birth, marriage, and death lines complete for their pedigree chart for their Geiszler/Brown grandparents. I’m fortunate, that this line goes back four more generations before the lines are blank because of brick walls. On their father’s side, the blanks are completed when they reach great-grandparents. They are very, very fortunate with this regard.
I can not predict the future, nor would I want to. In reviewing my family tree, there are sometimes I wish a few blanks were not complete. I wish they weren’t complete because that would mean those individuals were living with a death blank yet to be determined.
Working on our family history gives us many things to think about. Are there things I can learn about longevity from my ancestors? Are there things I can empathize with? Is a completed chart all there is to my family members?
When we begin to look beyond names, dates, and places to complete the pedigree chart, we find the heart of family history. Charts are only tools to guide us to the stories we can learn. So although my chart is complete, much like that of my grandmother’s, the stories are going to keep me from being too sad.
Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.