The Moment I Knew Came After My Father’s Death

Devon Noel Lee
On a mission to find my ancestors!

I was so touched by the reasons The Armchair Genealogist started working on her family history work. She became engaged in family history after the unexpected deaths of her in-laws. I can relate as my father’s death opened up family history to me.

A little backstory to the moment that the passion ignited to turn me from someone who casually thought she should do some family history into someone who is fully engaged is necessary.

Throughout my life, I have always lived far away from living relatives. I cherished every phone call, letter, and each rare vacation. Through phone calls and letters, I came to idolize my cousin Boomer was a decade older than me. His photos and Navy piloting stories made him a real-life Maverick from “Top Gun” in my eyes. I even cheered for the Navy football team in the early 80s when Boomer played quarterback.

My Grandpa Lew died when I was two. I don’t remember much about him, except the stories his daughters told about him. My aunts and mom told me he was a great dad and a great dancer. They told me of his hobbies, his military service, and how much they loved dancing with him. He was gone but not forgotten because their stories made him as real as a beloved character on television.

The stories did not ignite my passion. I still needed something more.

In the -70s, my mother was introduced to genealogy at church. As I grew up, she’d share the few stories about my Zumstein great-grandparents and the family that lived in Elcho, Ontario, Canada that she had discovered. She had research files, a Book of Remembrance, and photo albums. However, as we aged, my mother had to set family history aside to focus on being a full-time mother.

Her research files and stories were not enough to inspire me, but I won’t say they weren’t adding to the foundation of a stable fire.

Alonzo and Myra Comfort of Canada

In high school, I started a family history project as part of a self-development program. I struggled because so much of the information I needed was in Ohio and Canada when I lived in Texas. As such, the barriers of distance, cost, and limited technology move genealogy to a low priority once the high school project was complete.

The result of the project was a spark of interest, but the fire couldn’t grow without more resources to establish the flame.

After I married my husband, technology had improved, and I pursued genealogy again. It was easier to do at home which was a great fit for my young family with hours that did not allow for research at genealogy libraries or trips to Ohio from upstate New York or South Carolina.

As technology decreased my barriers to the work, my fire started to spread and catch on the fuel that would maintain the flames.

As morbid as it is, my father’s death exploded the single ember to a fiery dance of flames. Before his death, association with his side of the family was cut off. His family was small too begin with as he was an only child and his parents were now in a nursing home. A feud with his uncles and aunts and cousins, close their door to their relationships (and genealogy). With his passing, that barrier was coming down.

Cautiously and with child-like hope, I began reaching out to my father’s only surviving aunt. I simply asked for the family history of my parents and grandparents. I didn’t want to know about the feud and argue who was right or wrong. I just wanted to know SOMETHING about my father’s relatives. I knew NOTHING. I had no photos. I only had the information on a pedigree chart, and that wasn’t enough.

Evaline Peak Geiszler and her children
Evaline (Peak) Geiszler and her children in the 1920s. A photo I would never have seen had I not contacted my great-aunt (the girl pictured in the middle front)

My sweet great-aunt courageously allowed me to ask the questions and relive her memories of her loved ones. She shared pictures with me, stories, and her voice on tape. It was an exciting time. Since my great-aunt was willing to open up the family tree, I felt I could pursue more relations with other distant relatives.

The moment I knew the importance of family history and my role in it wasn’t instantaneous, but it was a series of events following my father’s passing. Now, I have an insatiable thirst for more and a desire to capture and preserve my ancestors’ stories so future generations will know.

What was the moment you knew family history and genealogy was for you? Was it quick or was it built over time?

Share your story in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or on your blog and share a link below.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

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.

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