My Views on Family History Have Changed

Note: This is a long, sometimes rambling post that is all my opinion.  Hopefully, some of it actually makes sense.

I had a dream about my mom last night – seems I’m having more and more dreams about her lately.  Sometimes they are good dreams.  Sometimes they are nightmares.  But when I wake up, the feeling is always the same.  Like air suddenly can’t fill my lungs because a ton of bricks has fallen on my chest.  The realization then hits that she isn’t just in the next room, probably reading a book or watching M.A.S.H on TV like she always did when her insomnia kept her awake.  I wouldn’t be able to just wrap my blanket around my body and pick a spot in the living room to sit with her for a while.  It always takes me a few minutes to push the feeling out of my mind and focus on the day.

Since my mom’s passing, I can’t seem to do genealogy without thinking about her.  I can’t look at a pedigree chart and resist cringing when I see her death date there.  I can’t discover something new without having a feeling of hollowness because she isn’t here for me to share the moment with.  Mom was never really interested in genealogy or family history and was often unable to see things as objectively as I could, but she did humor me as much as she could tolerate when I did talk about genealogy.  Her knowledge of history came in handy too and we could bounce ideas off of each other.

I’ve always known that my mom was my ancestor, but the word has always felt old and distant to me.  When I searched for ancestors, it felt like I was searching for people in another time, far away from my own.  I was searching for people I didn’t know and even though I’ve always felt a connection, a pull, a well of inspiration from these people who are my ancestors, I’ve never felt like they were close to me.  Even when dealing with my own grandparents – my mom’s parents died when I was just a baby, my paternal grandmother got dementia just after I started taking my first steps and although she was alive, she was never herself after that, and my paternal grandfather seemed like this husky voiced old man who lived across the country and had a funny accent.  While I wanted to learn more about these people, there was always a disconnect there.  Sure, they had influenced who my parents were as individuals, but they still felt far away – like a story from a book.  I knew that their influence, their choices, their actions had affected me – which more times than not made me proud, but they still felt far away.

To think of my mom as an ancestor just feels… strange.  My mom is a huge influence in who I am as a person – of my very being.  Because of her, I am a passionate, stubborn, often loud vocally person.  I become easily obsessed with things I love.  I am enthusiastic.  I feel the need to understand how things work and why.  I spread myself too thin sometimes.  I can think on my feet, especially in emergencies.  I plan out everything and I hate deviating from the plan.  I’m a control freak and I hate surprises.  I am this way because of my mom.  Her life had a direct impact on me.

How could I possibly call her an ancestor?  She isn’t distant or far away.  She isn’t from a history book.  But as the days and weeks and months pass, my mom starts to feel more distant and far away.  A panic almost seems to set in as I realize how few pictures I have or how I should have written everything she said down.  I almost feel in a rush to record her story – like if I don’t it will disappear and be lost forever.

Two years ago, before my mom was sick, before my mom was gone, I recorded my family history and genealogy because it was interesting.  Because it helped me feel a sense of belonging.  Because the stories gave me strength and inspiration.  Because it was like a challenge or game of detective – how much could I uncover?  What could I find?  Could I decipher that document?  It wasn’t a need but a want.  If I didn’t find it, someone else would.  Like the stories from my family’s past was a treasure chest waiting to be found – sure, I could dig it up, but if I didn’t, someone else would.

I was preserving my family history out of choice.

But now it genealogy and family history are needs for me.  If I don’t record it… if I don’t protect it… if I don’t preserve it… then who will?  I feel anxious to record the stories of my mom, of who she was, my memories of her – like I’ll somehow forget it all if I don’t.

Someday, I will have children and sometimes I fear they’ll view my mom as this far away, distant person.  Like an ancestor.  I can’t let that happen.

Thoughts?  Did I make any sense whatsoever?  Have your views and/or reasons for why you research ever changed?

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17 responses to “My Views on Family History Have Changed

  1. Elyse,

    I just want to hug you, because you have found the reason for doing genealogy/family history at such an early age. The baisc reason is – I think – to honor our ancestors. That includes our parents, grandparents, etc.

    Your mother gave you a tremendous gift – your life – and you have really done an excellent job of getting educated and working hard to achieve goals. She did a marvelous job raising you, and we all know that it wasn’t easy.

    It seems to me that you are still grieving your loss, and that is completely normal. It’s made more so because you two were so close and depended on each other for so much.

    Hang in there, it will get better. Think of the good and happy and funny times with her and write about them. You’ve barely started still, I think!

    Hugs — Randy
    randy seaver´s last blog post ..Best of the Genea-Blogs – 31 October to 5 November 2011

    • Randy –

      You never fail to make me smile.

      I am definitely still mourning my mom’s loss and I think that might always be a constant in my life. I don’t feel old enough to have lost her and I don’t feel like she was old enough to go – put that together and you have an internal conflict that can last for a lifetime. I hope it doesn’t though – Mom wouldn’t like that.

      All I could ever ask for in life is to make her proud, preserve her essence in myself and pass that on to my children someday.

  2. Elyse!

    This is a tremendous and heart-felt post! I really appreciate you letting us read your personal thoughts and views on genealogy. I can also sense a deep, loving relationship you had with your mother. I am blessed to still have both of my parents and all of my grandparents with me. I can’t even begin to imagine losing them!

    I can understand the feelings of this post to an extent. My great grandpa passed away last year at age 98. He was a lot of the source of my inspiration and help in my research. He encouraged me a lot and gave me tons of information. It was great, because he lived very close by and I could visit him often. Now that he’s gone, I always feel that emptiness whenever I think about him. I can’t just go and ask him what it was like to grow up on the farm or what it was like to live in the early 1900s, etc. I can’t have him tell me stories anymore, or sit and talk with him for hours down at his house. I can’t just spend time with him anymore. It’s truly is a terrible feeling.

    It’s one thing to have that feeling with people who have passed on before you got started doing genealogy, but it’s another when someone close to you has passed on after you’ve started. I can’t imagine how you must feel, but in doing genealogy you’re keeping the memory of your mother alive. There is an Aztec tradition that my cousin once told me that says: “People die three deaths. The first death is when our bodies cease to function. The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground. The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us.” More so now, I’m not doing this as a hobby, but as a way to bring back the memory and life of the people that have been forgotten and to help preserve and prolong the memory of the people that I still have with me.

    I think for us who are younger like you and me, we tend to look at it more that way than with older people who look at it more as a pass time. Genealogy, to me is two sided: On our ancestors’ part, it’ is to discover who I am through them, what heritage they left me, and who they were. On my part it’s to help preserve their memory and to keep that memory alive. If we fail to pass on the memory of who they were and what they did, they will be gone again until someone else finds them.

    Thanks, Elyse, for your posts! They’re always so insightful, and I always gain inspiration from reading them!


  3. It makes perfect sense and I feel the same way. The only ancestors of mine that are far away are those that I haven’t yet delved into- they are still just names and dates in my database. But those I know the life story of are my family now, just as much as my own parents and children are. Your children will feel the same way about your mom as you do, since you will share the essence of her with them. My daughter talks about my grandmother all the time; she is named for her so knows all about her even though Gramma died when I was a little girl. Just keep doing it because you love it and you’ve everything to gain.

  4. Elyse,
    Sorry for your loss. Loss of a parent, especially a mother is always poignant and deep – no matter how long ago. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post and helping remind us how important it is. It is more than a hobby or a profession and has long term effect for generations. Keep it up – your posterity will thank you one day!

  5. Elyse,
    I, like Randy, would just want to give you hug, because of you being you, your love for genealogy (especially at your young age) and your willingness to do good and help others.
    Yes, you will miss, and remember your mother, which is good, and I think normal. My dad died 2 months after I got out of the army (40+ years ago) and I still miss him. Like you, I don’t have many pictures of him & I (mom & pop were 40 when I was born) with my brother & sister being 10 & 11 years older than I.
    Our parents did give us a part of them, and I’m thankful for that. Think of the good things that happened with you & your mom and how much she gave to you and continue to smile.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and told quite a few about your enthusiasm of genealogy and of helping others. You’re definitely an inspiration to me and I know for a lot of others.
    Life is good, continue helping others and being you, and Thanks for sharing. –
    chuck C.

  6. I think an ancestor is a relative you did not know. Your mother is family, I felt the same way when my mom died. She has been gone since 1994 and I still miss her. I think the feeling does not go away, it just lessens.

  7. What a beautiful post, Elyse. I often talk to my Mom and Dad in my head while I am doing genealogy; they both died long before I started genealogy, but I think they would be (are?) fascinated by what I am finding. And I can’t think of them as “ancestors,” either. They are more like guides and inspirations for my research.
    Greta Koehl´s last blog post ..Why I Want to Remain an Amateur

  8. What a heartfelt post. Feelings and thoughts you have described are exactly those I felt after my dad’s passing. He was very interested in my family history research and often helped me out to. It’s hard it’s never really the same with him gone. I am so sorry for your loss. Hugs to you!
    Michelle Goodrum´s last blog post ..Computer Setup Lessons Learned

  9. Bless you. I’m another one who is so pleased to see you so interested in and passionate about genealogy as a young woman. It will give you lifelong rewards, and your children will have a wealth of family lore! It is still startling to me to think that my mother has been gone for 31 years! Just keep exploring.
    Karen Rhodes´s last blog post ..Hallowe’en in the 1950s

  10. I think part of the purpose of the research is to make sure that your mom (and the others who are gone before your children come along) are not ancestors. Your mom will be your kids’ grandma, not their ancestor. Ancestors are the ones we can’t really know, but a grandma is knowable, even if she’s not physically here.

    I am 100% sure you will make sure your future kids know their grandma.

  11. Beautiful post, Elyse. My Mom died nearly 29 years ago and I still experience the kind of feelings you describe. And since it was through my Mom’s family that I got started doing family history research, I know she’s always beside me on the journey.

  12. Bravo, Elyse!
    Craig Manson´s last blog post ..“All Gave Some, Some Gave All”

  13. Caroline Pointer

    Makes perfect sense, Elyse. My MIL revealed to me before she died that she wasn’t afraid of dying from breast cancer. But what she was afraid of was that her grandchildren wouldn’t remember her. She needn’t have worried, though. My kids may not remember her, but they know her well. I’ve made sure of that.


  14. Elyse ~
    Wow, you said everything that has been going on with me too since my mom passed . . . I get very anxious – panic attacks if you will, that the days are going by fast and mom’s passing is getting further away and I feel the need to record her life, our life as mother and daughter and the impact she had on me . . . so her descendants don’t forget about her, that they know the wonderful woman she was.

    You were with me when she passed, we both have that big hole in our lives now. I miss her everyday, and I too cannot do any of our family history without thinking of her . . . we were just digging into all the photos she had brought back from Germany when her mom, my Oma passed two months prior and helping me to put several of those pieces of the puzzle together, now I don’t have her to ask questions, share my finds or just give her a big hug when she walked thru the door. Boy I sure know what you mean . . . I am there too. I am thinking of you and thank you for putting what has been in my heart and mind for that last year.

  15. Oh Elyse, I feel your pain and loss! I too have lost my mom, and it had a profound impact on my reasons for doing genealogy. At least for a while, it was almost an emotional need. After a time, and after I began to move through the various stages of grieving her loss, genealogy again became the big puzzle it was before. The difference though, is that sometimes I still get emotional when I realize mom’s not there to share my discoveries with. There’s nothing easy about losing those we love, so give yourself time to heal, and know that everything you are feeling is normal. Take good care.
    Lauren Mahieu´s last blog post ..Technology and Tracing Thomas

  16. Elyse,

    When I was a freshman in college my cousin who had 4 little children and was in her early thirties died of Hodgkin’s disease. For years, at least 15, I dreamed about her and that a cure had been found for this form of cancer. For me I think the dreams were a way to come to grips with a reality I did not want to accept.

    It is so difficult to deal with the loss of someone dear to you, and processing can take a long time. Hopefully the nightmares are less frequent than the dreams .

    My cousin died 49 years ago, I haven’t had the dreams for 35 years but I still feel close to her and remember her and still cherish those memories.

    During the holidays it is normal to feel the pain of your loss more intensely and long for a reality in which she is alive and healthy . Your efforts to record her life, and your intense love for her will convey a vivid picture to those who come in the future.
    You can’t lose your love for her and that is what transmits a “living” person, not every word she said, or everything she did.

    May your memories bring you sweet dreams.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Pam Hatton
    Wikki Tree member

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