A Love Letter to Young Genealogists

Dear Young Genealogist,

Once upon a time I was you. I always had an interest in the past and unlike many of my peers I enjoyed hanging out with old people (gray haired retirees). I liked their stories and their points of view. I tried to imagine living through life without cars and planes and coming from places far away beyond American shores. Other than looking at old photographs and family heirlooms my earliest recollection of a true genealogy pursuit was in 6th grade when we were asked to create a family tree and then later to do a report on a country from which our ancestors came. Mine was on Sweden, but at the time I had no idea exactly where in Sweden my ancestors were from. But I also remember feeling uncomfortable for my younger brother who was adopted and did not know his true family tree. Always be sensitive to those with less information than you. We all start in different places on our journeys.

My real pursuit of genealogy happened when I was 17 and read a Family Circle magazine article. And that was over 50 years ago. I have written about that previously here.

Copyright Family Circle Magazine Nov 1972

Recently a very dear friend and I exchanged letters beginning over 50 years ago. Reading this one I wrote back in 1984 is very interesting regarding genealogy.

“I’ve been working on the genealogy a bit lately. Well last week I got 4 letters from my relatives giving me lots of information. One from Ken, my grandmother Carrie’s brother. He traced the HENAGERs back to the 1600’s in Germany. He hasn’t given me all the details as he isn’t sure which if two brothers is his grandfather. He also gave me a lots of dates and things working back to a Josiah FRANKLIN, which might be the son of Josiah FRANKLIN, Benjamin FRANKLIN’s father.” [Although this turned out not to be true.]

“Also got a letter from my great aunt and uncle (my grandfather Milo’s brother). Anyway they sent a lot of things…a copy of a letter which traces the ALLEN’s to my great-great grandmother Lucinda Mary ALLEN who is quite closely related to Ethan ALLEN.” [Also turned out not to be true].

“Also my great great grandmother Catherine (STEWART) MOSIER. She told her children that she was descended from Mary Queen of Scots. When Catherine was living in Lincoln, Nebraska she received $3,000 from a lawyer who had been searching for her. He also gave her a book on the history of the STEWART family. Eilene said her grandmother always had that book with her but unfortunately it has been lost. Anyway, I never thought that delving into my family’s past would bring up such possibilities, even if they aren’t true, which quite possibly they aren’t, it sure is fun working on the whole thing. I guess you can tell I’m excited about it.” While its not shown that we are descended from Mary Queen of Scots YDNA has proven that we are descended from the Royal STEWARTs through Sir John STEWART Bonkyll. So of these early claims half turned out to be partly true.

So that is a cautionary tale for young genealogists. Some things, especially back then, turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking. But whether fact or fiction or something in between when you start a genealogical journey expect to be surprised, confounded and amused. If you aren’t having fun, then please reevaluate your action plan. If you are running into stuffy old gatekeepers and curmudgeons, keep reaching out until you find the relatives and genealogists willing to help and maybe even mentor you. They are a godsend. Please remember to say thank you. It goes a long way and is sometimes forgotten in the age of instant gratification.

Your relatives and progeny will appreciate your journey as you discover your family’s past. Don’t forget you are part of a very old story. And I am sure young genealogists have lots to teach us oldsters, as well. We bridge the age gap and make the world a better place. And if you indulge me just a bit more—please focus on the stories. They are the most important things you may hear—you may not know it at the time—but trust me every one you record will be a gift to future generations.

Love to you all—and may you be blessed with many stories…Special hello to Daniel Loftus and Gen_Z Genealogy.

Kelly Wheaton © 2022 All Rights Reserved.

9 Comments on “A Love Letter to Young Genealogists”

  1. Awww. Brings back a memory of my dad, so proud of his Scottish heritage, telling us we were descendants of Mary Queen of Scots! Well, we are Stewart/Stuart of Bute so that was a bit of a stretch but it still conjured images and lit a little spark. Why me of all 6 siblings? I can only guess it’s because my middle name is Stuart.

  2. So, so true. I pray often that someone will be here to pass the familial baton to when I’m no longer able. The number one truth is that everyone does have a story and it’s always amazing. Kind of puts a little bit of swagger in our walk.

      • I’m working with the families of the crewmen of the torpedoed USS Indianapolis. We’re aiming to have a In Memoriam book with a page for each of the 1196 crewmen. Short family history and their military photo. The information is very hard to come by. The information is feared to be lost with our generation. I’ve tried coaxing my 2 grandsons into the history with ships and metal steel and all that it includes. When we’re looking at a book or watching the myriad of documentaries available, I’ll ease into a little story about a particular young man and his life. Glazed over and done I can see that they’re not understanding the human part. I hope that they will. 12 & 14

      • It’s hard to compete these days, but thd future historians and genealogists are out there. I try to cultivate interest with my grandchildren too. It’s sometimes a long slog.

      • We’ve interacted long enough to know if someone asks the time of day I tell them how to build a clock. Lol. Not the best when your audience is preteen and well, ya know preteen. They were going to find a documentary for us when I was with them last week. A television I think was used in the latest NASA launch, think drive in movie size. 999 channels, that’s just for USS Indianapolis documentaries. Jaws & the Nicholas cage movies have their own channels… Each. Lol. Wee exaggerated but not by far. The TV is spinning like a slot machine and I finally look over. “What are you doing”? “I’m skipping the ads so we won’t have to watch”. “Good idea, the roulette effect is mesmerizing”. “I know, right”? Can’t make these up. He’s destined to have more than one chapter in the book. ❤️

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