Saturday, October 31, 2015

About Me: Getting interested in my family's history

Don't be misled by the title, I don't think life is all "About Me". In fact, I'm much more interested in learning about other people's lives than I am sharing about my own. I'm more interested in hearing what others have to say than sharing what I have to say. I do, however, think I have some interesting things to share. That's why I have a blog!

Last week my second cousin Kate Keller posted a story on her blog "Genealogy Bug" about how she got interested in researching her family's history. She gave me the idea to share the same thing. Then yesterday I read this article by Thomas J. Kemp in the Family Search blog about the importance of sharing our stories and photos so our descendants will know more about us after we're gone. Thomas opens by telling us: "For me, the two most urgent items that you should act on – now – are: scanning all of your old family photos; and finding & writing down your family stories. Why? Because these are in your control. 
Global services like GenealogyBank and FamilySearch are putting millions of original records online. They are there ready for you 24/7 as you have time to do the research. 
What is not online – and not preserved – are your old family photos and stories."

I've been sharing photos and stories about my ancestors in this blog since 2008, but haven't written much about my own life. After reading Mr. Kemp's article, I decided to focus for awhile on photos and stories from my own life. And after reading Kate's article about how she got started in researching her family's history, I thought I'd start there too. So this is the first in the series "About Me".

As I grew up I spent frequent time with my paternal grandparents as well as my step-mother's dad and step-mom. Nobody spoke of my step-mother's ancestry, and nobody asked. Her philosophy was "It doesn't matter where we came from. What matters is what we make of our own lives."

Amalia (Koleber)
and John L. Margheim
I knew my dad's parents were both German---Volga German. My grandfather was born in Russell County, KS, as his parents were the immigrants in that family. But my grandmother told me at a very young age that she was born in 1902 in Kratzke, Russia. In fact, knowing that gave me the idea that I KNEW my family's history. I knew where my grandparents were born. What more could I possibly need to know? Don't laugh. Many, many adults have that attitude throughout their lives. 

While in my 40s, I moved away from my hometown and the close proximity to my grandparents and parents. My dad would write to me that he, my mom and his mother had joined the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR) and were annually attending their conventions. This was the first time I knew that my dad was interested in his heritage. Upon one of my visits to my parents' home, Dad showed me photos that he obtained at the convention, as well as many that my Grandma Margheim had shared with him. I politely looked, commented at how nice that was, and dropped the subject. 

I was divorced early in 1990 and in the summer of 1991 met my current husband Larry Jamison. Larry's ex-wife had been involved in researching their families' histories briefly in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Larry was interested in the stories of his heritage. But since I met Larry shortly after his 1991 divorce, interests that he and his ex-wife shared were still quite fresh in his mind and he spoke of them often. (That's not conducive to building an intimate relationship with another woman). As he (too often) told me of her successes in researching, I grew resentful and distanced myself from the subject. At one point, I told him I may grow gardens, can vegetables, sew clothing, and get involved in Church activities, but I'd NEVER do genealogy research and I didn't want to hear anymore about it!

Let me backtrack a week. It was the summer of 1992, and by that time I was also living in Colorado Springs, the town in which Larry was residing. Larry had a good friend who served as the Director of the Family History Center in Colorado Springs. He pleaded with me to accompany him to the Center and sit down at the computer with his friend Bonnie to see what information might be online about my family. I very reluctantly agreed to go. 

Milo (1883-1965) and
Nannie (Becker) Flanders
Since I grew up with my dad's parents, it was my mother's parents that I knew nothing about. I knew them, but not their ancestry. Larry was certain we'd discover SOMETHING about them on the internet. I've often repeated what I told him that night. "Larry, my Grandpa and Grandma Flanders were this little old couple who lived in this little old house on a little old corner in the little old town of Stafford, KS. You aren't going to find anything about them on the internet!"

You might have guessed. Bonnie brought up information about Milo and Nannie that had been submitted to FamilySearch by someone in California. I told Larry I didn't have any relatives in California. And I wasn't much interested in what Bonnie found since I was only in the Center to please Larry. Bonnie gave me a print-out of what she found and I took it home and put it away. For SEVEN YEARS!

Ernie Margheim loved his computer and
spent many hours researching and studying.
In 1998 we moved my Dad from Great Bend, KS to live near us in Colorado since my step-mother had died in 1997. My son, Dad's only grandchild, also lives near us so Dad had some of his family in his life. Since Dad was interested in his Volga German heritage, my son Matt gifted Dad that first Christmas with RootsMagic, the genealogy software. Matt's always had a knack for finding just the right gift for each family member. Dad was retired, lived alone, and interested in family history so Matt thought he'd enjoy developing a database of his ancestry. But we both found out Dad was interested in sharing stories with cousins about his ancestry, and very interested in clipping obituaries and saving funeral programs, but was not drawn to developing a database on his computer. He loved researching such things as astronomy, geology, and classical music. But the RootsMagic software was never installed (I offered). 

We bought our first computer about that same time so I brought the RootsMagic CD to my house and thought I would install it, ONLY to enter the information from a 4 generation pedigree chart that I had written in my son's baby book. Remember, I had vowed to NEVER do genealogy research. 

I entered the names and dates for my son's adopted parents, grandparents and great grandparents into RootsMagic. And quickly found that there was no place to stop. His great grandparents' page had a tab at the bottom right that said "Parents". Uh-oh. I needed to add the names of their parents! I inquired of their identity from my Dad and entered that information. But for the information on my mother's grandparents, I had to search the internet. I was in luck. I found their ancestry reported on a "Family Tree Maker" site owned and managed by my second cousin Kate Keller, that "Genealogy Bug Kate" that I told you about in the second paragraph of this post. 

Phyllis Batchman Preece
The rest is history, since I've come full circle. Kate opened up the world of my Flanders/Becker ancestry to me, as her grandmother was a sister of my Grandma Flanders. I discovered that I became quite interested in knowing who each family was and wanted to keep learning more about each person's heritage. In 1999 I reached out by email to the person who had submitted the data about my Flanders grandparents to FamilySearch... the information that I discovered with Bonnie's help seven years earlier in the Family History Center in Colorado Springs, CO. I met Phyllis Preece, (from California!), whose mother was also a sister to my Grandma Flanders. Her daughter Sharon Preece Bogh emailed me the following morning, opening her letter with "You have struck gold!" I quickly received a large package of documents and copies of family photographs from Phyllis and I was "on my way" to becoming a family historian. 
Sharon Preece Bogh
Of course I've apologized to Larry for resisting his advice to get involved in genealogy and have embarked on this journey of discovery that we hope will continue long into our future. It's been more rewarding and fulfilling than I can describe and has given me family that I've grown to love, who, in return, have showered their love upon me.


Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

Great story Becky. Not only inspiring to those with just a little interest, but also to those of us who serve as consultants and meet up with those with a minimal amount of interest. I'm glad you developed an interest in it because otherwise, you and I would never have met.

TK said...

"...ONLY to enter the information from a 4 generation pedigree chart that I had written in my son's baby book...." Yep, it was right there that I busted out laughing...