Thankful Thursday- A Thanksgiving List

Edith Roberts Luck with her first granddaughter in 1954.
Edith Roberts Luck with her first granddaughter in October, 1954.

As a family historian and history buff, sitting down to write a list of things I am thankful for is daunting, even when I limit it to genealogy- there are so very many.

1. Of course, I would need to start with the family that was close, and who shared their stories with me from the time I was a young child. I always wanted to hear more of the good stories, and had a thirst for digging deeper into them. The budding journalist even back then always asked the 5 W’s and How: Who was it? What did they do for a living? Where did they live/move? When was it exactly? Why would they do ___? and How do you know that? How did they accomplish that? Questions, questions, questions… (Sorry, Mom, Dad, grandparents, etc.)

Family stories integrate history and help children better understand context, timelines, and their place in them. A fifth grader I knew had trouble understanding which persons he was studying in social studies were still alive- he couldn’t remember if Ben Franklin or George Washington were still living. This was a child who sadly did not have family stories…

David Allen Lambert recently wrote a good post discussing this on the blog Vita Brevis entitled “The gift of family history.” As I read it, I remembered how the Civil War came alive to me in my classes only because I knew I had a great-great Uncle who was “the youngest drummer boy in the Civil War” per family stories. My mother would bring out his picture occasionally, and he looked so young and vulnerable in his new Union uniform and cap. As we learned about boring battles, I could imagine dear little Abram Springsteen marching off, beating his drum with head held high, with his mother and sisters shedding briny tears, and his father proudly knowing that he would come back a man, even though he was only 12 years old as he left. I was proud that my family fulfilled patriotic duties, and relieved to know that Abram survived. The story of him stealing eggs and putting them in his drum to take back to camp for a delicious repast for his comrades in arms turned out to be true; as a child, it made me realize that I too could do things that mattered and that helped adults. Part of his legacy was thus given to me- a gift of family history passed down through the years.

Studies show that children who know the family stories have a better sense of who they are, where they came from, more confidence, etc. The best part is that they can pass on those stories to their children and grandchildren too. A person’s history is usually lost within three generations, since the fourth most probably will never have met the eldest. Using images and the wealth of the family stories and current availability of genealogical data, we can keep that from happening.

Grandma Edie (above) always told us, “You come from strong pioneer stock- you can do anything you set your mind to.” That sentence has kept me going through adversity from the we-thought-it-was-the-end-of-the-world silly junior high sort to much bigger, scarier, life altering things. I think I finally truly believe it.

Franz Xavier Helbling (1800-1876) and his wife Mary Theresa Knipshield (1810-1891)
Franz Xavier Helbling (1800-1876) and his wife Mary Theresa Knipshield (1810-1891). Photos sent by a kind distant cousin who paid to have the Helblings researched in Germany. She very kindly shared all her research with me, even though I had nothing to contribute except a bit of an update on more current family.

2. Back in the days before computers, genealogical research was a slow task with so many dead ends, and it depended on strangers being interested enough to answer your query if you could not travel to every needed repository. I cannot imagine the reams of paper and piles of envelopes I mailed out  after reading a query in a genealogy magazine, enclosing my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope, so the person did not have to use their own stamp to reply- quaint, isn’t it in these days of instant emails and messaging?), or writing to a local courthouse or historical society. Often, by the time one got a reply months later, one had almost forgotten the details of why they wrote. Despite all that, the kindness of strangers and very distant family was often overwhelming, and helped advance my research one family at a time.

1920 US Federal Census for Elsie Janis (Beerbower)
1920 US Federal Census for Elsie Janis (Beerbower). I had been only able to find the 1910 census for her  even though I searched for years. Yesterday’s look on turned up the family in the 1920 census, and I was then able to find the image on Knowing some of the servant’s names helped me to actually find the image- it did not come up in a search for Elsie nor Josephine (AKA Jane Elizabeth Cockrell Beerbower), her mother. The chauffeur’s name led me then to the 1930 census for Elsie and her mother. Still searching for them in the 1900 census…

3. I have been researching since a teen, and thirty years of personal visits to families and repositories plus SASE were totally eclipsed once I found,, and the myriad other online databases now available. In just a few months my family tree doubled in size, reaching many generations higher. Of course, it would not have been an accurate tree without all the information I had so painstakingly gathered in all those previous years. Indexers have made this material accessible, and I hope to be able to do more indexing in the future myself. Online databases are the gift that keeps on giving- more comes online daily and I just love the newspapers now online-  they give such interesting details about daily life, something dry vital records cannot do.

Obituary of Margaret Ann Hemphill, 23 December 1915, Prairie City News, Prairie City, Iowa, page 1.
Obituary of Margaret Ann Hemphill, 23 December 1915, Prairie City News, Prairie City, Iowa, page 1.

4. Being able to write about my research and findings has been the culmination of all my research- what good is all that paperwork/pixels if it doesn’t tell a story to someone? Writing it down has helped me to realize where there are holes, and then I research some more- it’s a wonder that I ever get a blog post finished. (I think my fastest was only 8 revisions and I know there are still typos and awkward sentences here and there- sorry.) Writing out the stories is also a way of analyzing what one knows, and sometimes new connections are evident. I am still challenged by some of the technicalities of using a blog, and it isn’t the pretty blog I visualized because I don’t have the skills to make it so, but overall it makes me happy to share these stories of family.

c1914- Edgar Helbling reading.
c1914- Edgar Helbling reading.

5. Having people who actually read the blog is so wonderful. Writing a blog IS a lot of work (thank you, dear husband, for your patience when I am writing), and it saddens me that there are not very many readers out there. It is a niche blog though, written for family, so I really don’t expect large numbers. (It would be nice though to get as many real people comments as spam comments.) We have found some cousins through the blog (one of the reasons we started this), and I am sure there are others reading but not commenting, subscribing, or sharing. Oh well, I do hope that they will one day, but in the meantime, I have been charged with telling these stories for current and future generations, and that is what I will do. Thank you to Uncle Jim who pushed me to get this thing started. To the family and friends who read the blog, I say a heartfelt thank you- you keep me inspired to keep telling the stories.

My genealogical journey has been a part of me for a very long time and I am grateful to be able to share it with family.  I am so thankful for all the assistance along the way, from the kind humanity of researchers and government employees to the non-human databases that contain so many tidbits of clues and information. I am grateful to all the wonderful ancestors who came before to make me who I am and keep me busy at the computer and off the streets because I am so deep into research I cannot stop to eat or sleep or get in trouble.

In the end, though, the thing to be most thankful for, this day and every day, is… family.



Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Family photo archives.

2) 1920 US Federal Census for Elsie Janis: Source Citation: Year: 1920; Census Place: North Tarrytown, Westchester, New York; Roll: T625_1276; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 68; Image: 599. Accessed 11-19-14.

3) Vita Brevis, a blog of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)-


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