It seems counterintuitive that you can give someone something they already possess—the gift of family history. Our genealogy is already in us, in our DNA, our ethnicity, and our family traditions. But for many people, the details of that genealogy are yet unknown.
During RootsTech 2017, thousands of us witnessed the power of the gift of family history as FamilySearch’s Thom Reed presented LeVar Burton with a binder of his family’s genealogy.
Here’s what I wrote that day in LeVar Burton Taught Us the Power of Storytelling:
You could hear Burton’s intake of breath with Thom flashed a copy of his grandparent’s marriage license on the huge screen. Then Thom pointed out the signature of Willis Ward—handwriting Burton had never seen before. Burton’s “What?!” moved the audience of thousands in ways his articulate speech never could.
Sometimes the Recipient doesn’t immediately recognize the magnitude of the gift of family history.
Sadly, I was once guilty of that. As much as I loved my maternal grandmother’s Treasure Chest of Memories, a gift of family history from my aunt Ann Crymes took second chair in my heart.
Part of that, of course, was not understanding the depth of research that lie behind each individual and family group report. The trips to courthouses and graveyards. The letters and emails sent. The meticulous record keeping.
I also initially lost track of the fact that Aunt Ann came to the Crymes family via marriage. We were not her blood. Yet she had labored for years out of love for those of us who were Crymes.
In the preface to her binder of “Crymes Family Roots,” the gift of family history she presented to each descendant family in 1999, she wrote that she’d begun her research in 1972.
Yep, 27 years of research.
Not online research. And for family members born at home, it entailed alternative birth records, such as the below statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce:
She also included wonderful gems such as a drawing of my great great grandparents’ house.
Aunt Ann didn’t stop giving me the gift of genealogy. She kept tantalizing me via email with tidbits she’d found. Finally, producing the evidence that my paternal grandmother had lied all her life about her past.
That, of course, is another story, but I was hooked.
I’m not only way more appreciative than I was in 1999. I’m indebted. I love digging back into the treasure trove of facts and resources she left us. Her memory of who was who in Lunenburg Co., Virginia. Her collaboration with other researchers, such as Stephen McLeod whose The House of Cantelou & Co.: The Story of a Southern Family includes some of my aunt’s research.
Plus, I’ve seen the other side, the it’s-better-to-give-than-receive end of the giving. For instance, years ago I gave a friend a small binder of her family history. It didn’t go back beyond a few generations. Currently, she’s contacting newfound cousins in Australia and investigating the possibility that her great grandfather was adopted.
Why should you give the gift of family history?
You don’t have to research for decades before presenting your loved ones with some form of their family history. Even those who will never want to do the research for themselves love seeing the family photos, looking at old documents, and hearing (or being reminded of) family stories.
It’s a gift of connectedness. Of knowing.
The gift of family history is also a great way to show dear ones that you care about their story. The chapters in the past as well as those sections they have yet to write.