07 September 2012

Days to Remember

"When the last one goes Mom or me whitch ever this book must be turned over to my oldiest son"
This is the opening line of my grandfather's 1982-89 Journal. Since my grandfather was a young man, he has kept a running tally of his finances, possessions, maintenance schedules and planted crops. These journals are now housed in my father's library. Each one is for a year or a decade depending on how much grandpa wrote. These weren't written for posterity. He didn't have me in mind when he wrote them. This was just how he kept track of his life. And I love him for it.

We've been talking about putting your research in order for some weeks now. And I know I've talked about setting your own story down before. Just like your research, you need to make a file for yourself. Vital records, photos, wills...... anything that deals with you, right? This is where many historians go astray. We say the one thing that our living relatives drive us crazy with: "It's not important to anyone else." Well, it is dang it! Isn't that what you're always saying to your great aunt when she "doesn't remember anything"? Don't you wish your deceased relatives had left you a few clues about their story so you didn't have to go blind reading record after record? What important things were left out because they didn't think they were important? What important things are you neglecting to leave behind? And what about the now deceased relatives that you knew when they were alive? Your grandchildren or great grandchildren will never get to ask them about their stories. You know them. And you know a lot more about them than you think. When I sit down with any record on someone and it brings up a memory or a story I've been told, I write it down. Actually, I usually use a voice recorder to get it while it's fresh and type it out later, but the point is that I get that down now. Just like my video about my Aunt Evelyn, when I have a personal thought about the research I am doing, I record it. That's my story. That's who I am and one day someone will wonder about me. I try to leave them as much as possible.

"I retired Feb 1, 1983. Med. Got my full 30 years retirement."
Grandpa worked for the steel mill. I know that he hurt his back and retired on medical leave. In his journal, he gives the date. He also has it noted he should've retired in September, but that he received his full retirement due to medical issues. He then noted what he'd receive per month from retirement and how much from social security. He even put down the date that grandma was covered by his insurance after retirement. I now know how long he was working for them and can extrapolate that he started in 1953 (around September). I have a city directories from 1954 and 1956 that have him listed as a driver for the mill.

We don't stay with one employer for our lives anymore. We switch employers and even career avenues frequently. We may work for two or more employers at a time. Write this down. It's not like employment records are found online (or kept by the employer for decades on end). I found directories listing employer, but that's not done anymore. It's on my tax returns, but I'm terribly vague. It's on my census info, but I've only filled out two in my adult life and they won't be available publicly for 72 years. Put some thought into what you want to say about your work life. Who you worked for, why you chose them, what made you stay/go....... a career takes up a large chunk of your lifetime. Don't let it be a mystery to your grandchildren.

"We sold the house in Dyer, Ind. Dec 6 1983 & moved to Batesville, Ark. on Dec 31 1983."
For this entry alone I could kiss him! Here I have two residences and their dates (he even wrote down the address in Batesville!). I don't remember him buying the farm. I was about 2 when he took the family down to see his land and get the survey done. I know I was there, because my dad has stories of us camping on the mountain and photos of the trip. There was my uncle Bob climbing a tree. My stepmom Dee (when she was still with her first husband) big as a house and due any day with my stepsister Kat. My dad when he had (some) hair..... and a cowboy hat with feathers on the band. There's a photo of the whole gang in front of one of the trailers holding shotguns, wearing flannel and looking like they belong in the middle of nowhere. And me, cute as a button. Dad tells the story about how they had the trailers in a circle. Since I was so little, mom told me that the campfire and the circle of trailers was "inside". I had to have an adult take me "outside" of the circle. Well, she was off with grandma and Dee getting groceries from town and I started to cry. I wanted to go "outside". No one would take me "outside". All the men are looking up at the sky and wondering why I'm so crazy, when dad says, "okay honey, you go outside and I'll follow you." I trotted right off to the other side of the trailers and started picking wildflowers.

How many residences have you had? Why did you move? What do you remember about the house/apartment? What do you remember about your neighbors? I took some time to talk about all the places I lived. I used a voice recorder so I could just let the memories flow. I talked about the houses when I was a kid and my friends growing up. The first time I had to share a room with a sibling.  What it was like to have my own place after living with my parents. What my first night alone was like. Little things that reminded me of big things like the order in which I lived in different towns. I also used this with my dad. I asked him about his childhood homes and he remembered them out of order first. Then as we talked he was able to put them in order and now I know the path my grandparents took during the 1950s and 1960s. Considering I've got 10 to 20 years for the next census to give me more information (and BMDs are on privacy lock down just about everywhere for this time) this may be all the information I have for a long time. And portions of my life won't become public for much longer! So I printed out the forms for the censuses that cover my lifetime and had my dad help me fill them out to the best of our memories. I keep them in my file for my kids. In 2052, when my first census becomes available, they'll know where to look. They'll have some idea of the information to be found.

"We moved to the farm on the last day of June 1984."
When grandpa and grandma bought the land, it had no buildings. They had to run lines for electricity and phone. They had to dig a well for water. They had to chose and build their house. Dad was called in to referee during the house incident. Despite having the opportunity to build any house they wanted, grandpa decided to go modular. So dad had to go to the showroom to see the homes. Grandpa and grandma were arguing over who had the better choice. Killer was that after a few minutes of talking, dad figures out they both want the same house! So he takes each one separate and says that the other wants to concede, but that they are just too stubborn. If they'll be the one to get their way, they need to take it politely and and not hold it over the other person or mention it to them....... for pride's sake of course. Each walked away thinking they had won the battle.

Among these entries are his electricity being hooked up, the company chosen to dig the well, and what neighbors went in with him on the party-line telephone........ did you catch the last one? I have all the names of the five families that lived on the top of this mountain! Why should this be important? Well, I can see if any of them still live there (I actually know they do) and contact them for stories about my grandparents. I can connect with the kids who I used to play with when I was there and perhaps get new information through them. And it didn't happen this time, but in farther back incidences, I've also ran across other family members in those neighborhoods. That's why looking at the whole page of a census (and the ones before and after) are so helpful. Family usually lived near family. Keeping logs of who you live around can help the next generation find you or connect to those who remember you.

"In April 1988 We put in a back fince between Eugene Brown & me. Half his half mine 1,320 ft. on the line. It's paid."
When I was about 12, I lived with my grandparents on their farm. I went to school with Mr. Brown's kids. We'd sometimes hop the fence to go visit the Browns and feed their ducks. They had a goat that thought it was people and ate at the dinner table with everyone else. They had a cat that thought it was a duck and walked in line behind the momma and her ducklings and swam with them. We'd trade veggies for their jam, eggs for their fresh bread. Grandma would take me to visit with the Browns and the Warrens to be a part of the knitting circle. And once a month we'd take Mrs. Brown with us to the salon to get everyone's hair set. Well, the ladies got their hair set. I sat back and listened to the gossip.

Grandpa had a lot of notes about property lines. When he gave an acre to uncle Troy, he had it surveyed and marked off. When he laid the fence, he had it surveyed. In his files he has the maps from both surveys of the land. He has others from when he bought it and when he added a pond. How many of you have purchased a house or a piece of land? Do you have a map? How many of you have searched land grants for your ancestors? Have you ever wished they had left you a map?

"Mom & I bought each other wedding bands for Christmas 1988- 104.90. Mermart Little Rock. Walmart wanted 250 plus tax. Same rings."
This entry would mean nothing to anyone else but a few folks. My granddad was a frugal man. He shopped prices on everything. Christmas 1988 would've been their 41st anniversary. That he took the time to mention that Walmart wanted more than double for the same rings makes me smile. That's just grandpa.

If I had asked for stories from grandpa, I'd never get anything like this. Genealogically, this is truly unimportant. But for the flavor of a man, this and other entries like it are priceless. He knew where every dime of his money went. Some may see him as tight-fisted, but others may see a child of the Depression. He made sure to never owe anyone for long. He knew who owed him what and how reliable they were to pay him back. These entries throw light on a life that will vary wildly from my own and that of my children. When you research your ancestors, I'm sure you come across that "how did they live" moment. When you wonder if you could live in that time of no antibiotics or indoor plumbing. Our grandkids will never know a tape recorder. Or a rotary phone. Or how to play Pong on an Atari. Or what you did before Google when you had a research paper for school.

"Louie & Jean bought me a new suit when Troy got married Oct 1988."
This one is great. My uncle Troy is a, uh, shall we say "serial husband"? He had a few wives and I was so young that they blended together a bit. Some weren't official wives, but were treated that way, so sometimes I can get confused as to whether it was a wife or just a girlfriend. I don't remember all of the women. I remember O.D. She and Troy lived in a trailer put on grandpa's farm. But this marriage wouldn't be for O.D. Using this entry and an old album I was able to figure out that this was probably Luann. Troy never had children of his own. He always married women with kids. I have no idea where any of them are now.

Even dad doesn't keep all of Troy's marriages in place. I'd bet dollars to donuts grandpa didn't remember them all either. Having notes like this give me dates. I'm sure grandpa was just jotting down another financial fact for him. For me, it's a marriage record. If I had asked him when he was alive for Troy's wedding date, do you think he'd go through this journal? No. He'd check a few photo albums or maybe his file of old cards and invitations. But he'd probably not even remember writing it down here since that wasn't why he wrote it.

"I replaced 2 apple trees & put in a cherry tree March 1989. We now have 6 Apple- 4 peach, 1 plum, 1 pear, & one cherry tree."
There's even a map! Grandpa has a lot of entries like this one. What he planted and when. Where he had it set up. He built his own catfish pond. A lot of the land was rocky (it was on the side of a mountain after all). Even though this has little historical importance, I like entries like this. I remember his orchard and picking fruit for the day. I remember my brother eating too many cherries straight off the tree and getting sick. I remember playing hide and seek on 18 acres of wooded land...... I remember the day my granddad was tired and was laying down in his tomato patch. Grandma called for an ambulance thinking he was hurt. He yelled at her for being silly. She yelled at him for being so lazy as to not walk the 10 yards to the house. I remember the rock shaped like a convertible car that we'd play on. And riding the tractor with grandpa when he was clearing a new spot for the garden.

Again, these aren't entries that would have been brought up by grandpa during an interview. But for me to now look at them, I am flooded with memories from on the farm. Looking at his life reminds me of mine. I record those memories for my children so that they never have to wish I had told them about it. I probably will bore them incessantly with the best parts of my life, but they may not listen as much as they should when they are young. We all have those half heard stories from the older generations we wish we had wrote down. Why not write it down for your kids?

"Jean & Louie got me a Shelty pup June 1989. She was borned in april. I think some of the other kids might have helped. She cost 250.00. That's a lot of money to pay for a dog."
This is the entry that makes dad laugh. Just that last line is grandpa. You can hear his voice in it. I don't think the aunts and uncles helped buy the dog. But I do think that grandpa wouldn't believe that any one person would spend that kind of money on a dog. Had to be a group effort. They were replacing his Sheltie that was stolen a few months prior. I think the dog eventually went to live with my cousin (this or the next one did at least). Grandpa usually named the dog "dog". It usually followed him around the farm all day. He wasn't an animal person like some folks are today. He had grown up on a farm. Animals weren't pets, they were coworkers and possibly dinner.

"Aud bought mom lots of bulbs for her birthday 1989. looks like we will have a tulip farm if they do well."
Aunt Audrey sent grandma so many bulbs that they had a field of them. Grandpa planted them in rows like corn. That annoyed grandma to no end. Why couldn't he put them around the house in a border? No, he just had to plant them in their own plot on the side of the house. Dad has a picture of the tulips with grandma proudly showing them off. On the back grandpa wrote "Welcome to Little Holland, Arkansas."

Your to-do
Grandpa was born on a farm in Kentucky in 1927. He left school after the 5th grade and worked hard all his life. He knew what it was to go without and what it was to have something to spare. He was like a father to half the neighborhood when my father was growing up. No child went hungry or needed for anything if he could help provide. It would often break his heart when a rumor would pop up suggesting he was sleeping with a woman just because he tried to help her or her kids. In his mind, it was what a good Christian did.

If I don't write this down, the dry records my grandkids unearth won't show it. There are stories here. There are facts that will be found no where else. Because of these books, my dad has also started a journal for the grandkids not yet born. The problem is that he still edits and leaves out the "unimportant". I gave him a voice recorder, but he feels silly talking to himself. Well so do I, but there are just some things that have to be said. People tell me I write like I speak. I think they know that because they've both seen and heard me. It won't be but a few generations before that's not possible anymore. Not unless I take the steps now.

And that's your week's to do. Take the steps to leave your memory as whole as you can. Make copies of censuses for your lifetime and answer the questions so your kids have the answers now. For every question you wish your ancestors had answered, make sure your life hasn't left that same question. When a record or a story reminds you of something from your own life (or something you've heard about the family) set it down now. As always, live with "Do It NOW". Don't wait til you're done researching for the day, the emotion will have left you. You'll forget what you wanted to say. You'll decide it isn't as important as you think. It is. It's very important. Take frequent snapshots of your life.

Except for Instagram pictures of your lunch. That's just silly.

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