Former NGS board member B. Darrell Jackson had an unusual request for his birthday. He asked his three adult children to read one of the six books he has written on their family history and write about their impressions. His son’s response was particularly thoughtful.
I am struck overall about how little we can know of the lives of people who we have never met. There are no tax records related to one’s feeling for one’s spouse; no plat maps that delineate the quality and variety of one’s sense of humor; no draft registrations that describe one’s voice, cooking skills, or the fashion in which one prefers one’s tea.
As genealogists, we often focus on proving identity, relationships, and vital events. In doing that work, we sometimes lose sight of what we ultimately want from family history: to get to know our ancestors. One of the most compelling ways to do this is to use sources that actually contain our ancestors’ voices.Only NGS members have access to full articles of NGS Monthly. Please log in or click here to learn more about joining the National Genealogical Society.
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From a widow’s War of 1812 pension application, I gained some insight into her husband’s father (my ancestor): the widow described how her husband got down with pleurisy while stationed at a fort in what was later Alabama. His father came there to take him home but ended up staying as he was better and due to finish his term in a couple of weeks. At the time his father lived in a Georgia county just over the state line from South Carolina and would have had to traverse the breadth of Georgia across what was then mostly Native American territory. I just love that story.
There was also an interesting bit about the spelling of the surname, as the widow had spelled it one way on the pension application but another way (the right one) on her bounty land application. One of her grown children gave an affidavit that her father had said (paraphrasing), “this is the right way to spell the name, it’s the way my father wrote and spelled it.” This does help explain why my ancestor’s descendants consistently spelled it this way while there are a number of variant spellings found in other descendant lines.
I discovered: a 360 page autobiography written my great uncle in a university archive; his brother, my grandfather’s personnel jacket containing his application to the US Post Office. It listed his education, prior jobs and included letters of recommendation from former employers and his promotions within the PO and more.. And the personnel file of their sister, a college professor. It contained transcripts of her prior education and letters to the university president stating her position on matters — such as her salary which she said (clearly though diplomatically) was NOT enough. Go Aunt Lottie!!