I have been researching our family histories for some time now, and I am amazed at the fortitude of some of our ancestors. Bob’s great grandparents homesteaded in Montana in July 1911, and went through everything from a flash flood almost immediately, that washed away all of their belongings, but spared the family, to an early severe snow storm that dumped 15 to 18 inches of snow on their crops, freezing them. Bob’s great grandfather had to travel to the Elk Basin, Wyoming oil fields to make enough money to feed their growing family, and his great grandmother would take on odd jobs doing everything from cleaning houses to acting as a midwife.
I realize that there are hard working people in all walks of life, and through the years, but sometimes, it really seems to stand out as unique and amazing. Bob’s great grand parents would go on to have 10 children. The oldest, Andrew was Bob’s grandfather. As a young boy of fifteen, he was accidentally shot in the leg while hunting antelope in October of 1921. He would spend 23 months and 11 days in the hospital, and would eventually lose his leg to that injury. I’m quite sure that was devastating to a fifteen year old boy, but he would go on to become the Sheriff of Rosebud County for many years. I did not know him for many of the early years of my marriage to Bob, as his dad and grandfather didn’t speak for many years, but in the later years of his life, they reunited and we got to know Grandpa Andy. I never knew what happened to his leg, until after his death, but I remember thinking it very unusual it have a wooden peg for a leg in the 1980’s. Of course, the leg had been that way for a long time, so I’m sure it was nothing unusual to Grandpa Andy, and so we gave it no further thought either.
Adversity can and does hit people from all walks of life, and it is often that adversity that is the proving ground for that person. Some fall apart and are never really whole again. Other’s like Bob’s great grandparents and his grandfather, fight their way through the adversities in life and go on to do great things with their lives. Our ancestors had things much harder than we do. They didn’t have the modern technology that we have, and would be stunned by things we take for granted…like the internet and cell phones. They worked with their hands, scratching out a living on the land, because that was all that was available to them. Yet, while they weren’t tech savvy, they managed to build this country, turning it into the great nation it is today. They were the building blocks of a nation.
While visiting Bob’s great grandparents in Yakima, Washington in 1976, Grandma Knox showed me a family heirloom of a different type than most, but priceless nevertheless. It was a drawing of a tree, on which the trunk and branches were the names of family members. It was a true family tree. It must have been a copy of several or many that were made and given to family members in the Knox family, because I have since seen it on the Internet. And was able to save a copy on Ancestry.com.
I think about the person who did all that original work. Her name was Hattie Goodman, and she is a relative on Bob’s side of our family. I would have to dig deeper to tell you exactly what the relationship is, but we are related, and on the copy that Grandma had, we know where our family section is. Of course, the tree does not show the names of my children or grandchildren, or even Bob and his parents, but his great grandparents are listed, so we know where we fit. It is an amazing piece of history, painstakingly written down by a woman I would love to have known, because I think she must have really been something!
Bob’s great grandparents are gone now, and I am quite sure his Uncle Frank still has the family tree drawing, as he is one of the last of the brothers born to Bob’s great grandparents, and the healthiest one for sure, making him the best choice to keep it. And he is also the one who would be the most interested in the family history, so he would treasure it.
It is quite a responsibility to be the family historian…and yet quite exciting too. You carry the memories in your head, and you feel the need to get it down on paper, or online these days, so that it can be passed on to generations who would not have known these stories any other way. There are family historians in every family, and you know who you are. The memories live in the filing system in your mind, but they are not content to stay there. They continue to spill out in your writings as a memorial to times past. You feel the need to leave a legacy of the stories of the past, so that future generations will not forget where they came from.
That is where I fit into the family, but I am not alone. Most families have several or sometimes even many people who are interested in those stories from the past. They can sit down and hear a story from the past, and immediately commit it to memory, and turn around and tell it to others to preserve the family history. This stuff just sticks in their memory so easily, and once it is in there, it stays. They are the family historians, and they have an important role in the family. Keeping the past alive for future generations.