Musing on Family:

While I was up at my Aunt's cabin last week, the first part of this came to me, so I thought I'd post it today, since I didn't have time last week. I've also added some musings that came to me after watching Yentl the other night, and my own personal take on "name collection."

What is family?
Family just is. We accept, as children, the names adults give our family members without question: "Uncle Ted," "Auntie Bess," "Nanny." Children don't think to question beyond that name. Why should they? The person is just family, and that's enough for us to understand. At some point, we begin to understand these people's connection to our family, and to us. Auntie Bessie is mother's mother's sister. Nanny is father's maternal grandmother. And soon, we have people sorted into more specific family groups in our head.

If we're lucky, most or all of these people survive long enough for us to ask them questions about more distant family—particularly those we never met because they died before we were born. Unfortunately, most of us don't start our search until we've lost someone. Often even because we've lost someone. Or it doesn't seem relevant to us until we're parents, or even grandparents. And by then, much of that knowledge is just gone. Not the paper-trail, but the stories that really tell us what kind of a person great-grandfather Michael was, or how Auntie Mildred took in a family during the war to keep them from starving.

Still, even when you think it's too late…it's never too late to try. Sometimes there's an alternate means of getting that story. Less is lost than you might think. So long as you keep asking.

The ghosts of our ancestors
I watched Yentl for the first time Tuesday night. Now that I'm more aware of where my Jewish family came from, I've been seeking things like Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl out to learn a small bit more about that life. Granted, it's a Hollywood version, but it still gives me more than I have at the moment.

And I couldn't help but think about my great-great grandparents while I watched. For most of my life, I knew nothing about Grumpy's side of the family. Only a vague knowledge that he had siblings (one brother and four sisters, I later learned). When I got the family tree, I learned not only my great-grandparents' names (which I had never heard before), but also their parent's names. Alex and Dora, and Alex's parents Leon and Mindel, and Dora's parents Benzion and Fiege.

Before this year, I only had a vague knowledge that they were from Germany, but a place that is no longer considered Germany, in or near Poland. I know so much more, now. About Galicia. About the Ashkanazi people…because they were more Ashkanazi than "German." Especially to other Germans.

Even more, as I watched the movie, I began to get this image of Benzion (who I have been told was a Rabbi, and likely a teacher, given that was what Rabbis did) having always been watching me from wherever he is. I wonder what he thinks of what happened to his children, and his descendants. About how many of his relations died at the hands of "fellow" Germans for being Jewish. About how we left the country for the US. About how my family in particular hasn't practiced since Grumpy left Germany as a child, even though his sisters have. I wonder what he would think of me, his Athiest great-great granddaughter, who has only been to synagogue a few times in her life. Who has a degree in English and doesn't know more than a few words of German, and less of Hebrew.

I'd like to think that he'd be proud that we're all doing as well as we are. That we don't have to struggle day to day, and that most of his descendants are so well-learned. I'd like to think that he's glad I know a little more now about who he is, and where they came from. And most of all, I hope he's proud of me. Of us. I hope he's looking down on all of us and smiling.

On being a name-collector
For clarification before I begin, for those who don't know the term: Name-collecting is a term used in the genealogy community for the practice of pulling names from someone else's family tree without contacting that person, or citing them as a source.

I haven't weighed in on this topic for a few reasons:
One, because I feel I have been one in the past, and am trying to mend my ways;
Two, because I have never just added names to my program without good reason (I've always tried to match up at least three points of data between what I have and what I've found before I assume a match), and have tried to contact the source of that information and/or record it in my program;
Three, because I always have an issue with people being upset because other people have the same line in their tree (yes, I know that's not entirely what people are upset over, but that's often the way it comes off sounding);
and Four because few people outside my family even read this blog.

Then I had a thought today that I though might add a bit to the discussion. When I started as the family genealogist, everyone on the trees I was given were just names to me, aside from the ones that I knew personally. For me, the names are where everything begins. They always have been. Without those names, I would not have known where to start. If you have a name, you have a lot. Granted, it's not the only thing, but it's the place all of us are told to start: "go to your family and ask them about their parents, their grandparents…" What is that, but a directive to find those names first? The locations and dates are secondary. And having those names makes the search that follows that much easier.

The problem is, most (very) amateur genealogists aren't told what the next step is. They don't understand that the names are only the first step, and that you need to solidify the link from that person to the person that proceeded them. Through stories. Through places and dates. Through real, physical paperwork that shows that person existed, and their link to the generations before and after them.

Chastising them won't help them to learn that. It's only likely to make them back off. And unlikely to make them change their ways. If they think that when they reach out to someone, that they will either get silence or chastisement…they're going to be less likely to do so, not more.

What we need to do, as genealogists, is to explain that that is only the first step of so many. And that those connections need to be made with real people and with paper that proves those connections, not just with names on a webpage.

These ancestors don't belong to just one person. They belong to many. And if we can't share that information, then why are we doing this at all? Yes, credit is good, but knowledge is better—and yelling and anger never gained anyone knowledge. All it does is scare others off.


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.