I have often wished that it was possible to share all the things Iâ€™ve learned with a younger or less experienced person. Itâ€™s not that I feel superior to him or her in any way, but I would love to teach them a lot of human lore that could save them time, trouble, and perhaps even danger and grief.
The North and South American Indians were assumed to be ignorant savages by the first European explorers, but how wrong they were. The indigenous people had centuries of knowledge that helped assured their survival, even with primitive tools and weapons. They had a culture of knowledge, lore, religion, and traditions that sustained them. They passed this culture intact from generation to generation using stories, demonstration of skills, and repetitious practice. The Indians were, in many ways, far more intelligent and advanced than the Europeans. In fact, without the Indiansâ€™ assistance and instruction, the settlers could not have successfully hunted nor could they have raised many of the crops that kept them from starving in the unfamiliar new environment.
We seem to have lost a significant portion of the knowledge and lore that was passed down through families. Yes, we have schools, colleges, and universities to teach the masses. However, who is there to teach the younger generations the skills that could maintain their lives if there were no grocery stores, kitchen appliances, GPS devices, and computers? Not one child in a thousand knows how to harvest and grind flour and make bread. Very few could plot a travel route for themselves using the stars. And how many do you think could build a rudimentary house without a calculator, power tools, and nails and screws?
Genealogy is much more than collecting names, dates, and locations. It involves studying history, geography, sociology, architecture, religion, and cultureâ€”all in context of the times in which our ancestors lived. When I am researching, I am always eager to examine historical events, especially those in the county or local area where my ancestors lived. These historical writings sometimes include my ancestors. But even if they donâ€™t, I gain an insight into what their lives must have been like and the people with whom they interacted.
You and I would say to one another that any time is a good time to discuss genealogy and family history. However, the holidays are especially good times to share the stories and the family lore that you have. Perhaps you have made a great discovery of a U.S. federal census agricultural schedule that details what livestock and crops were raised on an ancestorâ€™s farm. You may have made candied citrus peel from a recipe your aunt or grandmother gave to you. And then, of course, you have probably already become the family archivist for treasures such as the family Bible, boxes of photographs, old letters and cards, you grandfatherâ€™s christening dress, or your great-grandmotherâ€™s patchwork quilt. By showing and talking about one or two of these items at a family gathering, whether it is during the holidays or not, you expand the knowledge of other family members.
The information you pass on may pique the curiosity of another budding genealogist. However, it is more important to share some knowledge of the familyâ€™s heritage and life. You may not be communicating the essential survival skills that the Indians and previous generations of our family members taught to each new generation. You are, though, sharing the family lore and that is a priceless gift to this and the future generations.
George G. Morgan is the best-selling author of “The Official Guide to Ancestry.com” and “How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy.” George and Drew Smith produce “The Genealogy Guys” podcast each week at http://genealogyguys.com. George is also now teaching online genealogical workshops for Pharos Tutors at http://www.pharostutors.com/ and for the Continuing Education Division of the University of South Florida in Tampa at http://cereg.usf.edu/WebModule/reg/index.jsp?categoryId=10062. Visit his company’s website at http://ahaseminars.com to view his schedule of upcoming conference events.