Posted by Crista Cowan on May 6, 2018 in Entertainment

One of the things I have learned in life and in family history is that there are moments.  Moments that are burned into our memory.  We know exactly where we were and how we felt when our first child was born, when our mother died, when our spouse was diagnosed with cancer.  We also know where we were and how we felt when the Twin Towers fell, when JFK was assassinated, when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Tonight on Timeless, the Time Team travels to Monday, March 30, 1981.  It’s odd to think of it as time travel when it is an event I remember.  But, it is history.  And, it is one of those moments.

I remember how I felt when I learned that there had been an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.  It was one of the first times in my life that I had a conscious recognition that the world was not an inherently safe place.  It was an awakening to the realization that chaos and fear and media can be used to manipulate the masses.  It led to “grown-up” discussions on the playground and very real discussions around the dinner table.

This week the Ancestry Research Team looked into the family histories of Ronald Reagan, James Brady, Thomas Delahanty, and Tim McCarthy.  We were looking for some fun or interesting story we could tell about the ancestry of one of those men.  We even looked to see if we could connect one of their ancestors with the ancestors of a member of the cast.  But, I kept coming back to my own memories of that day and I realized that those are the stories that need to be told.


I would give anything to know where my grandfather was, what he was doing, and what he felt on December 7, 1941 when he heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  We never talked about it.  More importantly, I’d love to hear him talk about how he felt on the day he married my grandmother or held my father for the first time.
I want to know how my 3rd great-grandfather felt when he heard the news that Abraham Lincoln had been killed.  Their families had associated with one another in Illinois decades earlier so he was more than just the President to them.

I would love to understand how my great-grandmother felt when she got word that her husband was being shipped off to fight in France during World War I or how she felt the day she got word that the war had ended and he would be coming home.

So, tonight, as I get ready to watch another episode of what has become my favorite television show, instead of thinking about the grand history and ancestry and stories of important figures, I’m thinking about my own history.  I’m thinking that I will write down how I felt in those important moments in my life, both personal and global.  So that those who come after me will have first-hand accounts of the moments I have witnessed in my life.  And, while I’m at it, I’m going to ask my parents to share some of their TIMELESS MOMENTS memories.  Including about the day that Reagan was shot.


What TIMELESS MOMENTS in your life do you need to write about?

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter


  1. Sara Nolan

    Crista, this is a good reminder of WHY our genealogy is important. It’s not just about the puzzle of figuring out some names and a dates, but it is a way to CONNECT with our past. As the oldest living person in a very small family (several generations of unmarried people and only children, etc.) I feel it is important that I share my memories of people and give an idea of their personalities, their triumphs and their tragedies. I need to share stories about my favorite great aunt, who remembered seeing the burning of Atlanta, who I found painting the 23 foot high ceiling on her 90th birthday, and other great stories. These are the things that give texture and meaning to our history. I totally agree with you that we need to balance the detective work with stories of those who we remember.

    • Crista Cowan

      Wow, Sara! That great-aunt of yours sounds like she was something else. You definitely need to record her story.

  2. Linda E

    Crista. you are not alone as a fan of the show “Timeless,” I love historical fiction so this show is right up my alley. So far I haven’t been disappointed, and look forward to each week. I think for many of us, as we get older we drawn towards the time in our lives which we felt the safest. But I like you remember the shooting of JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther, and the Vietnam War news at dinner time each night. Our parents didn’t talk much about the WWII, my dad didn’t until two weeks before he passed when he brought out a scrapbook of photos he took while serving in the Pacific Theater in the US ARMY. He did talk about his wedding day and other treasured memories as my mother had died very young twenty years before him. But he failed to tell me his mother had graduated from College in 1917, or that his great grandfather had died in 1863 from typhoid fever he contracted while serving as a Private in Co H, 45th NC Infantry Regiment, CSA. Or that his great grandfather had served during the American Revolution, I am not sure if he even knew this fact or not. So, I try very hard to tell the family stories to my four grandchildren and have written a lot of them done in story form for them to have later on when they will mean a lot more to them. I have always read the Night Before Christmas to my grandchildren and plan on recording it for the great grands. The simplest things become so very important later on, the sound of a loved ones voice.
    I enjoy reading your blog, keep up the research it is never ending, then you leave it for the next generation to pick up where you left off.

    • Crista Cowan

      “The simplest things become so very important…” So, very VERY true, Linda! I love your idea of recording yourself reading. What a wonderful tradition that you have and how thoughtful that you can continue it in this way even after you are gone.

  3. My mother, who was born in 1929, wrote in her autobiography of the time she remembered when president FDR’s death was announced on the radio. Her mother, upon hearing the news, started weeping, wringing her hands, and turned to her husband (my grandfather) and said,
    Oh Darwin,…what is going to become of our country?!?!”
    I LOVE the fact that my mother took the time to write such a short thing, almost seemingly insignificant, yet it speaks volumes of how people felt about FDR!
    I do remember the attempt on Reagan’s life, but I was a junior in HS, and although I remember feeling shocked & a little scared at how easily things could change in one single moment, I was still, after all, a teen, with teen worries, lol. So, life went on, Reagan lived, and the rest is, as they say, history!

    • Crista Cowan

      That is a very telling reaction, Suzie. And how wonderful that she wrote it down. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Lisa Leavitt

    Thanks for this Crista. It has made me think about my history and adding these types of memories to it.

  5. Tom Ontis

    My mother had a head for local history. She had more than one reporter interview her about such and such in her town. She lived there her entire life, except for about 7 weeks in San Francisco. I began doing genealogy about six years ago.
    There were rumors that an uncle had spent time in San Quentin in the 1930s. While searching through records one night, I found a copy of the disposition of his case–armed robbery in Los Angeles in about 1932. He was transported to the ‘Q’ where he served his sentence and began the rest of his life.

  6. Karen

    Enjoyed your topic, Crista. Many of us unintentionally take time with our older ancestors for granted. It is not until we take time to think about life in broader terms that we realize Life 101 includes the past, not just our present and future and that people, values, and history really do matter.

  7. Mary Vance

    Crista, this is a great idea! While going through photo albums and boxes from my grandmother’s home I found a scrapbook of my Aunt’s (who is 95 years old) where she had collected newspaper clippings of historic events. So wonderful! She had added her own feelings to some of them. My Dad asked me today if I remembered when Ronald Raegan was shot. I was young, but I remember seeing the new broadcast and it scared me pretty bad. I connected it with how people must have felt when Martin Luther King Jr or JFK were shot. He told me about the second assassination attempt on President Raegan on that same day.

  8. Valarie W

    Crista, thanks for the prompt! I want to start using such historical questions to get some of my ancestors to freely open up and start story telling.

    Instantly when I read your post, the below came to mind.

    It was my seventeenth birthday. I had just returned home from high school, and the television was on in the living room. The newscaster’s words, “President Reagan has been shot” caught my attention. I halted, midstep on my way to my bedroom, plopped on the floor in front of the TV and watched the live footage. I can’t remember a thing about my birthday…What did I receive for gifts? Did I have a birthday cake? The reality of this moment though–this I remember like it was yesterday!

  9. Tee

    I only know about my maternal grandfather and his parents past. My grandfather actually came back from WWII with wooden pins in his back, which they later changed to metal. My father, who has told me alot of his Vietnam stories, was adopted. My mother’s mother was adopted. I’m hoping doing my genealogy I may meet or at least learn more about my family’s history. I love reading and watching about other people’s stories. It interests me immensely. Fingers crossed I get to meet some of my biological family and learn that history.

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