Thursday, October 27, 2011

Preserving the Family Legacy

In moving through this brief tour of the sons of William Stevens and Agnes Tully, when we come to the middle, it calls for a time to pause and reflect on what it means to preserve one's family history. Family heritage is not merely something tangible that we simply pass along on paper; it is a living, breathing entity embodied and kept alive by everything that every member of the family becomes. That, I suppose, is a thought I learned from getting to know Uncle Ed.

Will and Agnes’s middle son, arriving in the family in 1921, was Edward Joseph Stevens. With two brothers older than he, and likewise two younger, Ed perhaps discovered some sort of balancing factor in being the one in the middle. Personable as were his grandfathers—both noted at times to have a flair in interpersonal relationships—and taking after both his parents in proficiency in sales, Ed became a graduate of a recently-established Lasallian university not far from his Chicago home. Lewis University later became not only his alma mater, but that of the next Stevens generation, and building the scholarship fund became part of Ed’s passion right up to the point of his passing, when the suggestion of donations was even included in his obituary.

A successful career that included the perks of travel made for many interesting stories during family gatherings, but what I remember enjoying the most was sitting at the kitchen table and absorbing his every detail about family history as he laid out notebooks, copies of letters and other memorabilia regarding generations long-past. From what I see now in the collected papers of his mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, Ed must have become the unofficial heir to Agnes’ role as family historian. Many of the details he passed along to me during visits either to his lifelong hometown of Chicago or mine in California I now find in their original form in his mother’s own notes.

It wasn’t only genealogical notes that Ed passed along. Along with the love of his life, whom he married in 1941, he passed along a strong sense of family values. Together, the couple passed along this ethic in the many activities in which they were involved, whether on the behalf of their family of six children and its extension through the next two generations, or through their church and community involvement. I’ve learned a lot over the years in the unspoken lessons taught by the thoughtful actions of this couple.

Being interested in one’s roots was not the end product of Ed’s efforts, but part of a package of caring for the people that family represented. Oh, how much I would have liked to present Ed with a well-documented report of the specific origin of his Irish surnames, but that was not to be, as I found out at the end of summer six years ago. That, however, would not really be the point. While I benefited much from his record-keeping and record-preservation, that was far outclassed by what I observed about his commitment to family and faith. He and his wife were the glue that held that family together and inspired them to go on and become the same influencers for their own family units. The whole big picture of what that heritage meant to him became the legacy he and his wife passed along to others, and I’m glad to have received a small part of that inspiration.

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