Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Still Hoping to Tell Their Stories

Tenacity may be my strong suit to an extreme. Having struggled to learn what I can about my Tilson ancestors in the southwest wilderness of colonial Virginia—and not faring too well at the attempt—I found myself stumbling over root-knotted rabbit trails, reading material better suited to "enrichment" than the documentation I was seeking.

One of those articles turned out to be a long report on "The Land Grant System in Early Virginia" posted almost exactly a decade ago on the free pages at Rootsweb. When I realized that selection brought me back to explanations of how things were, oh, starting in England in 1606, I hesitated. I didn't want to know what went into my ancestors' 1763 claim for property that much.

After coming up empty-handed with any other explanations of just how my William Tilson got his land in Virginia, I relented and sat down and read the thing. Marvelous background information, I do admit, but just how desperate am I to learn the ins and outs of life for my fifth great grandfather?

True, if this were an ancestor living closer to my research stomping grounds—which, incidentally, would be most anywhere besides Virginia—I might not have complained so loudly. On the other hand, thankfully, the research discomfort did manage to get me to wake up to one thought. It reminded me of my reason for writing this blog in the first place: I want to tell the stories.

Sharing the stories of our grandparents—whom we are fortunate to know in our own lifetimes—or even, for some, sharing the stories of great-grandparents, is one thing. These are people we knew. Or people whom the people we know knew. We have photos of them. We may even have letters or diaries they wrote, or can drive down a street in our hometown and point to the house where they once lived. Some of us are fortunate to own heirlooms once belonging to these ancestors. All of those details are what make those people come alive to us.

When the relationship stretches so thin as to reach back a couple centuries and multiple "great-greats" in distance, the going gets harder. In some cases—especially for those of our ancestors who were simply folks of a common sort—the stories may not be there to be had, at all. How do you paint a word picture of relatives this far removed from our everyday reality?

Part of the way I've attempted to recreate these ancestors has been to bring myself up to speed on the milieu in which they lived. This, as you've witnessed while I stumbled around seeking applicable information on the culture of their times, is a time-consuming process.

While genealogy doesn't require such diligence, per se, I can't be satisfied not knowing. And so, I'm faced with a dilemma: tell their stories? Or be satisfied to just know their name and dates of birth, marriage, and death?

Frankly, I'd almost rather know why the William Tilson family moved from their home in colonial Massachusetts to the risky wilderness life of southwest Virginia than to discover his mother's maiden name. When things in a life like that don't seem to add up, my spidey sense tells me it might be covering up a story. And when it comes to stories, I want to know. 

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