Do you have specific dates on the calendar which remind you of important milestones in your life? Of course, it's common to celebrate our birthdays and most of us are grateful for the breaks we enjoy with holidays. But what about those dates, for us personally, which take on a specific meaning? Some may be anniversaries of impressive accomplishments, but some may represent days which we will never forget for other reasons.
Last Friday, I passed one of those anniversary dates I'll never forget—a risky, harrowing experience years ago which, thankfully, came to a positive close. It was a remembrance I share with a friend who, for her own reasons, was involved in that same tension-filled day so long ago.
As we connected over that memory on Friday, it occurred to me that such experiences don't only occur to us in these "modern" times, but there have been similar, breath-holding agonies that were experienced by some of our ancestors, too. What eruptions to their daily routine took life in an entirely different direction?
Today is yet another of my biweekly check-in routine, keeping track of my family history research progress. Granted, this process only skims the surface of what can be achieved as we research our family tree. I count, for instance, the number of new individuals who have been added to my trees by virtue of adequate documentation. But as I work my way back in time, it is not just the baptismal records or probate files I'm seeking; I'm really looking for the stories. What did those people face at the turning points of their lives—and how can I find those stories?
Yes, I've documented the family connections for 23,589 individuals in my husband's tree, adding thirty eight new relatives in the past two weeks, and 26,461 people in my own tree, with 232 new names added in preparation for the next three months' research goals. But what about their stories?
This is where research time gets devoted to reading through old newspapers, or gleaning background history for the era and location, or searching for old books contemporary with the ancestors I'm studying. These are a few ways to enrich the process by seeking to understand not only when a certain person arrived on the scene—or eventually left—but why, while they were here, they took the actions they did. As we delve into the underlying details in our ancestors' lives, perhaps we can even attempt conjecture at what they might have felt about the events along their way.
There are, of course, many of those ancestors who seem to have had a peaceful and predictable life with no upsets or disturbances—until we dig deeper, looking for the dates when they might have said, "I'll never forget that day."