June 18, 2024

Genealogy is a hot topic for a lot of families. Finding ancestors and learning their stories can be fascinating as well as satisfying. We all have a story to tell, a book to write… and someday – whether in the near or far future – someone will be researching us. They’ll want to know who we were and what we did, where we lived and where we’re buried. They’ll want to know whose lives we touched and how they are linked to us.

A year or so ago, we took a trip to a town about two hours south of ‘home’… to try to find the house where my father was raised. I only knew it as ‘208’… that’s what it was called while I was growing up. By the time I was old enough to remember, granddad didn’t live at ‘208’ any longer, so I have no recollection of the house; but I do have a photo – a framed 8×10 that tells me my father was raised well. I had heard the story of my dad chipping away at the granite steps with a hammer – and granddad chasing him around the house two or three times before he finally caught my father. I had heard the story of the banister cap that was loose. Dad and his siblings used to leave each other notes and trinkets in the hollow under the cap. I heard about the bowling alley they set up in the basement, and the old ballroom on the third floor. It was a gabled house, built with old timber or oil money – a true Victorian, built sometime in the 1800’s.

So we set off, knowing the town, the number, and something about a President. Washington? Lincoln? Jefferson? I couldn’t remember, but I’d been there once with Mother, and I remember turning left off the main street. We’d planned to stop at the Historical Society to ask for information about the family, but they were closed on this particular Saturday afternoon. So we made a few turns, traveled the neighborhood in hopes of finding… 208 Lincoln! There it is – on the corner – just like the picture! Still gabled, still regal, although it’s been converted into apartments. Across the street is a new elementary school, but 208 Lincoln still stands. And there’s still a chip in the step. We took photos, and had one framed together with the old one I had. History recorded for the next generations…

Last fall, we set off again, this time to find the house Ed lived in as a boy on Long Island. We didn’t really know if it would be there. He’s been gone almost 50 years. It was another weekend pilgrimage to explore our roots and see what survives. This time, however, we have an aunt whom he hasn’t seen in at least 30 years who can fill in some of the history ‘blanks’ in the memories. She showed us her wedding album – some of the last pictures of Ed’s uncle, since he died shortly after they were married. It’s a sad tale, but also a courageous one of a woman alone who survived, built a life and career, raised a child, and has a story of her own to tell. We visited the apartment building where the family lived before The War… before dad bought a house on the GI Bill… then we set off to find the house. It, too, was still there. The tree they planted when Ed was very small has grown stately, dwarfing the Levittown-like home. Across the street is a Taco Hut, not the neighbors Ed remembers, but the deli on the corner is still in business.

In each case, the weekend jaunt gave us a very real feeling of satisfaction and peace. While we were in both towns, New Castle PA and East Meadow NY, we also went to the cemeteries of our ancestors. Finding the graves of family members through several generations gave us a sense of connection, even though we’d not been there before and possibly won’t go again. We placed flowers on Uncle Ed’s grave – my Ed is his namesake, then we drove quietly away.

The value of our human connectedness is often lost in today’s mobile, busy, me-first society. Although we spend time with family and friends, our American society – which is made up of each of us individually – has been trying to convince itself that life has no value beyond the present. From abortion (because we cannot experience the life that is being terminated) to cremation, we are wiping the records clear of lives that should be lived and recorded for future generations.

Every person has a connection to the whole that is our nation, our world. We are each a valuable, unique contributor. From the wisest statesman to the homeless person, the brightest scientist to the parents of the next generation – manager, laborer, inventor, salesman, scholar – we each have a story to tell… a book to write. The stories of our personal experiences cannot be duplicated or replaced. We are unique. We each need to tell our stories, record our memories, label our priceless photos, and create a permanent place of remembrance for those who – generations from now – will make the pilgrimage to find their roots.