This past Mother’s Day, I spent a lot of time looking at old family pictures. My mother, who died way too young, has now been gone forty years and so I can only connect with her through old photos and my memories.
I found a picture of my mom and I when I was eight years old that was humorous. We both had swollen faces from having the mumps at the same time. I found a three generation photo of me, my mom, and her mom when I was a toddler. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I put both photos on Facebook to share with family and friends. None of my children live close, so I looked forward to their phone calls which came as expected. It was a wonderful weekend until a downpour started Sunday evening. We got over an inch of rain in about twenty minutes and soon found it seeping into our basement! While I count my blessings that I have a home and we didn’t lose power during the storm, hauling things out of the water in the basement was not the way I wanted to spend Mother’s Day. Toward the end of the evening I remembered the Thanksgiving Day morning that I opened my cabinets to begin cooking to find cockroaches that had to be dealt with before I could continue meal preparations. I remarked that I wasn’t sure which day was worse. Remembering another tough time made it a little easier to cope with this recent one.
The past and how we or others have coped with it can help us deal with the present. My mother’s favorite saying was “If you can laugh or cry over a situation, laughing is a lot less messy.” I often remember that in tough situations. While I wasn’t laughing about our seeping basement, I wasn’t crying either. The key piece of advice from my dad was about relationships, which he shared with me just before I got married. He said that when my future husband’s behavior annoyed me, decide whether I thought it would still bother me in fifty years. If I thought it would, I should say something about it. However, if I didn’t think it would still be an issue in fifty years, just try to ignore it. It has taken me more years than I would like to admit to really put his advice into to practice, but things go better when I do. We all can benefit from the experience of parents, grandparents, and others who have gone before us.
I marvel at the courage of my paternal grandparents, who came here from Ireland as teenagers to start a new life. I really wish I had asked them about that time in their lives, what it had been like and how they had coped with the challenges. With our present economic insecurity, I wish I could ask my grandparents how they coped with the Great Depression. My parents and grandparents are now all deceased, so I can’t ask about their experiences. If you have parents and grandparents still living, start asking questions. Did they face similar challenges to your present ones and if so, how did they address them. Don’t wait to start asking, you never know when it might be too late. In a previous post: Interviewing Your Family Members: A Great Way to Discover Your Family History, I included some tips for doing successful interviews.
What about those who are too far in the past to interview them? Searching for records concerning their lives and then carefully considering what is included in those records can help us know more about the lives our ancestors lived. My father, like many of his generation served in World War II but was rarely willing to talk about his war experiences. It seemed the memories were just too painful. From his military discharge papers, I learned that he had served with an Army Air Corps unit that maintained the war planes. I wondered how many times he felt the pain of fellow soldiers not returning because their plane was shot down. Perhaps he struggled with survivor guilt because his military assignment kept him on the ground while others were dying.
Another one of my ancestors, Harmon Henry Miller served in the American Civil War. Searching the Civil War records on Alexander Street Press, which is available at any Family Search Family History Center, I learned in which military unit Harmon had served. I also found a history of his unit and the battles in which they had fought. One of the battles was the Battle of the Wilderness which was the first battle in which Union Lt. General Ulysses S Grant fought against Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The battle ultimately was a draw with neither side able to claim victory. A temporary truce was called in the midst of the battle to extinguish the fire, started by cannon fire and musket balls, which was so intense that soldiers were falling from smoke inhalation! They put out the flames and went back to fighting.
Another challenging time in my ancestral history is the Great Irish Famine of 1845 to 1850. Due to a potato blight, one million poor Irish peasants starved to death while two million others emigrated. My direct ancestors survived while remaining in Ireland throughout the Great Famine. I am currently reading a book about the Famine to learn more about what my ancestors went through.
We are fortunate in this age of information to have so much we can learn about the past. We can find the encouragement that we need to face our own challenges as we learn about the ones that our ancestors faced.
This post was originally published in May 2014. Minor changes have been made.
Christine Bell has been seeking her ancestor for almost forty years and continues to find joy in each one she finds. She volunteers in a Family Search Family History Center where she helps others find their ancestors. As a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints, she is grateful to be a member of the Church. She is a wife, mother of six grown children, grandmother of five going on six, and currently living in the western United States. Christine enjoys spending time with family and creating quilts for family, friends and Humanitarian Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.