Monday, February 06, 2006

Legacy of knowledge

Legacy of knowledge
Yesterday at church I was talking with someone about legacies. She was relating how her siblings were tussling over a vacation home on a lake. Two of the four siblings wanted to split it up into two lots, where they would each build their own house, therefore shutting the other two siblings out of any possible enjoyment of the place where the family used to vacation. I replied jokingly that I planned to spend my last dollar the day I die, so this would be a non-issue for my kids.

Then, more seriously, I said that I planned to create a legacy of knowledge for my grandchildren by continuing to expand the genealogy that my dad began back in the 1960s. They'll just spend any money I leave them, and after it's spent they won't remember me anymore. One unfortunate thing about my current situation is that I live far away from my four grandchildren. My son is divorced from his wife, and their kids (daughter 9 and son 7) live a days' drive east of here. My daughter and her twin 8 year-olds live 657 miles north of here in the DC suburbs. In June 2004 Suzanne answered her frantic call to come help her, as her husband had just been put in jail for abusing her. I had planned a visit the next weekend for my 40th high school reunion, but we put all that aside and rushed to my daughter's side. A couple of days later her husband came back to the house after the restraining order expired and promptly ordered me and my wife out of their house. Therefore we are estranged and will remain from them until my daughter decides it's important enough for her to make her husband call us to set things right. So with little opportunity to have current contact with my grandchildren and therefore with little if any chance to have any impact on their lives, I must communicate with the people into whom they will grow when they are of age and can make their own decisions.

At the present, neither of my children seem much interested in their ancestry. I wasn't at their age either. In fact, I only discovered the true value of my dad's genealogy while flying to attend his father's funeral in 1977, six years after my own father died. Twenty-one years later while cleaning out my mom's attic I came across the transcript of one of her ancestors, who had lived from 1795 to 1877.

Ancestors on both my mom and dad's side fought in the Revolutionary War, and each of their sons played seminal roles in major religious movements of the early 1800s. My mom's ancestor was a circuit-riding preacher, school teacher and teacher of "singing schools" in the frontier mountains of western North Carolina during the early 1800s. At the same time, my dad's ancestor was one of the earliest associates of Joseph Smith who moved westward with the first Mormons. He was baptized in 1830, which is the earliest baptism date for any Mormon. The Mormon genealogical research center in Salt Lake City has a lot of information about him and corroborates my dad's genealogy. I found the gravestone of his father (the Revolutionary War Soldier) in New Hampshire about 20 years ago.

One of the things I want to do is write a timeline of the lives of my ancestors, showing what else was going on the world at that time. For example, Napoleon was conquering new territories while my circuit-riding ancestor was active, and Mozart was composing his music while my Revolutionary War ancestors were fighting the British.

I also intend to write down my reactions to the news events of the day in order to anchor my personal stories to the and times in which I lived.

And so this is the kind of legacy that I intend to leave for my grandchildren. I suspect that my own children may also develop an interest in it as they age and begin to think less in terms of day-to-day survival and can afford to think about their own legacies.

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