The Art of Family History….

…is not about collecting as many names as you can, it is not a race or competitive sport. Family history is about the PEOPLE and their LIVES. That is why I tend to use the term Family Historian more than genealogist.

I was recently asked how many people are in my personal family tree, with 25+ years of research I am not sure how many they thought I should have, so when I told them 29,000+ they seemed rather shocked. I guess they were expecting me to say a lot more? Most people when they hear that number are amazed, but there are some who seem to think that the point of researching your family is to rack up the ancestor counts.

My response was to simply explain that my motives for finding family members is to learn about their lives and times, I want to know as much about them as I can and that means a lot of time is spent researching and trying to break down brickwalls to answer questions like;

  • where did they live, what sort of place was it? Inner city, farm, suburb, big city?
  • how long did they live there, what made them move?
  • what were their costs of living; rent, mortgages, etc
  • if not born here in the US, where were they born, did they arrive here as infant/child or adult?
  • what made them leave home for the US?
  • did they have a trade, where did they learn their trade, or were they in business and what kind?
  • did they have any medical issues, what was the cause of death, if any treatments, what were they?
  • were they military? enlisted, officer, time period. What did they do while in service to their country?
  • who took care of the family while they were gone. (census records will often reflect that answer)
  • did they take part in or witness any historical events?
  • what did they do for fun?
  • where they religious, where did they attend services?
  • did they belong to any social clubs?
  • how many children were born to a specific person, how many lived? what were the causes of death for the children
  • did they have a higher education, what did they do with that education?
  • if they farmed, what were their crops. were they successful or just make it?
  • and so many more questions I have….

One example for me to share is my 2nd great grandfather, James M Blaisdell. He was born in 1835 in Ossipee, Carroll, New Hampshire, he married in 1863, served in the Civil War, and after getting out of service, he moved with his wife Helen Amanda Sampson and their first two children to Rock Island, IL where he lived until his death in 1897.

Using sources like census records, historical societies, libraries, on-line databases, city directories, military records, land deeds, tax information, pension files, etc, this is what I learned.

He joined the army in Aug of 1862 in Rochester, NH, being given the rank of 2nd LT, then commissioned 1st LT in Jan of that same year and then Captain in March of 1863. He lost the end of a finger in battle and left service shortly after.

In April of 1865 Captain Blaisdell and his family moved first to Davenprot, IA and after 18 months they moved to Illinois. He became a Foreman of the woolen mills in Rock Island for several years, then in 1870 became a member of the firm of Galt, Blaisdell and Smith which was a manufacturer of baby carriages and toys. The business was incorporated as the Rock Island Baby Carriage Works and was very successful for a number of years. However after 2 fires and large losses the business ended. Almost before Captain Blaisdell had completed this, he was appointed street commissioner in 1891 and served for 2 years when he was made one of the civil guards at the Arsenal.

He apparently was of good health before the war service and it declined greatly in the years following. His widow applied for a pension in 1900 and describes his declining health after the war.

My remaining questions that stay in my mind most are, at which battle did he lose the fingertip and why did he move when their families were in New England area?

I wonder if the buggy in the background of this photo of his grandson, Howard Grant McMeekin Jr, was one that his manufacturing company made?

was they baby buggy made by his grandfather’s company?

I believe it is not about collecting the most names, for what good does it do you to keep racking up the count if all your doing is adding names without knowing the people?

The motives for finding family are many, some want to know more about the health of their ancestors, or they never met a grandparent so they never heard the stories of their lives or their own parents childhood, still others want to learn about historical connections they may have, maybe to join a society or feel connected to history in some way.

Whatever your reason for wanting to find more about your family, it is better to only find and learn about 100 than collect a thousand names and know nothing.

After all, is is Your History. Your Heritage, Your Story. Tell it and share it!


About honoredgenerations

Curious by nature, passionate about family and history, I find a special calling to honor our previous generations by finding and telling their stories. Each generation leaves an impression on who we are and these lives, these unique individuals deserve to be remembered "generation unto generation".
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One Response to The Art of Family History….

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you: it’s not about the numbers; it’s about the people. To be able to pass the stories of their lives along to another generation is a great contribution. Along with you, I definitely prefer the term, “family historian.”

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