Kathy Chats


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A great joy of gathering together as a family is sharing stories and memories. Every Thanksgiving brings an opportunity to learn more about your own history and fill in more leaves on your family tree.

Social media enables families to connect in all kinds of ways. That’s how I connected with my cousin Maureen.  I was able to share memories of her parents and grandparents when she was a tiny baby. We formed a bond over memories of our Aunt Millie, who both of us remember as “The Party Aunt.”

Through genealogical digging, I connected with distant cousins researching our shared ancestors. I learned that my great grandfather worked on building the locks on the guns on the ironclad ship The Monitor during the Civil War. I learned that my mother’s name is mangled in census records going back to when she was a baby. I even learned that my father changed his middle name! Why he did this remains a mystery.

The more facts we learn about our family histories, the more well-known family legends may change. My mother’s cousin was always told that her grandfather (my great-grandfather and Grangree’s father) was “lost at sea.” I found a letter from the mayor of Seattle to Grangree’s mother (my mother’s Grandma Wakely) saying he had tracked him down and he would not return to their home in New York. We joke that he was “lost at See-attle.”

Sometimes sharing family stories confirms that some ancestors were not exactly nice people. My mother’s cousin confirmed for me that her Grandma Wakely was unpleasant. One story says that Grandma Wakely sat in a rocking chair and waved her arm back and forth. When she was a little girl, my mother asked her “Grandma, why do you wave your hand like that?” And Grandma Wakely answered “so I can reach out and smack you whenever I want.” And then Grandma Wakely smacked her. She was not nice.

My mother’s Grandma Camp was a very nice lady, and I loved hearing stories about her teaching my mother how to cook. Even though I have said my mother wasn’t a very good cook, her stories of learning from Grandma Camp fed me in ways her cooking could not.

Please take the opportunity to learn your family stories when your family gather together. It’s great to ask questions, but it’s also a good idea to be quiet sometimes and listen. You might learn a whole lot about your own history!