By Daniel Hubbard | February 19, 2012
This is not the post I planned to write. In fact, given colds, kids activities, a four-day weekend from school, a surprise party for a daughter, several chapters of a draft of a book I’m trying to get ready for a test printing, a few talks I’m working on, etc, etc, my “plan” amounted to hoping that some sort of inspiration struck me. Instead, I am going to write about inspiration that struck me decades ago.
When I was a child, I listened to a lot of family stories. My father and his siblings often sat around our living room trading tales. Most stories were things they had experienced themselves but not all. Two of my father’s sisters told much older stories and, eventually, I came to realize that some of these were stories that they had heard from their parents and grandparents but others were things that they had researched themselves. I got the idea that such things could actually be investigated. Even if no one remembered them, those stories, places, dates, occupations and many other things, were still there to be discovered.
By the time I was ten or eleven I was hooked and was going on genealogy forays with my Aunt Melva. She taught me to set up a microfilm machine and crank my way to what I wanted. She took me to libraries and cemeteries. On occasion, I went to genealogy society meetings with her. When I was twelve, she wrote to the Newberry Library in Chicago because I wouldn’t be old enough to be admitted for another four years. She wrote that even if I was only twelve, I was as serious as most of their patrons. I didn’t know she had written until the answer arrived. I still remember showing the attendant the letter that she received in reply that entitled me to be admitted. It was like entering the inner sanctum and she got me there.
When I think back upon it, I realize that it wasn’t just the family history that was important to pass on or even the interest in it. How to pursue it is also important to transfer from one generation to another. Of course, I could have and did learn from books in those early years as well. Nevertheless, having someone close to me actually teaching me what to try and what mistakes to avoid was important. I could bounce ideas off of her and get her thoughts. Eventually, she started to ask me for advice and I knew I must have learned something. It was all another way to put “family” into family history—passing down skills along with the stories.
Now that I think about it, she was even the one who gave me a few of those books I read early on.
Over the years whenever I came back home for some reason, it was always important to try to squeeze in a genealogy trip with Aunt Melva. Years ago on one of my visits, I realized that it might very well be the last chance for one of our expeditions. We went to a Family History Center and both managed to find a few things.
After I moved back to America, she gave me all her papers. She just couldn’t keep it straight anymore but she was so happy that someone cared enough to accept them. When I told her that I had begun to work as a professional genealogist, it brought a smile to her face. She’d heard it from me before before but apparently had forgotten.
She’s had her health ups and downs for years. As I write this, it was just a few hours ago that she passed away. When I thought back on what I was doing when she died, I realized that I was at a genealogy presentation. In a way that seems fitting.
So, good-bye Aunt Melva. Thanks for the forays and the stories and everything you taught me along the way, not just about ancestors but about how to find them.
Melva Hubbard Kerry, 1918-2012