Every time I watch television, I see a commercial, or two or three, for Ancestry.com. Who are your ancestors? From which countries did they come? These people get teary-eyed when they put on their hat or their kilt. A friend who is adopted sent in her DNA and was thrilled with the results. (She also sent in the DNA of her rescued dogs, and was thrilled with those results.) I don’t get it.
Many people have or had parents or grandparents to tell ancestor stories. My favorite one from my grandfather’s family is that they came over during the Revolutionary War as mercenaries to fight for the British. They were Hessians. They deserted because they were really just farmers, which my cousins are to this day. Whether this is a true story or not, I love it. Then there is the one about my other grandfather’s ancestor. He was hung as a horse thief. I like that story too. It gives me a little naughtiness in my otherwise crime-free, boring life.
Today is Ancestor Appreciation Day. I think I value my ancestors more now than when I had them. I’m sad to say that all my ancestors are gone. Nobody can tell me or my children those wonderful stories about my funeral director grandfather who had to embalm a guy so stiff that the corpse could stand in a corner, waiting for the family to get back from Europe on a ship. Is that morbid? I guess so, but also intriguing. This was in the 1900s when there were no airplanes.
Local author Julia Ebel’s books tell stories about hers and her husband’s ancestors. She makes the stories accessible to children. Her picture books are a great starting point for family discussions. Walking Ribbon, The Picture Man, and Hansi and the Iceman are just a few of her stories. One of my favorites is Dresses, Dreams and Beadwood, a book that reminds me so much of my grandmother and mother. Making dresses out of flour sacks, all the canning, the Sears and Roebuck catalog and knowing what the pages will be used for after the ordering is done. Mama’s Wreaths is another favorite. Ebel uses this book each year to help our patrons make holiday wreaths, while they reminisce about their own family traditions.
Cynthia Rylant is another author who likes telling stories about ancestors. When I Was Young in the Mountains is perfect to help children learn how life was different for our ancestors, just a generation or so ago. The illustrations explain so much more than words alone. We see irons heated on a wood-burning stove, read how the outhouse is vital when one eats too much okra, and help fill the bathtub with water pumped by hand from the well.
Encourage your ancestors to tell stories, before it’s too late, and read ancestor books at the Jamestown Library. Our genealogy section may help.