This was a little thought exercise I undertook partially for my own entertainment and partially to remind me of what people could know–particularly information in county histories and other published materials written before they were born. My knowledge of any years of birth in this discussion are, by the very nature of time and the fact I am discussing my grandparents, secondary.

What is not secondary is the fact that I know that these individuals acted as if they were siblings, were accepted as siblings, and were acknowledged by others in the communities. Their births all took place between forty-four and seventy years before my own birth and nearly one-hundred-and-twenty-five years before the time this post is written. That’s something to think about when I see a county history published in 1880 that references relationships of individuals born at the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s. That does not mean that those relationships are correct or that the person’s memory was infallible.

It just gives me perspective.

This exercise required me to try and put aside what I know from having been involved in genealogy research. That was, to be honest, difficult. I tried to think of times I met these people and things I knew or heard before I became involved in genealogy. The years my grandparents were always known to me–my family was never one to hide anyone’s age.

I tried as best I could to concentrate on what I knew because it was repeatedly told to me or repeatedly implied by the actions of others. This includes family gatherings, numerous funerals, various celebrations, random family visits, discussions about who was not speaking to whom, conversations where family members gossiped about their siblings (let’s be honest), and other stories I was told.

I know who all my paternal grandfather’s siblings were. I know my Grandpa was born in 1903–that was something I heard repeated numerous times. I know he was the oldest in his family and that he had two younger brothers and a younger sister. I know that his brother Herschel was the youngest of the entire family and that his sister, Nellie, was born before the youngest brother. That leaves his brother Ralph to have been the second oldest child. My grandfather died when I was six months old–I have no firsthand memory of him. I knew all three of his siblings having met them numerous times and always heard them refer to each other as siblings and to my grandfather as their oldest sibling. Even without genealogy, I knew the first names of each of my uncle’s wives and the first and last name of my grandfather’s sister’s husband.

I know who my paternal grandmother’s siblings were, but my knowledge there is not the same as it is with my grandfather. I know names of Grandma’s siblings: John, Luella, Babe (might have remembered his name was really Carl, but maybe not), Elmer, Lillie, and Pete (probably would have remembered his real name was Cecil). I only remember meeting Luella, Lillie, and Pete (all of whom I met numerous times). I would have known John was the oldest and that he died during the Depression in a car crash. Aunt Luella’s year of birth I would have remembered, but only because she was born in 1900 and her age “went with the years” as Grandma (and my Dad) would say. The youngest three children were (in order) Lillie, my Grandma, and Pete. Lillie was older than Grandma by a bit, and Pete was the baby of the family. The two older brothers birth order eludes me. They always acknowledged each other as siblings and were known as siblings.

I knew all my maternal grandfather’s siblings. I always knew my Grandfather was the oldest (born in 1917), that his sister Ruth was the youngest, and that their brother Herb was born before Ruth. There were two other brothers LeRoy and Alvin, but to be honest I always get mixed up which one of them was oldest. I met all of them numerous times as they all were alive when I was born as were their spouses. Their mother was actually alive until I was in my late teens. This is probably the family where I have the most first hand knowledge of everyone in the immediate family.

My maternal grandmother was the youngest of seven children born in 1924. If asked only to rely on memory, I would know all their first names (although it might take me a minute to get all of them, but I can always remember there were a total of seven): Margaret, Greta, Ruth, Anna, John, Edward, and Dorothy (my grandmother). Uncle Ed was closest in age to Grandma and I think Anna and Margaret were the two oldest children. I’d be reasonably certain of the names of the spouses of most of the ones who lived near where I grew up (Ruth, John, and Edward). Margaret lived in the town where I grew up, but her husband passed well before I was born.

Of course, thanks to genealogy research I have filled in the blanks in these families. This little exercise was just to help remind me that what I know is similar to what someone else may not. I also have to be aware that my experience may be unique and that not everyone may know as much about their grandparents’ siblings as do I. My knowledge is a factor of many things and I need to remember that as well.

Something for me to think about when I analyze something written in an 1880 biography. It doesn’t mean what aspects of it are true and what ones are not–but that I need to think about what the informant might have reasonably known.

My knowledge of the years of my grandparents’ birth is only as reliable as their knowledge.

What do you know and how do you know it?




2 Responses

  1. This is an interesting exercise. My interest in genealogy started in elementary school, so it’s hard to say what I would have known without it. Even with genealogy, I only knew a few of my maternal grandmother Wilma’s 15 siblings – Josephine (George). Myra (Herbert), Mildred (Jerry) and Kenneth (Betty, but they divorced when I was young) -the ones that lived closest that we saw regularly. Even then, it was hard to keep them straight because they all looked similar – as siblings tend to do. I had a vague idea of birth order (my grandmother was one of the youngest) but I wouldn’t have known any of the dates if I hadn’t asked for that 5th grade project.

    I knew my maternal grandfather Hugh’s twin sister, Helen, but not her husband. I knew his older brother Dr. Bob (Marge). I knew my grandfather was older than my grandmother, but I didn’t know how much older. I was told he had an ancestor named Anna Starr from Ireland (yes on the name, questionable on the birthplace) and that he had ancestors in the Revolutionary War (that one was true).

    On my paternal grandfather Fred’s side, I knew he was born in 1899, because that was a cool little factoid. I knew that he was born in Fort Wayne, that the family had been there for several generations since coming from Germany, and that his parents were “the ones that left.” I may have met some of my grandfather’s siblings, but couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. I could recognize some of their names paired with their spouses because my Dad talked about them sometimes. But he rarely used the last names so I was never sure if he was talking about one of his father’s 9 siblings or one of his mother’s 11 siblings. My paternal grandmother’s side was much the same. I know I met some of them, and I recognize some names, but they all kinda looked the same. And there’s so many of them. Family lore was that we were related to famed explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike (yep. he’s my 4th cousin 6x removed. Not close enough to ride on his coattails to glory.)

    So what I’ve learned from this exercise is that I wouldn’t know much about my family if it weren’t for genealogy. And I’m better with names than with faces. And I would have failed miserably to provide an accurate picture of my ancestors 125 years ago. And even with 40+ years of genealogy under my belt, I may still fail.

    • Thanks for sharing. It can be a challenge to think about what we would know if we had not been involved in genealogy. Glad you found the exercise an interesting one–I know that I did.

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