Recently I was at a party where I was talking to a friend who was born in a foreign country. We were talking about family, and she was telling me that her father had two birth certificates: one saying he was born in that country, and the other saying he was born in a US territory.
Why did her father have two birth certificates? My friend explained: her father was actually born in the US territory and had that birth certificate. Once he married and started a family in the new country, the family wanted to move into an apartment in a much better neighborhood. However, to get into this new neighborhood, you needed to be “in” with the right people. And the right people only wanted to deal with those born in that country. So the father knew a guy who was able to get him what looked to be a valid birth certificate that stated he was born in that country. He got the birth certificate, which got him the apartment.
Now, imagine that you are a descendant of this man a hundred years from now. You are researching him and find two different birth certificates, but which one is correct? Say you do ascertain that the US territory certificate is correct; the question remains why there is another certificate? Maybe you ask yourself if this is even the same guy.
My point is that this is something that can really only be fleshed out with a family story, whether that be oral history or something written down. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot from my uncle and my mom about my maternal side of the family. They’ve been telling me stories about what their grandmother’s house was like, what certain cousins were like, how they were raised and certain events. These stories will never be in newspapers, DNA or vital records; they only come from the people that lived them.
I think of my favorite brick wall, George W. Colomy. The tiny clues I have of his life (his divorce, his name change) only tell me a sliver of his whole story. If I knew more, I would surely know where he came from and where he ended up before and after his marriage to Lucy Goodwin. But his story died with the people that were in it. (Don’t worry, cousins; I have NOT given up on him!)
What stories are in your family that need to be preserved? What seems to be mundane now that may interest future generations? Think about them, write them down, pass them on. But first: talk to your family and discover those stories!