Sunday, August 5, 2012

Family History - Real Facts or Wild Exaggerations

I’m sure your family has stories that have been handed down over the years concerning those who came before you - stories regarding how your family came to this country….stories involving how your great grandfather made a living…..maybe a story regarding how your mom and dad met or how your dad proposed to your mom.

Many of my uncles had stories regarding World War I and II while some families were only left jackets with patches, pictures and medals to decipher.   

Most families around here have stories involving how folks hid valuables when Sherman’s men came through during the Civil War,  or other families have tales concerning the realization they were finally free from slavery and what they did with their freedom.    Did they stay?   Did they go North? 

Families have stories, and those stories are all part of the collective tale involving Douglas County history, Georgia history and of course, American History.

Family stories are valuable.  

Family stories make history interesting, and negate that tired old excuse that history is just a bunch of dates and a litany of treaties written by a bunch of old dead white guys. 

Family stories motivate folks to find out more….to take that trip to the courthouse or the State Archives… pay that fee to or dig just a little deeper through the cardboard box of old papers and pictures in the attic.

Family stories make history worth learning about. They help people…young and old….connect to the bigger picture.

You realize you ARE an American and an important piece of the puzzle when you find out a relative picked up a musket and stood up to the British along with Washington, Jefferson and Adams.   

It’s much easier to learn about the battles of Vietnam when you know someone in your family was there. 

When you find out your great-grandmother was a Suffragette fighting for the right for  women to vote or an uncle marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. you are spurred on to learn more.

There are problems with family history, however…..and recently I have been admonished concerning my use of family stories in connection to Douglas County history because more often than not there is no proof for family stories, and over the course of many years stories can become embellished or exaggerated to make them more interesting.

There are historians and those who deal with genealogy on a daily basis who are of the notion that family stories without proper documentation should be dismissed and never used. 

While I do believe family history should be identified as such, I don’t agree that family history has NO place when discussing a historical topic. 

It’s too important, and there might be a grain of truth to it.

The picture with this post is from my father’s place in Canton, Georgia.   It used to belong to his father and his father before him.   The picture shows the space where my great grandparents had their home.

There used to be a large tree in front of the house that all of my cousins and I had great affection for.   The tree was right along the country lane where the house sat and on one side there a large rectangular rock that was flat on the exposed side making a seat that was just right back then for my young fanny to perch on. 

I assure you I couldn’t sit there today even if the rock was still there, but back during  the “olden days” I had to walk across the road and run my hands over that rock and sit there for just a minute….every time I was at my grandfather’s place.

My older cousins called it the “Love Seat” and to this day I have no idea if my great uncles and aunts used the rock for courting or if my cousins were just “romancing the stone”, but it was a landmark on my Grandfather’s place that I loved.

The tree isn’t there anymore…..the rock was misplaced, destroyed………..who knows……..but the story remains.  

There is no mention of the “Love Seat” in a law suit at the courthouse.

There is no mention of the “Love Seat” as a boundary marker in any deed.

There are no pictures of the “Love Seat” as far I know.

Since there is no tangible proof…..does it mean that the rectangular rock jutting out from the old tree didn’t exist?

Look at my picture again.  No house… tree……no evidence.

Well, of course I’m here to testify that it was there.   I did sit on the rock.  I did play around that tree when I was young…..and I’ve typed it here for all to see. 

You know what they say…the Internet is forever, right?

But a hundred years from now I won’t be here.   My children won’t be here….my cousins won’t be here.

Does this mean that the “Love Seat” can’t be included if a history of the family property is written since we aren’t physically here to testify and there is no tangible proof?

Will I be accused in some far off future of embellishing the story of a tree that might have been on the property but no proof was left behind?

I can hear it now, “That Granny Cooper….she was a real nut case!”

A hundred years from now someone may take my mention of the “Love Seat” and dismiss it totally, and I can’t do anything about it, but it does make me give pause to other types of family history when we can’t document it fully.

Did it happen?

Is the story some wild embellishment?

Sometimes….we just don’t know for sure, and for that very reason I like to give SOME information the benefit of the doubt.

I certainly don’t mind meeting my critics in the middle of the road by trying to advise as much as possible when there isn’t any proof regarding things I post here, but will I totally dismiss family history from the Douglas County story?

No, I won’t.

It will never happen. 

All history has value.

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