This past Sunday I lost a family member and a friend. My second cousin passed suddenly and unexpectedly. She and I emailed each other often, and I had just spent that morning going through family photographs and emailed her a batch of them shortly before noon. Shortly after three o’clock that afternoon I received word that she was dead. I was shocked and stunned. She had suffered with arthritis since her teens, had a heart attack several years ago, but was otherwise healthy, as far as I knew. She collapsed in her kitchen while making lunch, was rushed to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where all attempts to save her failed. An aneurysm, which I assume she did not know about, had ruptured and she never regained consciousness. She was only sixty four years old.
My cousin was an avid genealogist, and she and I shared that interest. No one on her side of the family, or mine, seems interested in our family history or genealogy research. She had researched our family ancestry at least as far back as colonial times in America – and probably much farther. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the Confederacy, and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. To join those groups, you must be able to prove your lineage with documentation, i.e., with birth, marriage and death records. I, too, qualify to join all these organizations based on our shared ancestry, but I do not have the documentation. She was helping me get started with my application for the DOC. She told me just two weeks before she died that she had over one thousand names in her genealogy database, and had spent thousands of dollars on documentation. We had talked about going around to different courthouses and libraries to do research together the next time I visited Virginia. She wasn’t there this time, and we will never make that trip. I will no longer be able to learn from her.
I have been writing about my life growing up and what I know about my ancestors for the last few months, which I intend to give to my son and grandchildren. I have been waiting for Mary Ann to publish her book so I could fill in the blanks on what I don’t know about our ancestors. I sat down to write on Monday after she died and came across something I wasn’t clear about. My immediate thought was, “I have to ask Mary Ann about that.” And at the same moment I realized that I can no longer ask her about anything. So my friends, start asking questions of your family members now. If you have grandparents, ask them questions about their parents and grandparents. Ask them to tell you stories about your Mom and Dad growing up. Ask your parents and grandparents for copies of their birth and marriage certificates. Ask them to tell you stories about your ancestors; where they lived, where they came from, how many children they had, where and how they met their spouse, what they did for a living. Now that I have lost my father, my great uncle, my great aunt, and my second cousin, I wish I had asked more questions years ago. All the stories Mary Ann knew about our family are now either locked in her computer, or have died along with her.
I didn’t become interested in genealogy until I was in my late thirties, so if you are not interested now, don’t assume you never will be. Just go ahead and get all the documentation and information you can now. You may regret it later on if you don’t. Internet sites like Ancestry.com, and others, will not necessarily provide you with accurate information, and certainly won’t tell you stories about your ancestors. Many internet sites where individuals can build their own family trees and make them available to other members are loaded with incorrect information. Don’t use information from websites where information is posted by amateurs unless they can document their research. Buy genealogy software or try some of the free genealogy databases out there. Try to find as many free resources as you can – this gets expensive!
I haven’t done much research of my own for a few years. I knew Mary Ann was going to publish a book, and I trusted that her information would be accurate. That book won’t get published now. It’s time for me to get back to work. She is gone too soon, and I miss her already. All I can do is take what I learned from her and move forward. Who knows, maybe someday I will publish that book for her.