Using Family Events for Genealogy

I recently attended the funeral of my paternal grandfather. I hadn't planned to ask any genealogy questions so I didn't take my big research book with me. Surprisingly, though, I still learned some things about my paternal side that I didn't know before.

Family get-togethers, whether holiday dinners, weddings or funerals, can be a valuable resource in your family tree. Even if you don't learn any facts to put in your tree, you can still unearth stories about the people. For me, genealogy is about more than just names, dates and locations. I want to find out about the people who preceded me-who they were, what they were like, etc.

While sitting around after the funeral, conversation turned to the loved ones that had passed before. It was then that I learned that my paternal 2nd great grandfather had a habit of going outside to sit in the swing under the trees every morning while his wife, my 2nd great grandmother, would fix breakfast. One September morning in 1974, he didn't come when she called him to breakfast so she went out to get him. She found him still in the swing, having passed peacefully.

The next day, the stories were still flowing and I learned that my maternal grandmother and her brother had been given a cow when they were younger. When their younger sister came along, the person who had given them the cow didn't give her anything. They decided that wasn't fair so they would share the cow with her. However, it's apparent that my grandmother and great uncle had a mischievous streak since they allotted the tail end of the cow to their baby sister.

After returning home from the funeral and looking through the condolences on my grandfather's online obituary, I learned something else I didn't know. One of the people that left a condolence mentioned how many would be forever grateful for what my grandfather and another guy had did for the sport of truck/tractor pulls in central Florida.

When I mentioned it to my mom, she told me that my grandfather was one of the pioneers of the sport in Florida. While I knew he and my dad had did the tractor pulls when I was little, I never knew how important my grandfather was to the sport.

 Papa and Fancy Free (the pulling truck), 1980s

Of course, whenever my dad's side of the family gets together, you hear the infamous story of my dad and the cow. One morning he set off in the field beside the house. When he came back later, he was wearing only his boots and hat. His story was that the cow had ate his clothes. Whether the cow did or didn't, the clothes were never found.

I even heard stories about when I was little. While I was old enough at the time they had happened I should have remembered them myself, I'd forgot them over the years. Hearing them again reminded me. My daughter was with me so she heard the stories as well and I hope she remembers them.

There's no place in any genealogy software or family group sheet for these stories. If they're not told, they will be lost to future generations. So the next time you're at a family event and tempted to whip out your notepad with questions for older relatives, put it away and just listen. You may be surprised what you learn.


  • Kristine says:
    May 22, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    I agree with you. I know how much I treasure the stories my Dad tells me that would be lost forever if I did not take the time to listen to them. He has even written some of them down for me to save and share with his grandchildren and great grandchildren one day.

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