Who am I and What the Heck am I Doing?

SUMNER WALTERS

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I started to do genealogy many years ago; when I was twelve years old. A friend’s mother was active in the local D.A.R. chapter. This group wanted to start a chapter of C.A.R. (Children of the American Revolution), and I was enlisted as a likely suspect. With the able assistance of a nice old lady (probably younger than I am today), I completed an application, and was quickly accepted into membership on October 16, 1961 as member #90416. The weak documentation on the application that I was accepted on is not something I am proud of today.

For the next fifty years or so I dabbled in genealogy. I would go in fits and starts. I would work like crazy for a month or two, and then, overwhelmed, I would put it away for a year or two. In those days, I was more of an ancestor collector than a serious genealogist. You know the kind – somebody that accepts at face value any information anyone furnishes them, and keeps no source records, just keeps on building trees. My research methods could have been best described as “fortuitous.” When you aren’t looking for anything specific, anything you find can make for a successful day

In retirement, I determined to spend my time doing only those things that I enjoyed doing. Guess what? I was drawn back to genealogy. Only this time, it would be different. I would study the craft and learn the trade. My previous career, which is irrelevant except in this context, prepared me well to start over with my genealogy. I had learned how to properly and thoroughly research subjects; the importance of being completely accurate; and how to cogently write up the results. As I got back into genealogy, I discovered a passion that I had never had for it before. It’s no longer about building a tree back into the dark ages and connecting to some royal or otherwise notorious ancestor. It’s now about finding the lost souls and telling their stories to my children and grandchildren.

And when I discovered DNA, wow, my passion took on an entirely new dimension. I can only describe it as a genealogical epiphany. I came to understand that today I was physically comprised of tiny parts of many of these ancestors. They exist in my own genetic material, as surely as they existed in flesh and blood many years before me. The result: now I feel called to tell their life stories, the best that I can.

As I drove down this road of self-discovery (and believe me that road wasn’t always paved), I struggled with how I could preserve these stories for future generations. I read books and periodicals; I lived on the Internet, reading blogs and webpages. I considered blogging; however, I hold my work to a pretty high standard, and I wondered if I had anything to offer that someone else hadn’t already discussed better than I could.

I had my favorite bloggers: Blaine Bettinger, Kitty Cooper, Jim Bartlett, and then there was one blog that appealed to me like no other: Roberta Estes’ DNAExplained. Her posts on DNA subjects always seemed timely and contained the information that I would want to have posted. And, her “52 Ancestors” stories fascinated me. Not only were they interesting even though they weren’t about my family, I found her family and mine probably crossed paths more than once through the history of this country. She weaves history, genealogy, dna, and some guesswork into a beautiful tapestry of people and their real-life dramas. When she threw out the new 52 Ancestors challenge in her New Year’s blog post, she had me, hook, line, and sinker. Thank you, Roberta, this is the jump-start I needed.

How do we preserve these stories? Publishing is expensive. The Internet is transitory and will become, I am certain, a vast wastepile of crap one day. How do you attract those interested to your blog? Is it an: “if you build it they will come,” deal? There aren’t good answers. I guess, in the final analysis, these little stories will survive, if they are meant to survive, in much the same way that the tiny pieces of each ancestor of mine has survived in my DNA.

So, the die is cast. Here’s my brand new blog. Feel free to join me on this trip as I share the stories from the past that I have pieced together about my ancestors.  What can you lose?  They may be your ancestors too, or their neighbors or their friends.

(c) Sumner Walters:  2 January 2018

2 thoughts on “Who am I and What the Heck am I Doing?”

  1. Hi Sumner,
    You are like so many genealogists who started researching back as a child. We believed everything we were told and collected lots of names, places and dates. Like you, it is only now after 40+ years of researching that I realise the stories are more important. Which is why I have joined the #52ancestors project as well.

    Like

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Sue. I’ve written professionally, but never shared my own thoughts and stories so publicly. It’s daunting, but I look forward to reading all the posts and learning as we go.

    Like

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