Where is the best place to get a true feeling for who our ancestors really were?
It's not about the writing. It's about the feelings behind the words. ~ Takayuki Ikkaku
In searching for interesting stories about people, I find that autobiographies provide the best insight into who someone really was. The words they use and the things they remember all reveal different attitudes and outlooks on life. I look for the small memories rather than the big events. Forth that is where destiny is made.
My first genealogical story was about a woman named Priscilla Merriman Evans. I was asked by a friend to write her story for an upcoming family reunion. She was a Mormon pioneer in the Welsh Handcart Company and had a very interesting life. Her autobiography and other writings can be found by googling her name. So, how can I tell about her individually, and in a way that has not been done already? As interesting as the pioneer stories are, I felt I would just be repeating what has already been said.
Most people, when deciding to write about their lives, find there is so much to tell that they don't know what to focus on. So, they end up summarizing events that occurred so they can document everything. Unfortunately, this is also what makes autobiographies dry and boring. I try to find the feelings behind the words, the specific memories of a small event that made an impact that perhaps even the writer did not realize at the time.
Priscilla begins as everyone does, with the dry statistics of her life. Name, DOB, family info, etc. While this information s important, it can be used as a backdrop in the story instead of the focus of it. It can be included without calling attention to it. It's the memories of her childhood that interest me. Luckily, she did include a few specific memories that had great significance.
She writes about a chance meeting she and her sister had when she was young with a gypsy woman. I found this event to be telling. Although there was little detail there was enough to work with and the specifics are not as important as the impact it had on her. Perfect for a fictional story. I was able to weave in the autobiographical information to provide both the facts and the personality of both Priscilla and her sister Sarah. While her pioneer stories have been told over and over, this is a small but fund story. I hope it will show what I want to accomplish with "Roots & Wings Contest " and how I am hoping to breath life into the black and white.
I have posted both an excerpt from the autobiography and my story in my port.
The character of a man is known from his conversations" ~ Menander
What else can we glean about a person through their autobiographies? I find I can get a much better feel for who they were. Why did they choose to include the stories and information they did? Why did they feel those facts were so important? One man I am researching wrote a 12 page autobiography. He chose to recount a number of healing miracles he witnessed and related various stories about his missionary work in Wales. While these stories are uplifting and obviously helped to shape his life, I found it interesting that he never once mentioned that he had 12 children. No information on their names, or on his life with his wife. Yet 2 of those pages detailed where he went and where he stayed on day 3 of 4 of his mission. Why did he feel those minute details were worth mentioning? Did he overlook his family life on purpose and why? What can we deduce from this?
As a young man, he was skipping church when an accident maimed him and he lost a leg. This incident changed his outlook on life, and we can see it's effect throughout his autobiography. Although I cannot be certain, I feel that perhaps he was happiest when he was sharing the gospel he loved, and he was a very proud man. Perhaps that made him feel important. A feeling he would probably not have at home with his family. I'm sure it was a struggle to support them and left him feeling inadequate at times. He may have had to rely on others to do simple things that he was unable to. Although this may not have been true, his autobiography shows it may have been his perception, which makes it in fact a reality. I also believe that the healing miracles he witnessed were probably greater in his mind than the true reality of the event. Because of the loss of his leg, though he only mentioned it briefly in the beginning of his record, the healing of ailments took on a larger significance in his mind. Because he lost his leg while missing church, he may have felt a sense of guilt for neglecting the Lord and spent his life trying to correct that mistake. Perhaps he felt some resentment or sorrow that he could heal others but not himself. However, if this thought had ever surfaced he would deny it and feel guilty for even thinking it. Therefore, he loved his church service because he could perhaps redeem himself and save others from his fate.
Although this is pure speculation on my part, it is very interesting to think about. I am fascinated by character and hope to help discover the people behind the names. The stories will, of course, contain fictional elements, but the verifiable facts will remain constant. My interpretation of the motives and feelings of the characters may not be accurate, but they will be plausible. Although some may not agree with my conclusions, at least it will get them thinking. And isn't that truly the point?
I wait for the "whispers" and hope that I can show them as they truly were and not as they wanted to be. Through our flaws we become who we are. What are your ancestors whispering to you? What secrets are hidden under the letters on the page?