Wednesday, November 14, 2012


     Writing a whole story is daunting. "Writer's block" strikes professional writers and family historians alike. But, a family story can sometimes be as simple as a sentence or phrase.
      "Uncle Joe was a plumber."
      "John Magee sold furniture in Philadelphia."
      "Viola Jones loved to sing at church."
      "Aunt Mary Kelly dressed in the latest fashions."
       One sentence can express volumes!  
     The descendants of the settlers of Innishatieve in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland are lucky because a locally born priest, Father Peter Kerr, published a local history that detailed the genealogy of the townland. His book, Families and Holdings in the Townland of Innishatieve, Carrickmore, is comprised of a collection of oral history, records, and maps. What makes Father Peter's book so valuable to me as a descendant are the small nuggets of stories, most only a sentence long, about the inhabitants of Innishatieve.
     Of Billy Brown, Father Peter writes, "He came from Loughmacrory and lived so close to the lough that one windy night his house was almost blown into the water."
     John Boyle "went to a dance in Con Boyle's wearing wet clothes and got an illness from which he never recovered."
     In his entry about my 3rd great grandmother, Father Peter writes, "Francis was dead before 1860 but his widow Margaret was alive in the 1870's and her home was a favorite calling place for children coming from Sluggan school who appreciated the warmth of her fire."
     Wow. That one sentence left me speechless when I first read it. That one sentence lifts Margaret from a name in my GEDCOM file to a living, breathing, and loving person. What a warm person Margaret must have been for the neighborhood children to spend afternoons at the house of an old widow whose own daughters had left Ireland to live in America! When I think of Margaret, I think of her in her kitchen, with children sitting happily by the fire on a cold wintry day. What power in just one sentence!
     Your family lore can be transmitted through generations by a sentence or a phrase--jotted in a note in our computer program, in our records, on a tree, or on the back of a photo. 
     The sentence you write does not have to be artful or elegant. If one small detail transforms a name on a chart into an individual person, that is all you need.