Wednesday, August 7, 2013

KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING? "FLESHING OUT" A STORY

     I am often asked for advice about "fleshing out" a story about ancestors about whom little is known.  I recently read a posting on Facebook by Maureen Hastings, a fellow genealogist and possible cousin of mine (we matched as distant cousins on our DNA tests).  Her post is an excellent example of extrapolating thoughts about an ancestor. Sometimes showing is more instructive than telling:

     "My 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Ober Foster, was born on August 10th, 1825, in Beverly, MA. She was one of the 10 children born to cousins Judith Foster and Joseph Lovett Foster. Judith's and Joseph's fathers were brothers Josiah and Joshua Foster. I don't mention this to judge them, but because it is some of the precious little information I know about Sarah. I don't know the color of her eyes or hair. I don't know what her talents were or her favorite food or whether she liked to sing.
     I know she was born, 8th child to Judith and Joseph. I know she was married on April 1, 1844, in Beverly to Charles Holden. I know they had four children: Ellen, Joshua, Charles Austin (my 2nd great grandfather), and George. I know she must have worried when her husband went off in 1861 to fight in the Civil War and was probably relieved when he was discharged wounded, and not dead. I know she was familiar with the odor of shoe manufacturing, leather, glue, polish, etc., since her husband was a shoemaker as were many of the men of their families. I know she lived on Roundy Street in Beverly when she died of gangrene on August 3rd, 1889, at the age of 63, 124 years ago today.
     She is buried in a plot with her husband and several children and grandchildren but no marker is carved with her name. Her husband's military marker is the only memorial that identifies the location.
     The only traces of her is her name in various vital records and censuses. And perhaps a characteristic or feature has traveled down through her genes and manifests in me." ---Maureen Hastings
   
     Isn't that a lovely piece to write about an unknown ancestor, instead of just having a name on a tree?