Sunday, December 14, 2008

Getting My Husband Interested in Genealogy

My husband Stuart is a historian. This is an ideal match for a spouse who is interested in genealogy. Before meeting my husband, I had only a slight interest in history, mostly in the history of Russia and Eastern Europe – not for genealogical reasons, because I have no known ancestors from these areas, but for professional reasons: I am a linguist who specializes in the languages of these areas. Stuart was able to make history come alive for me much more than dry, sanitized textbooks ever did, and got me interested in digging into the subject in a little more depth.

Taking up genealogy pushed that interest even farther, and I began to regret passing by opportunities to learn more history when I was younger. However, even though I included my husband’s side of the family in my research and would regularly report new and exciting (at least to me) discoveries on both sides of the family to him, his reactions were mostly of the affectionate and amused but condescending dismissal type. Until I started to get into the military service of various ancestors (I forgot to mention that my husband’s primary area of interest is military history.) I began to share research quandaries and results for ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II. At last he was interested – in my side of the family. His interest was sincere and concrete; he volunteered to look things up for me in his own resources or to ask friends he knew to be experts in a particular area, and on his way home from a business trip he even picked up an obscure unit history on the Civil War unit of one of my great-great uncles. In particular, he is very eager to find at least one of my ancestors who fought at Gettysburg. At one point we believed that we had found that ancestor, but it turned out that we were mistaking him for another man of the same name who served in a unit of nearly the same name. Now we are trying to sort out the service history of my great-great grandfather Joseph Madison Carroll Norman who, if he did fight in all of the units listed for him in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, most likely did fight at Gettysburg (there couldn’t be more than one Joseph Madison Carroll Norman from Alabama, could there?). Stuart even got interested in some of my ancestors who did not fight in any wars, including a distant cousin, a 50-year-old saleslady who was the victim of a grisly homicide (four gunshot wounds to the head and back).

I am working on getting Stuart interested in his own family as well. “I’m sure some of them also fought in wars or shot someone or got shot by someone.” I should mention that Stuart’s ancestors are from Germany, Italy, and Romania (Romanian Jews) and the earliest any of them apparently came to this country would have been some time around the 1850s. I really cannot understand why he thinks that they will not be found to have led interesting lives. Before I got hooked on genealogy, I believed that my ancestors were just parts of long lines of poor farmers and laborers who had most likely never done anything out of the ordinary in their lives. Not only has genealogy taught me the opposite, but some of my favorite families are … poor farmers who led modest lives. Now, if I could just find something grisly, gruesome, or shocking about Stuart’s ancestors….

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