Storytelling has been a fixture in my life since I was small. My father would wind yarns about adventures he had taken, places he had seen, and all the wondrous things he had done in his life. My grandmothers would talk my ear off about their family, people, places, and things that had touched them in their lives. At family reunions I would sit and absorb all I could hear, I would sit stone still so I wasn’t noticed, as the older family members told all those amazing and fantastic stories. These family legends, myths, tall tales, and so forth stuck with me and I found myself passing them down to my children.
I thought I knew all I needed to know about my family until my oldest came home with a family tree project. He was supposed to fill out his family tree through his great grandparents at least. Well that would be easy; I knew all the way to my great-great grandparents on both sides. However, my husband couldn’t name all of his great grandparents. After I got over my shock, I decided I needed to rectify this situation. I had to know, he had to know, and my kids had to know. I was going to find out for them, which is just the way I am.
A few Google searches later I discovered Family Search online and by the end of the evening I had the information for him. Then I sat and stared thinking that was way too easy. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy was it? If it was this easy… why wasn’t everyone else searching for their past too? Little did I know that were thousands of people who were!
Over the following New Year I sat down with my parents and my husband’s parents. I wanted family information and what I got was mind blowing. More than once I had to stop my mom or dad, reconfirm information they were giving me, and ask more questions. It became clear they just assumed I knew a lot of it already. You know because they knew it somehow through the process of osmosis I should too. Then and there I decided I didn’t know who I was, and it bothered me.
All those stories from my childhood, I had to know, if they were all true. Which ones weren’t passed down? Who, exactly, were the people that I descended from? When I got home from that trip I knew that I wouldn’t be able to rest until I unearthed more about my family and their heritage.
As a new researcher I quickly fell into the trap of name collecting. Linking people, dates, and places one after the other with few details filled in. While that was nice, I still wasn’t satisfied. Who were these people? That right there is when I knew this was more than an idle past time. This was growing into a need for understanding and more knowledge about those who came before me.
|Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Maryland. My family fought here in the 14th and 70th Indiana regiments.|
Quickly I read town, county, state, country histories to get a better feel of what they could have been doing. Did these events influence what they did and why they did it? I wanted to build a life from the words for each of my ancestors. Perhaps I would never see a picture of them, and that was okay. I was going to do my best, however, to build a picture of their life for the rest of the world out of words. It was the least I could do.
Along my journey I have proved and disproved family lore as well as brought some insight into why my ancestors actually did things. This quiet curiosity has taken over my life, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. It has made me appreciate what I have more and more. My children now have historical context for what they learn in school by putting their family into the lessons they learn.
This month my son has an essay for his creative writing class celebrating his family heritage for Family History Month. Unlike the other kids in his class, he is having trouble figuring out who and what to write about. I have opened a door into the past for him using our family as a guide, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us all.
Meet the Storyteller - Shannon Bennett
Shannon Bennett currently resides in Northern Virginia with her husband, two boys, and one malamute. She earned her BS in Biology from Indiana University, with the aspiration of becoming a genetic counselor. With the birth of her first son, she resigned from her job in a quality control laboratory to stay home. Now Shannon is a domestic engineer overseeing the daily schedules and running of the Bennett house. Shannon has always had an interest in her family history and loved listening to the stories of her family growing up. Since January of 2011 she has enjoyed uncovering the facts that go with those stories, and becoming in her husband’s words “the destroyer of family myths."
In December 2011 she won the Family Tree Firsts contest through Family Tree Magazine and Family Tree University, becoming their second Family Tree Firsts Blogger. This past year has allowed her to experience the genealogy world in a way that she wouldn’t have dreamed possible. It has only made her more passionate about the field and to take further steps to becoming a writer and professional.
Currently she has a personal blog called Trials and Tribulations of a Self-Taught FamilyHistorian where she talks about her discoveries in pursing her family history and anything else that pops up. You can read her posts as the Family Tree Firsts Blogger at Family Tree University.