The more research I do, the more I find myself wanting to learn not just names, dates and places, but what were my ancestors like. What did they do in their lives? How did they live? What struggles did they have? The following examples illustrate how your heart can embrace your ancestors through research.
My grandfather, Earl Bingaman, died fourteen years before my birth due to alcohol abuse. My father and his sister rarely spoke of their father and when they did it was never positive. As far as I knew pictures of him did not exist within the family. I was told he had red hair and wore a hat. When I began my family research it was easy to obtain vital information about my grandfather. I still wondered, what did he look like? What was he like as an individual.
In the course of my research I made contact with a first cousin one generation removed, Edgar Bingaman, who lived in Florida. We spoke on the phone and in the course of our conversation he mentioned he possessed a picture of my grandfather. This was when not everyone had internet access, so I had to wait for the picture via snail mail. Edgar put me in touch with a living sister of my grandfather. Her name was Emily. I eventually visited with her and she told me stories of my grandfather that shed a different light on him. No longer was he the one dimensional alcoholic figure I had in my mind. Edgar helped me connect with other family members and more stories were uncovered. These stories were not sugar-coated. Alcohol always loomed on the horizon but there were other sides to my grandfather which I would not have known had I not researched. My heart was softened toward my grandfather as I tried to imagine his ups-and-downs due to his alcohol addiction. As the years passed and my research continued, I tracked down additional pictures of my grandfather which I had never seen from distant relatives.
My grandmother, Naomi Fischer Bingaman, Earl’s wife, lived eighty-seven years. I believed I knew her but research taught me more. She was a pious, stubborn woman, set in her ways. But, grandma had a secret, she was married twice. The divorce proceedings detailed the physical and mental abuse that my grandmother endured for nearly three years. After her divorce from her first husband she quickly married my grandfather and the years of abuse continued. As I realized the trials and struggles that grandmother went through my heart was turned more fully to her. I understood why she would let no one again control her.
Yes names and dates on the pedigree charts are necessary. But, it is by combing through the documents our ancestors left behind we get to know them and our hearts are turned.