I was bored with history all the way through high school and college. So how did I become such a fan?
The U.S. Air Force sent my husband Guy to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. I was invited to a “knitting” group which included civilian women of all ages as well as other military wives.
It was always called “knitting” but the gals did a variety of crafts and handwork, which I’d always enjoyed. The evening always included a dessert, provided by the hostess. When it was my turn to have the group, Guy would come home and open all the windows. Those were the days when smoking was commonplace.
One day one of the women announced that she’d gotten Civil War records about her great great grandfather. I had no idea that was even possible. How do you even start such a pursuit?
She sent me to the library to find a book called Know Your Ancestors. It took me step by step starting with writing my grandparents for everything they knew about their own parents and grandparents. Eventually I asked my grandmothers to write down the stories of their lives, which they both did. Such treasures!
Before long I was ordering copies of birth and death certificates and Civil War pension papers, which lead to reading biographies of Abraham Lincoln and histories of the Civil War.
Genealogy yielded real human beings, putting names and even faces on eras of American history, making it come alive for me.
After chasing names and dates as far back as I could, I began collecting cousins who wanted to know what I’d learned. Before our son was born in 1974, I typed up a couple of genealogies. I also transcribed my grandmothers’ memoirs and added photos to print and share.
My favorite generations to study have been the Mayflower (Guy and I have a total of five ancestors who came on the famous ship), and the whaling era of Nantucket Island.
Recent years have been devoted to fleshing out individuals on my family tree, especially those of my motherline, trying to imagine how Emilia came to Iowa from Ohio in a covered wagon as an 8-year-old, her first child (Laura) being born in the log cabin in Guthrie County three years after the end of the Civil War, her oldest daughter (Leora) riding a horse over dirt roads to piano lessons in Audubon, and attending sewing school in Exira in 1910, Laura learning to vote the first time in 1920 (Guthrie Center), Leora losing twins to whooping cough in 1929 (Dexter), Iowa waitress Doris becoming an officer’s wife in Texas during WWII, losing those three younger brothers.
But as I would study my ancestors, I’d also study what was going on in the world that they would have known about. That’s what finally made history interesting for me.
History is people!