Quotes: Letting ancestors speak

Letter Q: Seventeenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Quotes from relatives and ancestors enrich a family history story more fully that mere description. Letting our ancestors and relatives speak for themselves — through something they said or something they wrote — truly enlivens a family narrative.

Modern rendition of the letter Q. Quotes from ancestors, relatives or contemporaries can add depth to family history narratives and enliven events that shaped ancestors’ lives. By: Tibor Hegewisch

The voice and personality of my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau made its way into A holiday gift: My grandmother’s voice through entries from her diary.

Because she died when I was very young, I barely knew her. But inheriting my grandmother’s diary allowed me to get acquainted with her — and to let her tell parts of her own story through quotes from her journal.

My maternal grandmother’s younger sister — my mom’s Aunt Margaret (Stoutner) Rothbell — told me the story about my grandparents’ secret meetings as they waited for the chance to elope. Aunt Margaret was an eyewitness to that family drama, so I quoted her rendition in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Then there are my Uncle Fred’s letters (he was one of my dad’s brothers) written to my paternal grandmother during World War II — expressing in his own words a longing for home during the holidays.

Quotes from contemporaries can also animate a family history story. Such as the reactions of friends and co-workers in “You’re going where?” when I told them I was headed to a U.S. Civil War reenactment. Or the initial communications from my Dempsey cousins in Shamrocks and Shared Heritage.

Do you have quotable ancestors, relatives or friends? Have you interviewed any of them? Inherited letters or other writings? Bringing them onstage can add depth to your narratives and enliven the events that shaped your ancestors lives.

Up next: Research, repositories and relaxation. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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12 thoughts on “Quotes: Letting ancestors speak”

  1. I have some great quotes from kin I cold-called when writing my family history book, but the quotes I value most are from a grandchild of my first couple…such evocative stories. How frustrating that my grandfather, their oldest grandchild lived next door to me yet never told me anything….and I never asked. You can imagine how many times I’ve kicked myself over that!!

    1. We’ve all been in that “wish-I-had-asked” position, but it’s still amazing how much can be recreated with documents…and sometimes news clips where an ancestor was interviewed, which provides a bit of their voice.

    1. The family history journey is so rewarding. Start with the relatives you know and work backwards in time. You may be surprised about how much of your family history will discover once you begin looking.

  2. I have kept old letters from an Aunty for years. Someday in the future some new family historian may enjoy these.

    1. How wonderful! I am sure they will. And let’s hope they also find a way to access our digital writing legacies, now that snail mail letters are more rare.

  3. Nice you had all those letters and diaries. The closest I have is my 2x great aunt Salome wrote pages and pages about her family for my Mom’s cousin, and she scanned them all for me – priceless!

  4. I just found your blog and am loving your posts! I’ve recently returned to blogging my family history, and I’m having a slow start returning to regular blog posts. But I find great motivation in reading what others are writing. I really like this A to Z challenge. I may try it one of these months.

    I am fortunate to have some letters and/or journal entries from ancestors. This is a great reminder to share them with everybody else.

    1. Thanks for visiting and welcome, Lynnette! And best of luck getting back into regular blogging. I have to say, the A to Z Challenge is one way to up the blogging energy — but a steady pace of regular blogging works, too. Finding a way to share your ancestors’ voices from their letters/journals may start you off in a new direction.

  5. You are very fortunate to have access to quotes from your ancestors. We have very few apart from a couple of carefully preserved letters from a great uncle who died only a fortnight after landing at Gallipoli in 1915.

    1. That’s where friends, associates and neighbors or FANs come in. I only had medical and military reports about my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull. But in separate repositories I found a diary and letters home from two of his fellow soldiers, which helped me tell the story of his unit in voices from that period. You are fortunate to have your great uncle’s Gallipoli letters!

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