Including personality and character traits when we describe ancestors sounds like a tall order. Sometimes we’re doing good just to figure out what they looked like.
However, too often when we describe ancestors and older family members, we miss what’s important. We let their looks, occupations, or number of children suffice for a record of what they were like. We forget to describe their personalities. We miss the opportunity to share a glimpse of their character.
My grandmother left us some great stories of her grandparents (see My Story: The first “Treasure Chest of Memories”). Some of her stories were about their experiences during the Civil War. Others were stories of life around the farm and community. Still others were how they came to live in a house, get married, or how they died. As much as I appreciate her writing as a source of genealogical facts, I also love the fact that her short descriptions are peppered with notes about my ancestors’ personalities.
Add tidbits of character when you describe ancestors
My grandmother’s descriptions of family members’ personalities don’t go into great depth. However, they bring my ancestors to life in my imagination. Here are the some of her descriptions that particularly connect me with the people she loved:
- “…merry and full of jokes”
- “All of the children loved her and she was a good person.”
- “She was a woman, girl, a friend, and an advisor..”
- “…a man who did as he pleased, not going the usual roads of an average man.”
- “always seemed most unhappy.”
These small phrases enrich her descriptions of their looks, life-styles, war experiences, etc. I have an inkling of what they must have been like. I can imagine what it would have been like to know them. This makes my connection to them more personal.
Obviously, the deeper you dig in genealogical resources, the better insight you’ll have into your ancestors and family member’s stories. Obituaries, for example, can give great clues. If you’ve done a lot of (successful) research, you can leave narratives rich with insight into individuals, such as in Uruguayan Blue’s “ Mary &Mary.”
Describe ancestors for your children and grandchildren
The grandparents and great-grandparents that you remember fondly are “ancestors” to your grandchildren. Describing the family members you remember will be a huge gift for younger generations. Better yet, ask your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles what they remember about the personalities and characters of older generations.
There’s a bonus to including your personal perspective when you describe ancestors. You’re leaving a piece of yourself in family history records. The hard cold facts can (probably) be found elsewhere. However, finding subjective impressions from grandchildren and relatives is a much rarer jewel.
So, think about it. What were your ancestors like?