Feb 032014
 
The Rest of the story of Vanburen Clark

Van Buren Field Clark, my great-great-grandfather

Stories matter. Not just the bare bones stories based on facts, but the rest of the story. Personalities, proclivities, relationships, and experiences are an important part of preserving your family history.

Flynn Coleman makes a good case for this in his article Only Connect: Why Your Story Matters. Huffington Post writers don’t usually need my help in stating their case, but just this once I’ll help Mr. Coleman out with an illustration.

I decided to compare what I know about my second great grandfather from research as opposed to my grandmother’s “Treasure Chest of Memories.” I hope that it will bring home the importance of sharing and documenting family stories. You won’t just be providing the rest of the story. You’ll be facilitating a connection between the family members, past and present.

Research Reveals

Here’s what I know about my great-great grandfather, VanBuren Field Clark, from genealogical research.

He was born about 1836 in Lunenburg County, Virginia, one of ten children. It was the place he lived all his life, as well as the place in died in 1911. He was a Private in the Confederate Army and was wounded in the Civil War. He married Ann Overton and together they farmed their fields and raised three children.

His daughter, Mary Susan, died young.

I know a few other things, as well. I know the names, birth dates, and death dates of his siblings and parents. The names of his neighbors and what battles his unit fought in. All this only gives me the roughest idea of the kind of man he was.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story missing from census

The 1870 Census doesn’t reveal any of the rest of the story.

Here’s the rest of the story about VanBuren Clark from my grandmother’s writing.

He was tall, fair, and blue-eyed. His hair, once light, darkened with age. Not many people called him “VanBuren.” Around town, he was known as “Mr. Van.”

His daughter died in childbirth. When his son-in-law abandoned my grandmother, he and his wife took over her upbringing. From all her stories, we know that they provided a very loving home for her.

He was a man of great faith, a faith that he talked openly about to his granddaughter. He taught her to appreciate “the Handiworks of God,” even explaining why God put weeds among the crops.

He told stories of encounters in the civil war, which my grandmother has passed on to us. Supposedly, VanBuren Clark was one of group of 12 soldiers reputed to have never lost a fight, often fighting back to back. According to his accounts, these soldiers survived by being hyper alert to danger, but their faith was also important. They once did not accept a fellow soldier into their group because of his lack of belief in prayer and God. They were afraid to take responsibility for this man without God’s help.

Some of his memories haunted him. He told a story of a man who lost his life following a piece of blowing newspaper. The soldier chased it in his desire to get the news, but it was a Union ploy to pick Confederate soldiers off.

Your Turn

What’s your ancestor’s “rest of the story”? Please share your thoughts.

Share this article

  2 Responses to “The Rest of the Story: How Family Stories Fill Gaps in Research.”

  1. […] Writing about family stories connects family members on a visceral level. In contrast to facts, narratives can help family members—including future ones—to their ancestors. These stories matter because they convey traditions, personalities, and relationships. They can also fill in the gaps of our research. […]

  2. […] Nearly no one connects to simple names and dates. Try bringing your ancestors alive. See also How to Turn Dry Facts Into Stories and The Rest of the Story: How Family Stories Fill Gaps in Research. […]

Share your thoughts