“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
It’s a quote from Squire Bill Widener, although widely misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt who shared it in his autobiography.
Over the past year, it has kept me moving forward.
Because of my health issues, and the fact that I spend most of my life in bed now, I’ve been trying to focus on what I can do, with what I have, and with where I’m at.
One thing I’ve recently discovered I can do is family history. I mean, I can’t go out and wander around cemeteries. But I’ve got a laptop and the internet.
Growing up, my grandma was very into genealogy. My mom, too, and then my younger sister as well. I had no interest in it whatsoever.
One day last fall, however, trying to figure out what I can do, with what I have, where I’m at, family history popped into my head. And I decided to give it a go.
I’m still learning. And I don’t spend as much time with it as I’d like. But finding my ancestors and learning their stories and making connections that hadn’t yet been discovered by our family has been quite life-changing.
One connection is from my Eckerson family line. America Pulliam jumped out at me because of her patriotic name. She died in 1905 in Sullivan County, MO. The work that had previously been done by my grandma had ended with her. We didn’t know who her parents were so I started digging.
After several weeks of searching and working, I found them. And that opened up several lines, one going back 27 generations to Guillaume DeBray who was born in 1054 in England.
The line from America to Guillaume included other ancestors such as Captain Thomas Warren, born in Kent, England, who came to Virginia in 1640 and purchased land from Thomas Rolfe, the son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. And 1st Baron Edmund Braye, born in 1484, who was in attendance when King Henry VIII and King Francois I met following the Anglo-French Treaty of 1514.
Another fascinating story for me has been from my husband’s side.
The granddaughter of a Cherokee Indian and a descendant of those who came on the Mayflower, Peninah Cotton was born in 1827 in Illinois. She married Daniel Wood, and because of their Mormon faith, they were driven out of their home by a mob, leaving behind everything they couldn’t carry and journeyed westward to escape persecution. They arrived in Salt Lake in 1848 and Daniel later founded the community of Woods Cross, Utah.
I’ve also found I’m related to several famous people through a fun family history website, RelativeFinder.org. I’m cousins with Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau and Orville and Wilbur Wright as well as several US Presidents including FDR, John Adams, William Howard Taft and a few more.
In just the few short months since I began this new adventure, it’s also been fun to share these stories with my kids.
A study conducted at Emory University and published in 2010 found the more children knew about their family history, the higher their self-esteem and the better able they were to deal with the effects of stress.
“Family stories provide a sense of identity through time and help children understand who they are in the world,” the researchers said.
During RootsTech 2016, a global family history event, blogger Miryelle Resek wrote: “For many of us, the thrill of researching our ancestors comes from learning about their stories. Glimpses of what their everyday life looked like, the challenges they overcame and the hopes and dreams they worked toward add color to otherwise black and white memories.”
Reading from Daniel Wood’s journal and how difficult the journey to Utah was for them helps our family have strength to get through rough times.
Maya Angelou said: “We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men. We are who we are because they were who they were.”
So if I’ve piqued your interest at all in family history, you can get started at familysearch.org and/or ancestry.com.
If your history includes Nodaway County, the historical society is a valuable resource and is open from 1 to 4 pm, Tuesday to Friday, or by appointment. Call 660.582.8176 for more information.
There’s also a Family History Center at the LDS Church in Maryville. Call 660.541.0124 and leave a message.
Several local genealogists are also willing to help including Mandi Brown who can be contacted at email@example.com.
So get out there and start digging. Explore where you came from, link your past to your present and build a bridge to your future. You won’t regret it.