Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bringing Family History Through the Back Door

Be honest now. When you gather the children or grandkids around the Christmas tree this year to tell them a story about their family history, will they roll back their eyes and say, “Ohhhh nooo, not again. Or worse, will they stop and ask you to pass the Wii controls.

We have a lot of competition out there vying for the attention of our young people. And they will tell you they just don’t have enough time to listen to- another story. One of these days I will make up a longer list of excuses. But I still feel it is our responsibility as family historians, not only to gather genealogical data, but also, to present our history in interesting ways to our children. Of course, this effort is in addition to having our genealogy books printed in a standard format and distributed. Nothing, even an Internet Tree, will ever replace a book. However, while that book is on hold for the addition of one more genealogical fact, we need to get something passed on before it’s too late. I have posted over 150 blogs here, primarily on genealogy and family history. But I have not seen or heard any comments by my two daughters yet. I thought about not writing that last sentence, but what the heck. Let’s see where it goes.

On the other hand, I must admit that I did not really have an interest in researching my own roots until I was over 50 years old. And yes, it was too late in some cases. And let’s just face it, Genealogy is not everybody’s cup of tea- What?! It’s not?

In any case, sometimes you have to bring family history through the back door, so to speak. That is the experiment of today's blog.

About 85 years ago, my mother joined her father’s cousin and his family for a tour of Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. It is the home and plantation of our first President, George Washington. The first cousin was Harry Joseph Gailliot, who was married to the former Mary Krekeler, and they had traveled from Pittsburgh, PA, down to Alexandria, VA, with their three children. Below, the group stands in front of George Washington’s mausoleum:

I estimate my mother is about 3 years old and is standing far left, next to the gate. Next to her, are her second cousins, Mercedes, Clarissa, and on the far right, Joseph. Harry J. Gailliot and Mary brought along Mary’s sister, Antonia “Tante Tia” Krekeler, who is the tall woman standing behind my mother. After my mother graduated from High School, she returned to Mount Vernon and worked in the gift shop. However, she told me she couldn’t take standing on her feet all day. So, she went to comptometry school. I believe a comptometer was an accounting machine which at one time, was used to grind out numbers and calculations. After this training, she got a job in Old Town Alexandria for a real estate broker but she hardly used her accounting skills.

The following is a vintage postcard showing Washington’s tomb. The women are wearing Victorian dresses. The site looks pretty much like it did when our group visited there in 1923.

In September, I visited George Washington’s tomb myself and had my picture taken to compare it with the same site 85 years ago:

Every time I go back “Home” (Germans call it one’s Heimat), I re-visit places my ancestors visited years ago- sort of like standing in the footsteps of one’s ancestors. The tomb looked a little different than it did when Mom was a toddler. In particular, the mass of Ivy had been cleared from the top of the Mausoleum. Incidentally, Washington never had any children of his own, but his wife had children by a previous marriage. Washington treated the children as his own. The arched gate in front of the Tomb, leads to a mausoleum which contains 25 persons related to Washington in some way but most were related to his wife’s DNA- didn’t we used to say “by blood”. For example one of the tall white columns in front of the mausoleum is inscribed with the name of General Washington’s nephew, Judge Washington, son of John Augustine Washington. Also a plaque inside the gate is inscribed with a passage from the Gospels, John IX.25.
So, now we introduce family history to the younger generation. At the gift shop, I purchased a coloring book which pictured various sites around Mount Vernon, including one of George Washington’s Mausoleum.
“OK. Get out the crayon kids, and start coloring. And by the way, did you know your great grandmother once visited the … and worked in the … “
It was so much fun; I had to do a page by myself. I will leave it to you to figure out which one.
The following pages had to be mailed to me. On the right, note the sun and its rays rising (or setting) behind the mausoleum and a "welcome" mat in front of the tomb. Ahhh, the innocense of childhood.

There are several other pages remaining to be colored. We saved them for Christmas vacation.
1. Harry Joseph Gailliot was the son of KARL GAILLIOT and Mary Jund; and his cousin (my mother’s father), Charles Gailliot was the son of HEINRICH CASPAR GAILLIOT and Franceska Dumoulin. Read more about the parents in a previous entry, “The Gailliot Line, Introduction to First Generation”.

2. Mount Vernon is not run by the National Park Service. The Mansion and its grounds have been preserved by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Go to their web site for more information including a virtual tour of the mansion.
3. Janet Horvaka recently wrote on her blog, “The Chart Chick” regarding some great ideas on how to share one’s family history particularly around a family holiday.

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