My paternal great-grandfather – Morris Washington Weigel – is buried somewhere in Alaska where a landslide carried him to his death on May 18th, 1898 at the age of 48. He had made his way from a home in Ohio following the “impossible dream” of rocks and rivers loaded with nuggets of gold ready for picking. He probably made that epic climb over the Chilkoot trail where the “Trail of ‘98” ended for so many “dreamers” who left everything behind – even their lives. What I wish is that he had left us something in writing; what thoughts occupied those lonely days and nights in that far northern place. Did he think of the wife and eleven children he left behind? Did he wonder if his grand voyage was worth it all?
Another Weigel ancestor died in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain during the march on Atlanta in 1864. We know where he is buried; even down to the grave number in a Civil War cemetery near Marietta, Georgia. He hadn’t yet celebrated his 20th birthday. I wish someone who knew and loved him had written something about this patriotic young westerner; I would like to know what he was like and how he felt about “Lincoln’s War”. What had his dreams for a future life been? Did he leave a sweetheart behind in Ohio?
I knew my father very well. He told me many stories – true stories. Living in a remote forest cabin; confronting a cougar; eluding a marauding bear; exploring America by hitching on trains; wounded in action and lying with the dead in France at a place called Belleau Wood. He never wrote anything down; I possess only a single letter he wrote me during my war. As his son, and as a family genealogist it is my task to tell his life story so that generations who follow may know more than mere dates of birth, marriage and death.
Because of all the things I wish I knew about family members of the past and the times in which they lived I have framed my own written life story as if to leave no doubt among my posterity as to who I was, what I believed, the people and things I loved, what experiences helped to shape me and what I did to find happiness and fulfillment in the years allotted to me on this good green earth. I want them to know how my wife and I met in high school, married while young, and managed to build a life-long love affair that was lasting, rewarding and successful, and the wonderful offspring that reflect the ideals we all learned to live together; that it takes more than a house to make a home and more than a home to make an eternal family.
Because I want them to know about the “little things” that marked me as a mere mortal yet left their own unique stamp on my often-quirky persona, my stories, literary vignettes and pages of verse already fill a half-dozen fat ring binders as well as mega-bytes of digital memory.
And then there are the lists! Mostly hand-written so far and always a work-in-progress, I have recorded such compilations as the most important people (“giants”) in my life, my favorite books and authors, motion pictures, destinations, institutions, restaurants, dishes, adventures. On one list are the children of my 1st grade class, on another my tent mates in Korea, while all the vehicles of my lifetime and their idiosyncrasies constitute a list separate from the aircraft I have flown or traveled in as a passenger.
Perhaps the “grand-pappy” of all my lists is one started more than 50 years ago, titled “MY 100 FAVORITE THINGS”. Its’ contents range from soft cotton socks and the sound of crows on a frosty morning to the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. They used to be subject to occasional change, but I can read over it all these years later and realize I wouldn’t change a thing.
Genealogy it seems to me is not just about looking into the past, but mapping, pondering and telling our own story so that generations still unborn will come to know, love and feel connected to us.