Saturday, March 10, 2012

Meandering and Musing: Where do friends go?

I've been completely immersed in research and thinking "great family history thoughts" - the meaning of life, the definition of family, what it is to be a woman, a person. This is what happens when my dear husband leaves town for more than 4 days. I disappear into the recesses (notice it's not a productive spot I vanish to, but a playground) of my mind. There's probably a medication that would help, but until I'm dragged off to the psych ward let's see if I can pull a theme out of the mess.

Two bloggers helped trigger my reflections - Jasia's prompt for this month's 116th Carnival of Genealogy spotlights Women's History Month. Not surprising that a gifted photographer chose a photograph for a prompt. I've been paying attention as I go through my boxes and piles and one picture has captured my attention - my grandmother and her dear friend. 

Kathy Reed wrote three posts at Jones Family Matters about identity and how little is revealed in our "just the facts" gathering of vital statistics. They are beautifully done and illustrate how many layers there are to our lives and by extension, to those of our ancestors.

Toss in some new DNA matches, online discussions of how we use various software programs and I come up with ....

Friends. My research is focused on finding genetic and adoptive relationships. But as I think about my ancestors' layered lives, and of how little I know beyond the vital statistics, I wonder about those people who figured in their lives but did not appear in the wills or deeds, except perhaps as witnesses. I wonder about the friendships that changed the direction of a life - encouraged a move, introduced someone to their spouse, stepped in during a crisis. 

One family appears in more than six decades of my family's pictures - photos taken in Tennessee, Connecticut, France, Missouri and Michigan. We are not related by blood (at least not that I can find), but by a family friendship that spans generations. If anyone ever wondered why we ended up living where we do, we bought our home (as well as an earlier one) based on advice from my "sorta" sister.  My parents were introduced by friends. They shared no common church, neighborhood, or interest and would likely never have met had Margaret & Ted not intervened. (Even then it wasn't that easy to get them in the same place at the same time!) I grew up with friends who brought a friend into their home for the last months of her life. She was surrounded by those dear to her, but not related to her. 

I consider how vital friendships have been to me. Two pictures stand out in my memory. The first, from my wedding having just laid eyes on my dearest friend who I was not expecting to see. The second, from my son's wedding having just laid eyes on the young woman who sheltered my children (in the borrowed home of my dearest friend) the summer my mother died. My mouth and arms are wide open, my eyes filling with tears, in both pictures. Pure joy.

My friend was as instrumental in shaping my views and beliefs, my children's upbringing, as any member of my family. If you don't know about her, you are missing an essential part of who I am. The young woman is as important to my children (and thus, to me) as their extended family. It was a joy to introduce her to them when my son married. 

So should friends figure in family history? I don't know. Certainly they are key parts of our individual lives. But in the aggregate? There's so much we will never know about our ancestors. But as I scan photographs, letters and sift through the boxes of "things" I've inherited I wonder if the clues there lead to relatives (here's where the software comes in) that I will enter into my database or to friends. 

And that's my chief complaint about using genealogy software. Most programs do not allow one to link people in non-familial relationships. I've no easy way to record business partners, neighbors, godparents or dear friends other than in the written notes. I did discover my software search capabilities include searching the notes. Perhaps I'll start adding these figures into the database and adding a "Linked to" note that could be found via search. 

Meanwhile a few hints to my descendants. That bullwhip my son will leave to some lucky offspring? Given to him by my other dearest friend's husband the summer they took him off my hands. Don't loose sleep trying to figure out his cowboy connections. The candlesticks that stood by my fireplace, the handsewn aprons I wore while cooking, the gold bracelet I handed down? The lovely blonds who keep appearing in decades of photos? All from my sorta family. They're fabulous and well worth researching. But they aren't related (unless of course you've FINALLY managed to marry one another). 

Photo source: Some rights reserved by TMAB2003


  1. Susan, your thoughtful article prompts me to recall a Bible verse: "Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend..." from the beginning of Proverbs 27:10.

    I always noted that "father's friend" because my dad had a fantastic friend who meant so much to the family.

  2. Thought provoking post, I will go and think and ponder and contemplate.

  3. Susan,
    I am overwhelmed with this post. I can literally FEEL the emotion and appreciate your mention of my posts. I think having read your post that we both experienced some similar emotions when putting our posts together. I love this one and it's making me think of my childhood best friend who just so happens to live in St. Louis.

  4. Does this highlight the difference between genealogy and family history? Family history certainly would include the friends of our ancestors but because there's no blood relationship, they can't be added to a family tree. I know they're important and perhaps the best place to include them is in the narratives we write about our ancestors.

  5. Great post, Susan. Sometimes I see the names of people who witnessed a will or were named godparents of a child and wonder about what they meant to the family. It's hard to figure that out unless I'm lucky enough to have some letters or a diary. I guess that's why it's important to write about our own friends, so these legacies won't be lost when we're gone.

  6. What a post. Friends. *sigh* Without friends looking out for a friend, I would never have been introduced to my husband. And after all these years, his friends have become my friends, and aunt and uncle to my kids. What record is there of this relationship? One that I will have to write up, asap. And I will continue to dig between the lines of vital statistics in search of my ancestors' friends. Thanks for this post.

  7. I love this post. Friends are so important in our lives and knowing my name comes from my grandmother's best friend makes my search for her so important. I think my grandmother would approve.

    When I have my students create a family cookbook, I also tell them my definition of family - the people you love and the people who love you.


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