In a recent article on using Gensmarts to research a research facility more effectively, I began to look at GenSmarts Genealogy Software differently.
Part of my goal in researching my genealogy, and that of others, is to tell the story of these people. They aren’t just a bunch of names, dates, and places. They are people. People who lived vibrant lives. They didn’t just make children, and some of them didn’t. They contributed to society, be it as ditch diggers, cattle ranchers, farmers, truck drivers, politicians, religious leaders, or home makers. We wouldn’t be where we are without them, good and bad.
One of the features of GenSmarts is to guess where and what an ancestor might have done. These are labeled GSEST or GenSmarts Estimates.
This opened my mind to new possibilities.
While researching Walter E. West and Lula Bell Pinder attempting to find the conception and true birthplace of my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr., GenSmarts recommended some locations for events such as their marriage, Howard’s birthplace, and immigration records for Canada.
Until that suggestion, my research was limited to Michigan, Washington, and Oregon, the key places where these people interacted. Yet, Lula was born and raised for at least the start of her childhood in Leamington, Ontario, Canada. Her first marriage was in Detroit, right across the water from Ontario, and she had family in Ontario in Essex and Leamington until way after her death, so why couldn’t they have met, married, or conceived Howard in Canada?
While it is unlikely, it still expands the possibilities and made me think about things differently.
One ancestor was born, raised, married, and died in the same town in Michigan. I look at the information and think, “What a shame.” They didn’t live. They didn’t see the world. They didn’t get a chance to expand their horizons and see the world as a bigger place beyond the small farming community.
How arrogant I was.
Digging deeper into his history I find that he married a woman from Canada. Did he ever travel there to visit her family there? Likely. He was also in several wars, the Indian Wars in his teens in the 1870s and 80s. In 1898, he went off to the Spanish American War, followed by the Philippine-American War taking him overseas. He was in his 60s and lied about his age to return to war in World War I, though he didn’t go overseas. He and his family survived the Great Depression on the same farm as his father and grandfather. He lived to see the first three years of World War II, probably having seen enough war in his life.
I’d say that he lived. He saw the world. He suffered and survived. He probably saw more horizons and saw the world as a bigger and more expansive political place than I would have thought based upon his vitals.
Who was he when he returned from each war? What did he learn and bring back with him from each place he traveled to? Did he learn a language? Learn to cook the food? Whom did he meet in his travels and did he return to visit them later or invite them to visit him in his small farming town?
What was the impact of his experiences on the family? Did he resolve to do more for his family and ensure they went to college and university, study world history, politics, language, or possibly become soldiers themselves? Or did he stay quiet, not talk about the war and his travels, and be one of the victims of so many wars?
I may never know. All that he is to me is a bunch of vital statistics and war records, records that log him in as a solider and out as a solider for each war, no mention of ribbons, awards, or heroics that I’ve found so far.
GenSmarts and this relative reminds me to keep my mind open. To see these people as more than my assumptions and prejudices. And to preserve what memories and information I can about their lives for the future so they are not forgotten.
Most Recent Articles by Lorelle VanFossen
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