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Geneaology - Make Your Family Tree More Than Just A Chart On The Wall

Updated on September 7, 2014
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

Attribution: © Nevit Dilmen
Attribution: © Nevit Dilmen | Source

We've all felt the satisfaction of finding the last bit of genealogical data that completes our family tree chart. We've spent months or even years digging through family bibles, old photographs, courthouse records, and countless web sites and now we have all the names and dates we need to fill the branches of the family tree chart. But it's just that, a chart.

Look at it. What does your family tree chart really tell you? If we're honest, that chart doesn't tell us very much. Framed, it will be a nice addition to your wall and Aunt Lilly will think it's a great gift, but don't you want it to be more than a chart? Each of the names on your chart was a life lived. Each of those names experienced joy and loss. Some were accomplished in their careers. Others were simply great mothers or hard workers. And yes, most families have at least one ancestor that we're not so proud of. Look at your chart again. Can you tell who it was? No, you can't. Without the stories, photographs, and historical documents, all your hard work is nothing more than a pretty chart.

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

There are many reasons for adding photos to your research. The photo on the right is a good example. Sam Driskill was my maternal great grandfather and he died when I was eight years old.

Sam worked hard and said little. There aren't many stories about him because he wasn't very engaging. He was sick a lot and the only memory I have of him is a sad one. I don't think I ever heard his voice because he couldn't or wouldn't speak. Sam Driskill scared me. I only remember him laying in bed in a back bedroom of the house. Just laying there. The room had a distinct smell and my Mom told me it was Sam's "powder". I don't know what it was but it must have been a bad-ass medicine because it smelled really bad. We visited every Sunday but I never wanted to go into the room. I would stand at the door and look at him, so thin and gray and gasping for breath but I was afraid to get close. Sam looked like death and I was afraid of it.

Can you imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this photo of Sam. He's not a young man but he climbed a tree! Sam looks alive, really alive. This photo gave my memory a new image of Sam, a happier image, and it has become my favorite family photo. I love this picture because it tells such a different story about my great grandfather. Through this photo, I now see my great grandfather, Sam Driskill, as a real character; someone with a sense of humor. Why else would an old man climb a tree in his Sunday suit? Yes, Sam Driskill was a character and I wonder sometimes, did I get my love of trees from him? One little photo changed everything. And that, is the power of making your research more than just a chart.

Rachel's Truth

My paternal great grandmother was never a topic of discussion but once my grandmother showed me this photo of her, I could never forget her. The photo was kept in a cedar chest and I only saw it once or twice when I was a little girl. You know those old folks kept all their secrets in a cedar chest. They only told us it was for keeping moths out of blankets and such.

Lottie Rachel Hendricks Bryant died when she was 23 years old. No one in the family knows what killed her but I'm on it. I've been digging for years to find her death certificate. My grandmother, Rahel's daughter, was raised by her paternal grandmother. Her father remarried and Rachel was forgotten; tucked away in a cedar chest.

From the moment I saw this photo of Rachel, I was endeared to her. She was beautiful and so very young when she died and I cannot help but wonder how different things would have been had she lived. And of course, I often wonder about her death. Was it childbirth that killed her or an accident? Or, was it disease? Did she suffer? These questions remain unanswered but one day the truth about Rachel will be known. Her story will be told. For now though, her photo is out of the cedar chest and serves to remind me that my research must be more than just a chart on the wall.

Embellishments For Your Family Research

You can't hang an embellishment on a wall chart, or can you? Of course you can. There are dozens of photo editing or graphic design software programs that will let you scan, edit, and save images in the various image formats. It won't tell your story though. Let's talk about family crests for a minute.

Family crests are more than just fancy images. They are symbolic of your family's place in history. Each component of a family crest represents some characteristic trait of your family and a wall chart just doesn't let you strut your stuff. So what does a crest tell you about your family?

To adequately explain the symbolism used in family crests would require another hub so lets just introduce you to the basics. The crest shown here is just one variant of my family's crest. There are many but they all contain the same elements with only slight differences in the layout. The symbols of my family crest reveal following characteristics of my ancestors:

The Symbolism Of My Family Crest

SYMBOL
INTERPRETATION
Lions
bravery, courage, strength, valour
Laurel Leaves
peace, triumph
Crown
Royal or seigniorial authority
Gold color
generosity, elevation of the mind
Green color
hope, joy, loyalty in love
Silver color
peace, sincerity

My point was not to brag that my family is/was/use to be brave, loyal and generous, although it's true. My point was to show you that there are significant things about your family that just cannot be demonstrated by a chart on the wall.

If you are serious about tracing your roots, be serious about how you present what you find. A chart on the wall is nice but those names are real people. They fought wars, famine, and drought. They survived brutal winters and persecution, disease, and discrimination. They are your ancestors and without the stories, photos, and documents, their lives mean nothing. Because they struggled and won, you are here and it is up to you to make sure they are more than just a name on a wall chart.

A framed chart is a wonderful gift and a beautiful addition to your home décor but to add a story book or photo album adds depth and dimension to your own personal history. Ask yourself - do you want your name on a wall or your story told for generations to come? The answer will guide you in your research.

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

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  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 2 years ago from Central Virginia

    Joe, thank you for reading my hub and adding validation to my point. I am totally crazy about old photos, even those of people I don't know. They are sort of like cemeteries. They tell a story in their own way and as you said, they tell the truth. lol Thanks again!

  • Joe Fiduccia profile image

    Joe Fiduccia 2 years ago from Monroe County, PA

    Your comment about adding photos is spot on. Just yesterday a relative told me how they found a very old photo of their father from the 1930s and how they absolutely loved the way it brought that time into perspective. Without photos, everything is left to your imagination. And sometimes our perception is way off from reality. Great post. Thank you for sharing it. -Joe

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Julie, WOW....what a treasure it was that you found the tribute to your great-great uncle. I understand ahout going missing. I lost my job in April due to lack of work and spent the first month submerged in my research again, every waking moment. I have about 8,000 people in my data base with tons of stories and photos. But the one relative that started me on this journey still eludes me, after 30+ years. I was so excited about having some time to really hunker down with the research again, and then...I found HP. I haven't touched my research since. Now that I have a few hubs out there, I need to balance my time between the two passions. Thank you for visiting my hub Julie. Keep digging. There are stories waiting to be told. Find them, and tell them. :-)

  • Jools99 profile image

    Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

    Linda, wonderful hub and this is exactly what I am trying to do at the moment - bring my ancestors to life. Your great-grandfather's photo made you feel different about him because he was no longer the sickly, grey old man you remembered from your childhood. I recently came upon a website about mining disasters and found the death record of my great-great uncle, killed in a mining accident in 1884. He was only 30 with a young wife and two young children. There was a lovely 'In Memoriam' page dedicated to him with details of his life - it really touched me and got me delving into my past again. I may go missing from HP as a result or I might come back and write about what I find :o)

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Thelma! Thank you so much. Good luck with your research. I've been working on mine for over 30 years and still love digging around to find new information. Good luck with yours. Make it fun! :-)

  • Thelma Alberts profile image

    Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

    I have started researching for my family tree so that my coming grandchildren will know where their ancestors came from. It´s not yet finish. I hope it will be. Thanks for sharing this informative hub. Congrats on winning the Lollipop Award.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi tirelesstraveler! Isn't it fun? I recently discovered distant relatives living up North (I live in the southeast) and all the men have the same hairlines (or lack of), the same eyes, and the same posture. I am fascinated by it.

  • tirelesstraveler profile image

    Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

    I look at some of the pictures we have and am fascinated how much my brother cousins and I look like our great grandparents and great aunts and uncles.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi tirelesstraveler! Thanks for reading. Do it! It's so much fun.

  • tirelesstraveler profile image

    Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

    I keep saying it's time to do some digging for family roots. I have some amazing family pictures. We even have a family crest for my Dad's family. Nice, encouraging hub.