From the community

Oldest child doesn’t always ‘know it all’ about family history

Posted April 10, 2013, at 1:43 p.m.

My brother once asked me the question that genealogists so often hear from family members: “How do you know all this stuff?”

Research is only part of the answer. As I’ve been saying for years, oldest children often have an advantage in doing genealogy, because they’ve heard more and seen more of the family.

I’m the oldest child of an oldest child (Gayland A. Moore Jr.), of an oldest child (Ione A. Bennett Moore), of an oldest child (Rena Bennett Bennett). That birth arrangement means fewer years between me back to Rena’s mother, Mary Cummings Bennett Lord, who was born in Greenville before the Civil War.

I actually remember great-great-grandmother Mary Lord because she lived until I was 3. She was an artist whose first set of paints was brought to her by a relative coming home from the Civil War. Now that’s history!

I also took advantage of asking Grammy Ione Moore lots of genealogical questions over the last year of her life. These days I like to ask my mother, an only child, questions about the Steeves, Roberts, Given and Eldridge relatives she may have known.

I also share with my mother what I find out, such as the fact that the cousin we called Uncle Ralph came to live with her dad’s Steeves family in Sangerville as a 1-year-old because his mother had died in Millinocket in the influenza epidemic in 1918. The back-and-forth of questions and information sometimes can lead to a relative remembering other tidbits as time goes on.

But today it was I who learned a lesson about respecting what the younger children in the family have to contribute to our story.

My younger sister and I were discussing by email a planned visit to babysit my grandchildren, including the colds and bugs that young children often share this time of year. A few moments later, a gem of an email arrived in my mailbox:

“This is one of our dad’s anecdotes about growing up as a kid, as much as I remember anyway. When everyone was sick in the house, he said, his grandmother would open up all the doors every day for an hour — to change out the bad air.”

When I record this story for my dad’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I will include the fact that during his growing up years, my dad and his three siblings and mother lived with the Bennett grandparents for a period of years. Offhand, the story may have happened around 1935 or so.

Why didn’t I remember hearing this story? Well, in junior high and high school I spent a great deal of time “staying over” at my Steeves grandparents’ house in Guilford in order to attend activities at Piscataquis Community High School. There were, certainly, stories that my sister and brother heard that I didn’t hear, or didn’t hear as often.

The moral of the story, for those of us who are firstborn and occasionally think we are the repository of everything worth knowing in the family, is that it’s important to give the younger relatives some respect, and not overlook what they may have to contribute.

Back to my sister and the email. When I wrote back to tell her how pleased I was that she had remembered the story about Gram Bennett opening the doors, she emailed back one line: “Aren’t you glad you weren’t an only child ;)”

Indeed.

Gov. Paul LePage and First Lady Ann LePage are encouraging Mainers to mark Military Child Appreciation Month during April. Some 6,000 Maine children have a parent serving in the military.

Two of the 6,000 are Lexis Elizabeth Perry, 9; and Andrew Mark Perry, 6, my grandchildren thanks to the marriage of their mom and my son. They weren’t very old when their dad, CWO Mark Perry, served in Iraq for a year. Somewhere in a toybox is the little metal globe I used to show them where there dad was in the world, and where we were in Maine.

Looking at them, I remember thinking that you didn’t have to be old enough to understand the meaning of the word sacrifice in order to be doing it for your country.

I thought that too, of Ford, Owen and Lindell Smiley during the year that their dad Dustin Smiley was overseas for a year. The boys’ mom, Sarah Smiley, writes a weekly column on the front page of the State news section in the Bangor Daily News.

Like many BDN readers, I especially enjoyed reading about “Dinner with the Smileys,” (soon to be published as a book), and how it enriched the boys’ lives and made the time pass a little more quickly.

Sarah Smiley, of course, is a military spouse. But to me, a fan of one of her earlier books, “I’m Just Saying,” she also is a military child.

On another topic, my three nephews and one niece on the Moore side of the family all have Swedish ancestry — through their Johnson line, and the other two through an Osberg line.

My point is that you don’t have to be connected to Brownville or Brownville Junction to be interested in a talk scheduled for Thursday in Bangor.

Bill Sawtell will give a program on “The History of Swedish Migration to Brownville and Brownville Junction” at the meeting of the Penobscot County Genealogical Society at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St.

Sawtell has been writing about the history of small towns in Piscataquis County for decades and I’m always interested in what he has to say. Hope to see you there.

What’s the difference between a “second cousin” and a “first cousin, once removed?” Is it worrisome if my great-grandmother married her first cousin? How can identical twins be cousins “once removed?” If my grandfather was a cousin to my friend’s great-grandfather …

I say, “Let’s Figure Out Those Cousins.” All are welcome to attend this program when I speak to the Orono Historical Society at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 18, in the Orono Town Council Chambers, 59 Main St., Orono. Parking is behind the building, and the back entrance has an elevator to the main floor.

My “cousins” include Maine artist Waldo Peirce, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and World War II pilot Gen. Jimmy Doolittle.

I also will give the cousins program at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, for the Jonesport Historical Society at the Sawyer Building at 21 Sawyer Square, Jonesport, next to the Congregational Church.

For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email familyti@bangordailynews.com.

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