Don’t Be Afraid of the Stories

Family Historians, Genealogists, Name Collectors, they go by different names. Some people collect names and their databases grow, others just document THEIR particular line of the family, and brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles be damned. Everybody emphasizes something different. Me? It’s the stories! Good or Bad, they all are a part of who I am.

If my grandmother, Bertha von Breyman had not been on that streetcar and seen a handsome young man, Henry Lindgren, I would not be here. Grandmother Lindgren’s friend happened to know who he was and a story that began on a streetcar in Sacramento continued for the next 52 years. She dressed in a nice dress for her High School graduation that June morning in 1913 and wore it into the afternoon for her wedding. She never forgot the date of that graduation.


Had the Depression of the 1930’s not affected the Sherman family, my father’s education at USC would have continued. He would have never joined the Army and been stationed on that distant island of Hawaii. The story, with a few twists here and there, is essentially he was in uniform and she was in shorts . . . the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. Another meeting that would last over 50 years, taking the Sherman family from Hawaii to California, with stops here and there to see sights many never have the chance to see.

Those are the feel-good stories, the ones we like to find, but every family has those “other” stories, the ones that make our family real. Some people like to ignore them, others kick them under the rug, but without them we are not really a family. My family has their share of them and some of them are pretty bad, but they are all a part of this family’s history.

One of my favorite ancestor’s to write about, Susannah, had quite a life. For some reason, I’m able to find a lot of stories on her, more than any other ancestor. One that I’ve never written about is her divorce! Yup, Susannah got a divorce, and it was a nasty one, from her second husband!

Shortly after the death of her 1st husband, my ancestor, married George Kaylor in Elizabethtown. Now Susannah was ahead of her time and actually had a document that listed her house and listed furnishings as her “sole and separate property.” A pre-nup? Sure sounds like it to me. Anyway, as the story goes – and the divorce papers back-up – he tried to “make connection” with Susannah’s daughter, climbing into bed with her, unclothed; he tried to collect rent by the same method, etc., etc., etc. Divorce was granted, and a small alimony awarded to Susannah. There is much more to the story, but you get the gist of it.

One of the saddest stories of all is about a very close relative who was found dead in a hotel room by “a woman who had an appointment with him.” He had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Sad part of the story? He had an apartment not far from the hotel! Saddest part of the story? He was my grandfather who my grandmother had divorced just months before. I had to find this story in a newspaper online. My parents never spoke of it. . . or of my father’s Dad.


My point of this blog is not to dump dirt, but to simply say, every family has their stories, whether they be “feel good” or kinda ashamed. They happened and they happened for a reason. It’s our job as family historian to record them, and if we want to take it a step further, find out why. The feel good stories are easy; the others could be a bit difficult to digest.

The stories are a part of who we are, whether we like it or not. It’s our decision to either discuss them or sweep them under the carpet.

You know what I’ve decided to do!


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