Climbing Family Trees: The Adventure of a Lifetime by Gregory D. Preston

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Adventure of a Lifetime by Gregory D. Preston

“The Adventure of a Lifetime”
Gregory D. Preston

Four months before I was born, my father died of Tuberculosis, a common plague in those times.
As soon as I grew out of my innocent childhood, I wanted and needed to know more about my family and where I came from. It was burning in me. My burning curiosity erupted into a volcanic session one weekend at my sister’s house. I started asking my mother questions and taking notes. Questions bubbled and boiled out of me as if I were a professional private investigator. Questions I’d asked all my life. Questions I had to have answered.

The questioning session with my mother went on for at least four hours and I wrote down every answer she gave me. She was so patient and I was so driven by my need to learn about my biological father and family. I wouldn’t allow anyone to leave until I got the answers I needed and so desperately wanted. Some of my questions were close to the heart, some very close to the bone, some impudent, some outrageously stupid, some right on target and some bordered on ending the whole discussion right then and there because of their emotional nature. I didn’t care.

For instance, I had a thousand questions about my dead and his relationship with my mother. I was asking these questions in front of my step-father. I didn’t know then what I know now, being a step-father myself. I’m certain some of the more personal questions had to emotionally smart a bit, for both my mother who was answering and my step-father listening to them.

At that time, my mother was the oldest known living member of the family. All of the grandparents were dead and gone and I knew nothing of my family or even the word genealogy. I just knew I had a desperate need to know and to record what was offered.

Once that emotionally draining session was complete, I sorted through the collected information and put each person on a different 3x5 index card. Each had an indication whether they were on my mother’s side of the family or my father’s. Each had birth / death information and any notes taken, based on what my mother had said.

At that time, there was no Internet. There were only archives, family recollections, index cards, libraries and court houses. I traveled to and spent time in most of them. For a young man full of spit and vinegar, this was appalling. I decried the census records being so protected in the state archives. I had to have an assistant with me to look at the originals. I decried how long everything took and I was totally frustrated with the whole process. There was always travel involved to the state capital or a court house. It seemed dark and mysterious. It seemed unmanageable and unfruitful. What I knew then as “the hunger” pushed me on. I could no more stop my quest, than stop breathing. One was the same as the other. Life itself rested on my quest.

Things got frustrating and busy, and my researched stopped at that time. I married, my own small children needed my attention, my job was challenging with many long hours, and I relocated from Illinois to California. For awhile, I put those index cards in a special shoebox labeled “FAMILY RECORDS - DO NOT TOUCH”. I warned my wife not to touch my special records.

As my family grew, so did the Internet. My chosen profession was Information Technology, so I was involved with the Internet before it was ever named the Internet. From time to time during the next 10 years, I would pull that dusty shoe box out of the closet and go through those index cards to complete a chart of the family relationships. Time and technology were both converging to enable my research to get underway without traveling or spending copious amounts of time inside state archives.

I have come to understand that which I called “the hunger”, was my ancestors driving me on. They inspire me and conspicuously guide my research. Again and again, just as I’m ready to give in and give up “for good this time” – a bright and right bit of information surfaces and leads me to more, which leads me to more. It always starts with some faint whisper, some very small bit, but once followed, leads me to genealogical nirvana!

In a research session lasting two solid weeks during vacation, I searched and read through 3000 books on-line for any sign at all of my family. Very late, on nearly the last night of my vacation, I was about to give in and give up when I was inexplicably drawn to a book I believed would never contain any information I sought. It was literally one of the last things I would do before going to bed.

Suddenly, I found a single paragraph, written long ago as part of another family’s biography, describing my great-great grandfather and his family! It was very brief but very intense. Right there, in that single moment, so many pondered questions were answered. So many dilemmas solved. I could sense my ancestors hand in making it happen. The very next day, I wrote to Colorado and a week or so later, was holding a copy of my great-great grandfather’s death certificate.

By listening closely to my ancestors and our Lord, whose land they now inhabit, I’ve made contact with several other family members I never knew existed. I’ve gathered together my living relatives, on a private, “by invitation only” web site called Gathering Us Together.

I’ve received pictures and documents on ancestors, long since gone from us. I’ve had the pleasure of their time and their company. I’m writing a book called Gathering Us Together, which is now 1,329 pages. When completed, it’ll be a behemoth volume, containing more wonderful information about MY family than I ever would have suspected I could have amassed when I first began my quest.

I wrote for and received my father’s WWII submariner records. I have his metals and his awards. I shared these records with my mother. There were things in those records that she didn’t know. It explained a lot for her because when he came home from the war, he was different, he was upset. Turns out, being a torpedo man in a submarine in WWII was no picnic. They were in many engagements. He saw many other subs lost at sea with the men on them. He narrowly missed being on a sub that was sunk, he was reassigned to another sub the day before it left for duty and action. On one of his last missions, his submarine was pursued by the enemy for several days and depth charge bombed again and again for days. It was intense and shook him up so badly that he had to leave the Navy. He never told my mother this. She only learned about it from me more than 50 years afterward! The Lord allowed my father to be a part of that discovery. He wanted and needed it to be revealed so we could better understand him.

My ancestors tell me there is more to be done, and I must continue doing whatever it takes to find more of the richness and fullness of our family. Over many years, I’ve researched our family history. I will continue researching the family history in order to pass on the vitality, strength and diversity of our family, and to learn who I am and where we’re from. Just being here today, writing this to you, means we have survived! Our ancestors’ blood flows and lives on in our veins. They must have been pretty tough, wise and smart in their own way to be able to survive and pass on children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in order to carry on in this great nation of ours.

Their times and days are gone, but I love discovering the things they had to face, their lives, and the times they lived through, in order to preserve those things, so they are not forgotten completely. I believe my ancestors are very pleased that I am interested, that I care enough to want to document our history and pass it on, for my children and my children's children. They need to know where they came from and what they are made of.

Four generations from now, not one of those future people will suspect what joy there was in getting one of the first new washing machines, or moving into a new house that was earned by sweat and blood, nor the pain of a world war (I pray), nor the awe of seeing the first man land and walk about on the moon. They will not know what we learned from life, unless we record it and tell them. Show them from our history, that their world, with all its technology and wonder is really a parallel to our own times. Show them they are living on what we’ve been able to build and what our ancestors were able to build for us. Show them that the core family values and traits we share across the intervals of time, will be very similar. Life’s lessons are the same throughout time, only the names change.

I’ve combed every source I can find, up to this time, to try and discover as much as I can about the family. I’ve made every attempt to make certain information goes rightfully with each individual. Just for the record, I am no writer and no historian; I’ve just done the best I can and am proud at least to bear the title: “genealogist”. To future family researchers, I have seven words, “Take it now and build on it!” That’s exactly what I did to generate the information I’ve scraped together to document what our families did down through the ages. I continue to build on what we have. I tell my children, “If my book is wrong; make it right! Your children and the children of future generations will thank you for the work you do to make it a complete an accurate document”.

For people who want to share. Take a bit of time and describe your life and times. It would be so very special and valuable to any interested family member who, sometime in a future we cannot know, reads what we write to find out where they are from. Who will ever remember our lives and times 200 years from now or benefit from what we can impart to our family's future generations, if we never get around to recording it? Whatever you are able to do, do it for your ancestors and for the future, so that your words can carry on and so you will be remembered.

After I’m gone, and if it’s possible from beyond, I’ll be watching over them as much as I can, because they are Family. I will whisper to them in their sleep, be in their dreams and guide them to be whole family members we can be proud of when they joins us. I converse with my ancestors nearly every day. Sometimes they are proud of me, sometimes they have to slap me upside the head. I’ve seen coincidences that cannot be explained by mere chance as my research directions unfold and more is revealed.

My family watches through the veil of time and participates here as much as they want and the Lord allows. I have learned from them and the work of genealogy about friendship, gentle compassion, patience, diligence, tenacity, honor, respect and deep belief. Before I die, I’ll complete my work. It has truly been the adventure of a lifetime and I love it dearly.


At 2:20 PM, Blogger The Magpie said...

I wonder if it would be interesting for the Preston family to look at the House Preston website ( which, although in the very early stages, is a resource for recording and locating family records.

Perhaps it would be of interest to record your own details on the site and to follow it to see if information comes in which may be of interest to you?


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