Once upon a census

A man and a woman were married in New Orleans, Louisiana. They had two children, a boy, and a girl.  

The father and mother found a small city to live in that was not close (but not too far away) from the mother’s family in New Orleans. The couple bought a piece of land and bought their first home. Their house was one of the first ones to be built in this new community.

The parents learned to read during their school years and finished high school in their respective home cities. The mother finished two more years of school after high school. They spoke both Spanish and English. The father worked and the mother stayed home with the children. 

The information you have just read is from a census record, which, according to FamilySearch.org, is “a record that can tell you not only where and when your ancestor lived, but may also describe their occupation, other members of their household, and details about their life, such as previous military service.” 

But if the story ended there, with facts and figures, would you learn that because the father was a paratrooper in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, he was able to build his first home with a low interest, zero down payment home loan through a fund called the GI Bill?  Would you be able to picture the shiny waxed hardwood floors that the youngest little girl used to ‘skate’ on in her socks? Or that the mother who waxed those floors listened to opera while she worked, and that the father came home very tired from his job in a local aluminum plant on the Mississippi River?

And of course, the answer is no! Documents can’t tell the story that took place in this home. That is why we need to tell our stories and keep a record of them! 

By now you have guessed that this story is mine (I was the little girl skating around in her socks on those waxed floors, and cracked a tooth doing it, but that’s another story!) If I hadn’t filled in the blanks of the census record for you, the house would only be a place on a map. The story of my family’s values, favorite foods and music, and the sorrows we faced, would be forever lost to my children and grandchildren if I did not keep a record of it. That is why I search and write, why I ask anyone I am related to, to tell me their stories so that I can add them to mine and make sense of what my parents went through. My story is part of something bigger. And so is yours!

Before you say, “my story would be boring” or, “no one wants to hear my story”, think of a beloved family member or friend who has passed on and ask yourself: 

What advice would you ask them for if you could? How did they handle the challenges they passed through, and what really mattered to them? 

I know I would be thrilled to read the answers to these questions in my parents’ own words. You, likewise, are a part of the lives of everyone you know, especially those you love. Your story connects you to those who have come before, those with you today, and loved ones in the future. Remember, today is someone else’s past!

I hope you will follow my future posts as I share what I have learned about the worth of an individual life through my years of journaling, searching for and finding lost parts of my family’s story. We’ll look at some resources, research, and how-to’s regarding the importance of keeping a record of your life and that of your family’s. Once upon a time…there was YOU!

This Week’s Challenge: 

  1. Create an account on a website that will help you begin to find records of your ancestors. Here are some website ideas(*means it is not free but has a free trial):
  • FamilySearch
  • Ancestry*
  • MyHeritage*
  • FindMyPast*
  • Library of Congress
  • FindAGrave
  • BillionsGraves
  • USGenWeb
  1. Try to find a census record of one of your family homes from your growing up years, or, a grandparent or other ancestor. If you can’t, take a look at the blank census found here and see if you can fill in the blanks with information from your own growing-up years. 

Next Week: The House and The Storm

Have a great week,

Lisa Coffey