My genealogical journey and an archival inheritance...

I am embarrassed to say that until recently I have not researched my own family history, preferring instead to focus on subjects of historical interest outside my own genealogical heritage. But following the death of my grandmother, and in the aftermath of the 2010 Flood, I began to think about how easily our family's past could be lost to fading memories or natural disasters. I also felt compelled to begin a genealogical journey as a way of honoring the memory of my ancestors, who in their own right lived remarkable lives worth telling and preserving for future generations. Through this journey, I've discovered that my own family's history is every bit as interesting as what I've read in history books.


Hanging out with my grandfather at his garage.
Beginning with my grandparents on my dad's side, my grandfather grew up in South Carolina, one of eleven siblings, and dropped out of school in the third grade to help his large family survive during the Great Depression. What he lacked in academic knowledge he more than made up for in natural talent as an incredibly gifted mechanic. Over the years more than one person has told me that my grandfather forgot more about fixing cars than they will ever know.

My grandfather first put his mechanical skills to use in Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a means to support his family. He moved to Chattanooga, where he drove and delivered trucks to CCC job sites on Lookout Mountain, and repaired them when necessary. In Chattanooga, my grandfather met my grandmother where they married and had two children, a daughter and a son. Their son would grow up to become my father. I like to think that FDR brought my grandparents together through the CCC.  I'm looking forward to exploring the CCC records held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives with the hope of learning more about my grandfather's work as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

While FDR may have brought my fraternal grandparents together, he may also have been responsible for keeping my maternal grandparents apart - at least for a short while. My grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 18, 1943, serving as a private in the European theater during World War II. Meanwhile, my grandmother stayed at home to take care of their daughter. It would be two years following his enlistment that my grandfather would finally meet his daughter, the young girl who would grow up to become my mother. Like many others in the "Greatest Generation," my grandfather didn't speak a lot about his service in World War II. He served his country with honor, and then came back home to raise his family. I'm eager to search World War II service records to learn more details about my grandfather's service to his country.

In this early stage of my genealogical journey, I am discovering many other interesting things about my family's history. There may be ancestral links to the American Revolution, the Battle of New Orleans, and Native American origins in my bloodline that I hope to confirm through more research of the archival record.

Archival records can play an important role in chronicling your family's heritage. While much of what we can learn can come directly from our ancestors, many of us cannot or do not take full advantage of that direct knowledge. Archival records, then, can become the vital link to our ancestry and a bridge to our past. In many respects, archival records are our family inheritance, worth more than any fortune. I'm looking forward to counting my treasure in the days and weeks to come.


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Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.