I began on my father's side of the family. My own paternal grandparents were deceased, so based on family members' recommendations I first interviewed my Great-Uncle Mayo. Known as the unofficial "historian" for his knowledge of family history, I eagerly set out one Saturday morning, pen and notebook in hand, on the two-hour trek to Uncle Mayo's house. In his mid-80s and quite hard of hearing, I feared communication might be an issue but quickly learned that prompting Great-Uncle Mayo with a question about an ancestor was all it took for him to share from his fathomless well of knowledge about the subject of my inquiry. Two hours whizzed by as I sat enthralled, listening to this dear elderly man clearly recall people and events from my own family heritage—most of it entirely new to me!
Now, I'd like to share with you "Joshua's Story," a particularly poignant vignette recalled to me 33 years ago by Great-Uncle Mayo during our first, and, as so often happens, only visit. Recollected to Uncle Mayo as a child by his grandfather Joshua (my great-great grandfather), the setting was rural North Carolina, about 1860. Joshua's father, Solomon, had just died of smallpox during a time when smallpox victims, due to fear of exposure, were not allowed to be buried in their church cemeteries. Joshua, only 13 years old at the time and the oldest son at home, assumed the sorrowful duty of burying his own father in an unmarked grave near the church graveyard where other family members were subsequently laid to rest. The vivid mental picture, as described by Uncle Mayo, of the solitary brave young boy driving a horse-drawn wagon bearing his father's casket stays with me, even today. Later research documented an approximate death date for Joshua's father that helps substantiate the story, and a visit to the referenced church cemetery revealed no marker for Solomon beside his wife. I have no doubts that the story is true, but in over 30 years of genealogical research, I have never again heard, read, or seen on the Internet the details surrounding my great-great-grandfather's death and burial as passed down to me by my great-uncle so many years ago. Joshua's story would have been forever lost.
Today, any basic genealogy course or book will tell you that one of the main starting points for beginning your family tree research is to visit with your older relatives and record their stories. Over the years it has been my privilege to visit with many of my senior relatives. I've encountered those who love to talk and share information about our family and those who prefer not to reminisce, and I always respect that. Even with all the technological and online resources available today, those priceless family histories passed down in personal interviews simply cannot be replicated. One caveat—for obvious reasons, don't put off visiting and interviewing your older family members. There's at least one "Joshua's Story" in every family, and you don't want regrets. Visiting and interviewing a family elder is a wonderful experience and recording and preserving those precious stories and memories for future generations is one way we have of giving something back