Sifting Fact from the Almost Fact
Everyone has at least one superhero, literary great, concert musician, political powerhouse, or some other note-worthy member of their family. It’s sort of like the old joke about past lives—just how many bodies has Napoleon possessed since his demise?
The point here is that families have secrets, half-known truths, and unknown realities hanging from the branches of their trees. That great-grandpa who was the military genius could as easily have been a mule-skinner who helped his commanding officer—three down from one of the better known generals on either side—by discovering a local grazing fodder that would keep the animals in good shape on less food. That could have been his genius.
It’s the connotation of the title “military genius” to later family members that takes the ancestor’s contribution and moves it up the rungs of notability. That connotation might even have been planted by a descendent that needed to feel personally more important in the ancestor’s afterglow. No one will know until conscientious research reveals the truth.
For instance, one of my ancestors was a Colvin. He fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy. He survived the sinking of The Sultana, a paddle-wheeler steaming north on a mission to get behind enemy lines by river. It took him weeks to get back home and into Confederacy territory because the front lines kept shifting and he had to keep hiding to stay free.
That much I know. There is much more that I don’t know because I haven’t listened to all that my father’s research revealed several years ago. I know that Colvin was a soldier; that’s all. It’s not that I don’t care about his story. I simply don’t have time to dive into it or a burning desire to.
Each of us has someone back there in history whose story would make for compelling reading. It takes weeks/months of time, incredible patience, and a knack for research skills into the infinitesimal to come up with enough detail and truth to tell a good story about that type of family member. It can be done well only when the researcher has ample desire to see it through.
I could do it, given enough clues, signposts, and time, but the job takes an avid and relentless family member. My brother would be very good at that if he chose to, and his wife would do even better. They’ve already proven that regarding the other side of the family.
Sometimes there are secrets that need to be brought out into the light. Other times call for more restrain. There are those who say that you can’t know who you are if you don’t know your family’s background. For me, there is truth to that statement only when it concerns medical issues and genetic factors. The one exception to this rule relates to ethnic/racial lines of ancestry.
Whether Colvin was a hero or not, confederate or not, does not impact me; unless, of course, a vendetta was called by a rival somewhere during the war and a hit man is out to decimate all trace of Colvin’s family tree. And that hit man had to have sworn his entire bloodline to fulfilling that contract.
We all have family members who move around the fringes of the family, ones that bring laughter, others tears and still others a sense of peace. This knowledge is what counts in my thoughts about family. Each of us defines ourselves by an arbitrary scale within the boundaries of those fringes. Our definitions of ourselves are the important bottom lines.