Memories and Histories


For her Christmas gifts to her daughters this year, my mother hatched an idea months and months ago.  She wanted to fill the pages of a book with the most precious thing she could think of:  our ancestry.  And not just a family tree.  Memories and histories.

My mom began with writing her own memories--of her parents and her grandparents, the way she remembered them.  She had my father do the same.  She researched and spoke to a dozen other relatives to see what they recalled.  And slowly, lovingly, my mother built biographies of each person in the three generations before me.

Biographies that tell birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates.  Towns of residence and jobs held.  Children's names, siblings' names, and parents' names.  Hobbies and passions.  Physical descriptions and health histories.  And pictures.  Lovely, irreplaceable, precious pictures.

What a blessing it has been to read these treasures.  To discover that I wasn't the first teacher in the family.  To be reminded that I was born on my great-grandmother's birthday.  To imagine what it was like to be raised in a home with nine other siblings.  To hear catchphrases spoken so often they were part of their speaker's personalities (catchphrases like, "Can you feature that?" and "For the love of Mike").  To feel that my love of sewing has quite possibly been embedded in me from three generations before, from great-grandmothers who were seamstresses and quilters.  To see that my family has weathered the tragedies of death and disease and the Depression, and come out on the other side with more love than they had before.  To wonder if I have always found the flat plains of Oklahoma and Kansas so beautiful due to being the great-granddaughter of farmers.  To read that I have descended from pool sharks and pilots, Catholics and Baptists, card players and crocheters, mechanics and gardeners.

To look into the eyes of these people, my people, my blood and my DNA, some eyes that were closed long before I was even born, and feel a connection to a past that so greatly affected who and where I am today.  To wonder if my great-grandparents ever dreamed that I would cherish so deeply their childhood pictures and descriptions of their pastimes and personalities.

I cherish it, Mom.  Thank you for writing it all down for me.


  1. That is so sweet! And absolutely priceless! I'm always asking my aunts for uncles about stories about the "old days"..I'm a sucker for memories :)

  2. This is SUCH an amazing gift. I was reading this, noticing I don't know anything about my ancestry. And it just made this gift even that much more meaningful. Seriously, great job momma Gillen!!!

  3. PS... I don't think I've ever told you this but you are one AMAZING writer.

  4. What a beautiful thank you, Valerie. I am so glad you like the book. One of these days, there will be more to add--great-great-grandparents!