Standing proudly on Main Street in Penn Yan is the anchor building of the Yates County History Center, the Oliver House Museum, one of three buildings comprising the YCHC. The Center, formerly Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society, is one of the oldest in NYS, has been actively collecting, preserving and interpreting history since 1860. Continue reading about us...

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Genealogy: Write About Yourself

Yates Past - September 2007

I may have casually mentioned a few times in this newsletter that I am working my way through about 10,000 letters belonging to the family of Yates County’s Admiral, Frank H. Schofield. Through the 3000+ that I have read so far, I feel that I have gotten to “know” Frank, his wife, and the other members of his family. ...maybe better than I know many people that I come into regular contact with today. They were all great letter writers and in their letters their personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their philosophy of life, their fears and hopes, and their attitudes are all revealed. I KNOW these people....even though they have been dead for over half a century or more.

As I read these letters, I wonder.....what will future generations of our families know about US? Letter writing and diaries are generally things of the past. We communicate with each other by telephone, email, text messaging, etc. None of which is likely to survive for future generations of our family so they can find out the type of people that WE were.

A few years back I ran across a rough draft of a welcoming speech for a family reunion written by one of my Great-Great-Grandfathers in 1887. In it he wrote about each of his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings....a short biography of each. It was invaluable as a resource for family history and I consider it priceless. BUT it was also quite frustrating because he didn’t say a word about himself. From the way he wrote and what he wrote I wanted to know about HIM....but there was nothing there.

Based upon these experiences, I have decided to write about myself for future generations of my family. I think we all should....if you have any interest at all in preserving family history. You have to get past the initial attitudes.... “My life is pretty boring.”...... “No one will be interested in what I’ve done in my life.”.... “I’ve never done anything of any real importance”. If you are “into” family history wouldn’t you consider invaluable a few pages written by your Great-Great-Grandmother about herself?

As you write, think about what you would have wanted your ancestors to write about themselves.....what you would want to now about them. Write about your parents and grandparents, your siblings, memories from childhood, what you did for fun, your educational experiences, military experiences, your job or career, how you met your spouse, turning points in your life, things in your life that you take pride in.... and anything else you would like your descendants to know. And, please, preserve it in a way that future generations can locate easily. Don’t just save it as a few bytes in a file on a computer.

by Rich MacAlpine

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