THE EDITORS’ VIEW
People, both living and dead, are significantly more than a collection of names and dates. To come to know and understand our ancestors more fully, we must think about their lives as experienced on individual levels and in their historical contexts. There is more to these people than their vital statistics would imply. Some of us are fortunate enough to discover our ancestors’ thoughts and feelings expressed in their own words or in the words of eyewitnesses. Letters, journals, and other personal accounts offer insight into people’s lives that most public records do not reveal: the impact of historical events at a personal level, the human emotions at play in life decisions, the joys and sorrows of a human heart—even one that beat hundreds of years ago.
In this issue William J. Pigot’s letters to his brother-in-law John Ebbets provide fascinating details of the sea captain’s experiences on the Pacific Ocean as well as tie Pigot to his relatives and descendants left behind in New York City. Captain Thomas Butler chronicled his passage through the Mohawk Valley in the spring of 1756 in a richly detailed journal, tracing his experiences and identifying others in his group, including sixty-two Native American escorts. The collection of Le Roy Bibles on the one hand, provides a detailed family record. But as Edward Augustus Le Roy gave the family Bible to his son Newbold Le Roy in 1905, he did so recognizing that the record was written by ancestors who were real people, not just names and dates. Written narratives, of whatever type, reveal some essence of the writer’s life in a way that names and dates can’t convey. In his keynote address at RootsTech in March 2013, FamilySearch president and CEO Dennis C. Brimhall urged listeners to ask themselves, “What will our great-grandchildren wish we had spent our time preserving?” As genealogists who focus so much on researching the past, it is easy to neglect our responsibilities to those who come after us. Researching is vital, yes, but it is just as important to take time to create those personal accounts that we wish our ancestors had created— to put the results of our searches on paper, to write about our life experiences, to preserve and identify our family’s artifacts, and to listen to and pass along the stories of the family members we know.
Seasoned genealogists know that when we consider history as experienced on a personal level, we better understand those who lived years ago, and we better appreciate our ancestors’ experiences, reactions, and decisions. By incorporating historical context in our research and crafting personal accounts of the world and people as we know them, we can help others understand those whose lives we celebrate and study. We can ensure that those people will be known as individuals with, as Edward Augustus Le Roy put it, “the same hopes and fears, the same loves and sorrows” as their descendants.
Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS
Karen Mauer Green, CG, FGBS
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THE NEW YORK
Genealogical and Biographical Record
VOLUME 144 April 2013 NUMBER 2