A Family is a deeply rooted tree with branches of differing strengths, each receiving nourishment from an Infinite Source.

A Family is where character is formed, values learned, ethics created, and ultimately where society is preserved.

A Family is where all members contribute and share, cooperate and work, accepting their individual responsibility for the good of the group.

A Family is where holidays are celebrated with feasting, birthdays remembered with gifts, and thoughts of other days kept alive by reliving fond memories.

A Family is a place where each member can go to find solace and comfort in grief, pleasure and laughter in joy, and kindness and encouragement in daily living.

A Family is finally a haven of rest, a sanctuary of peace, and most of all, a harbor of love.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Beginning

When I think about the past 13 or so years that I have spent immersed in this hobby of genealogy, the prominent thought for me is, "Why?" Why in the world would I spend countless hours over so many years finding out who were these people that came before me? The simple answer to that question is, because all that I am came from these people and their experiences (along with my own experiences, of course). The more complicated answer though is in the process by which the genealogy bug arrived in my home over a decade ago.

My great grandfather, James Quinter Keener, had been researching his own and his wife's ancestry for years by the time I came into this world in 1961. My memories of him are three-fold. First, his last apartment of his lifetime was full of treasures! He had "Reader's Digest" magazines dating back to the 1950s full of stories I hadn't read in the "latest" editions. What a find! Second, his entire existence seemed to be about sharing the stories of his ancestry and his family. Most of our family, of course, would elicit a groan in unison every time he launched into one of them. They had probably heard these same stories a hundred times over the years, but I hadn't. I found these stories and these people fascinating. Finally, I remember the years he drove all over the country to visit his daughter (my grandmother), his grandchildren (Mom and her 3 siblings), and his great grandchildren, of which I was the oldest. Every visit to every town, he would pull out the local phone book, call every Keener in the book, inquiring about their ancestry in his best Southwestern Pennsylvania accent (those of you from there know what I'm talking about). Quite often, they would invite this persistent octogenarian over to visit and off he would go.

Great Grandpa passed away when I was nearly 14 years old after spending his last year or so in slow decline. My grandmother's sister, Lila, was local, so I'm sure many of his "papers" passed into her hands when his apartment was cleaned out. I don't believe she ever caught the genealogy bug, so eventually when she passed away in 1983 and her husband, my Great Uncle Fred, was in declining health, the "papers" went to my grandmother. Grandma eventually sent them to me with the simple and loving comment, "I thought you might like to have these things that were Pop's," and the implied, "No one else really wants them." And so, "Pandora's Box," a.k.a. Grandpa Keener's vinyl briefcase, was now in my house, unopened. It sat there for months before I opened it up.

I'm quite sure that the list of people in this world who wish I'd never opened that box is quite long and people who have had to live with me over the years would top that list. Once I opened it, I was completely infected by the genealogy bug. The briefest description that I can give of what it contained is:
  • Countless scraps of paper and/or index cards with names and dates written on them (no explanation, just the names and dates)
  • Hand-drawn descendent charts from several families
  • Old land deeds, so old that they were written on what is either a really thick handmade parchment or some type of animal skin, for lands in Greene County, PA
  • A very large book of nothing but descendent charts for the 4000+ descendents of "Capt." John Hord, c.1740-1778, copied in the old blue mimeograph ink (remember that?)
  • Great Grandpa's small Bible, inscription indicating it was given to him for Christmas 1895 by his mother
  • Jonathan Miller's purchased book on horse care, printed in Philadelphia in 1798, purchased by Jonathan (Great Grandpa's great grandpa) in 1808 for $1
  • Typed pages of stories from childhood written by Great Grandpa, his own memories in his own words
  • Newspaper clippings of obituaries, some so old that I am guessing they were collected by Great Grandpa's mother

Now this was treasure!

I spent a couple of years just organizing the scraps of paper and entering them into a database. This material, though completely unsourced, has continued to be a great starting point for sourced research. I've been entering data from the Hord / Hoard (more about that spelling in a future post) book for years now and still have not completed that work. Although not completely accurate, this information is also a great starting point for the thousands of descendants of this one man, John Hord.

Over the years researching via the Internet, I have run into a few researchers who were actually doing this pre-Internet and had either corresponded with or met Great Grandpa. I find this connection through time an amazing thing. My great grandfather spent many years driving, talking, writing to get this information. Now I have managed to connect with the same people electronically with the click of a button. He would have loved the Internet though, I am sure. He probably would have spent every day writing those he met either virtually or in person, collecting data. He would have had a better vehicle for organizing it though.

So that is what I have been doing for years now since the beginning of all this, collecting information on all my family branches, organizing it, and now hope to start publishing it, first through this blog and later through whatever media I can. In the names and dates are stories that describe the lives of my ancestors, in the context of the times and places they lived. I want to tell those stories to whoever wants to hear them, just like my Great Grandpa Keener would have done.