Recently I heard a story about my great-grandfather I never knew before, although I am nearly 60 years of age. I knew part of my heritage was German, but never knew exactly how my mother’s paternal side of the family came to America.

My uncle, who traces our family’s roots, told me how my great-grandfather who was in the German Navy went AWOL when his boat docked in Cuba. It appears great-grandpa “borrowed” a small fishing boat and set sail for Florida. A storm shipwrecked him onto one of the Florida Keys that was uninhabited. Thankfully, he found some tomatoes growing and survived for a week until fisherman from Florida, who frequented the island, found him. He already spoke English and was able to convince the men he was a stranded fisherman from Florida and he needed them to take him back there. He found a bride in North Carolina, went to “settle the west,” and ended up having my Grandfather in Montana. My family still has an original land marker that was used to homestead a plot of land when the west was being settled.

November is Family Stories Month and since family commonly visit during November and December it is a good time to make a list of questions for the older folk in the family and keep the history of the family alive.

It might be a good idea to email or text family members beforehand and allow everyone time to collect their thoughts. Someone can write down the memories and perhaps make some form of written documents to pass onto future generations. Taking videos of family members telling tales of the past is another way to keep the past in the present.

Find out what everyone’s first job was or as about the romantic stories of how they found their mates. What school was like in their day or about how new inventions such as the television made changes in their lives. Did they ever meet anyone famous? Ask about their hobbies or if they were present for any famous historical events? If there is no established family tree, be the first one to start making one.

The most important thing is to not let time disguise the family history into a state of oblivion. Even during this time of pandemic, families who choose to social distance can do Facetime, Skype, or Zoom and still keep in touch and keep the memories alive.

Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.

— Marla Ballard’s Master of Disguise normally appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions.

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