Adopt a Deceased Relative

by Tyrone Goodwin

Well, first of all, they're easier to get along with than the living ones!! (smile) They never complain, don't require expensive Christmas gifts, don't call collect, and cannot be dragged into an argument.

Plus, they have a lot to offer.

What? They can teach you about yourself. Here's how: Pick a deceased person in your family tree a great-great-grand-something. Or your grandmother's favorite uncle. Or a distant cousin who died in 1900. Find out as much about that person as you can. Ask the older family members what they remember about them. Ask Tyrone Goodwyn what information he has on them in the family history. What did they look like? Collect stories about things they did, to give you a feel for the kind of person they were. Would you have liked them? What was their family structure? Were they an only child, or one of many? Father live in the home, or single mother? Did they marry? How many times? Children of their own? Did they raise other people's children? What were their likes and dislikes? Where are they buried?

Okay, now you think you really know this person? Step Two: Look at the significant dates in their life. (Birth. Marriage or relationship. Military service. Their parent's death dates. Their own death.) Think about them. How do you think they reacted to their parent's demise? How old were they when they lost their last parent? Why do you think they married? Love? Social expectation? Nothing else to do? Did they want to go into the military, or were they drafted? What business did they leave undone back home while they went to fight? How did they feel about that? Why did they choose that particular mate? Was the person just close by? "Color-struck"? Because their brothers and sisters were marrying into the same family?

Lastly, what was happening in the United States while your friend was living? Did they have an opportunity to vote? How did they feel about that? Were they alive when all-Black Rosewood, Florida was burned? Did they hear about it? Read about it? Could they read? Were they living in North Carolina when the Black section of Wilmington was burned in the late 1800's? Did that scare them? Were they in danger? Were they living when the western-NC Cherokee were rounded up and marched to Oklahoma? What impact did that have to Indian-like people in the eastern part of the state? Did some of the hiding Cherokee hide with them? Did the NC Black Codes of 1829 restrict their family's ability to hunt for game and sell produce across county boundaries? Did that mean less food to eat?

Now you've got it! If you personalize an ancestor, you understand that American history is not just about "other folk". Those dates and events in history class had meaning for your people; and have meaning for you. When you take the time to map out how your friend reacted to the events around him/her, you will naturally reflect on how you react to the events around you. That is the gift that your ancestors have for you. It's a learning.

Young people can especially benefit from adopting a deceased relative. Their learnings can be applied to term papers, and to the decisions they make as they define themselves.

Pick someone that your oldest relative remembers. Fill in the knowledge gaps with the family history and your own library research. It would be nice to pick someone who had no children. This ancestor is less likely to have people sitting around remembering them. You can do that for them, so that their name and their lives will not be lost. Be their friend. It's a two-way street.

© Tyrone Goodwin 1997