Sometime ago a dear friend Margaret Bruce Gilmore wrote me the letter,
which follows. It captures beautifully and poetically what to me genealogy is all about.
"Yancey, I've read your Genealogy publications with much interest. You've done a
lot of work, and I'm certain a lot of people's interest has been whetted to fill in,
remember and report. Several people I know are collecting family facts. The project seems
to grow...and grow...and I can see how such a project would become sort of a compulsion,
because it is like a story that is never quite finished...so many people's lives, so many
Your skills in collecting people and in writing come into focus in a way
that is interesting and valuable to a great many people. If you remember, one of the
sessions of my "Journaling" classes, is about how to go about writing family
history. I'm a bit compulsive about trying to convince people they NEED to preserve
I'm of the opinion that to 'consider our heritages' is something very much needed by
Americans. We have disobeyed the Bible's teachings that we should not 'move the ancient
boundary stones'. So few things are considered sacred. So few of the ideals and standards
we once thought everyone knew and considered 'basic truths' are out of date...obsolete.
Our boundary stones, our anchors...have been moved, lost, or replaced. And where there are
no laws, there is no guilt...(Biblical, look it up). No wonder we are a 'nervous nation',
stressed and violent...Isaiah's first seven chapters reads like the morning paper.
I have a theory that to try to learn more about people of our past...to attempt to
'bring them to mind' so to let them 'speak to us'...is good. I think perhaps we are, in
fact, by calling them by name...talking and writing about them, giving them 'life' in a
mystical way...And our recognizing that they actually were once as we are today...living,
loving, trying to live life appropriately...appreciation of them translates to us in ways
that make us stronger, more 'settled'...more confident.
This came to my thoughts a few years back when, for the first time since I was four
years old, I visited my mother's grave. I found it after very little trouble. As I stood
there and read her name and the words, "Christ is My Hope"...I had this sudden,
clear impression that she knew I had come. I felt neither sad nor joyful. I simply
felt...at peace. It seemed I heard her clearly say, "Well, I knew you would come here
one day..." Not accusing, not complaining... simply a statement that seemed to round
out a part of me I had missed, but didn't know it was missing until that moment.
For as I stood there, nothing else was in my mind. I was focused on thoughts about what
I remembered about her and that this is the spot where my Mother's body was brought to
On a recent Sunday morning I sat for a quiet while in the churchyard at St. Michael's.
I focused my thoughts on the fact that around me were the remains of many people...REAL
people...whose lives had been lived...just as mine is being lived...and they had loved and
been loved and they had died and were at rest...but not forgotten...especially at that
I felt them, somehow...as if they were as they once were...infants, young people, old
people, famous people and people long forgotten...and my spirit was touched with a
softness, as if I'd entered a room full of friendly people.
I said a prayer of thanksgiving...then tourists began to come through and I left the
place where I had sat, thinking those people whose bones were beneath those stones...their
spirits and mine...had shared precious moments...I said a silent good bye to friends I
have never met in the flesh.
Yancey, what you are collecting and writing will, in a sense, someday become 'boundary
stones' to your grandchildren and to the grandchildren of the people you have written
about. To know about our ancestors is to know more about us. Their values and their
beliefs, their strengths and their talents can be linked to generations to come, by way of
your diligent gathering of information."