Looking for a Reason Why

Looking for a Reason Why

In my last post I wrote about 1 of 5 reasons why a supposedly sane person would get involved in genealogy (you can read about it here.) Really, what is so great about digging around in the past? Well, here is Reason #2 ala Janet Hovorka:

“It gives me a sense of purpose and a feeling that I can do it.”
Mamie and Papa were my great grandparents.  
Anna Mae Atteberry Brown and Herbert Brown

Mamie was a true matriarch and ruled her domain with strength, love and lots of Southern food.
Papa was a man of few words, enterprising and devoted to Mamie. Papa had been a coal miner and if that wasn’t hard enough he did it in dirt poor Alabama. When that life began to effect his health, Mamie said ‘enough.’

They became migrant farm workers, and Papa worked his way up to be farm supervisor. They picked their way through Michigan and then through Yuma,AZ until they settled in Sebastopol, California. Mamie and Papa survived coal mining, migrant farm working, a death of their infant baby boy, two world wars with 2 sons serving in it, the crash and the resulting depression.

When their bank failed and they lost everything, Mamie and Papa did not let that stop them. Mamie sewed pockets into the hems of the living room drapes and from then on they put their savings into those pockets. Mamie gave strict instructions that ‘if the house ever catches a’ fire – grab them curtains!’
Papa plowed up their small backyard’s plot and planted a huge garden, saying ‘you can’t eat grass.’ Papa was always looking for a way to support his family, regardless of the economy. He drove the old truck out to the farm communities and bought a load of watermelons and then drove back to town and sold them on the street corner for 10 cents a piece. I guess he knew that even when times are tough, people are still going to want to eat ice cold watermelon on a summer’s day.
Years later, due to the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and government cutbacks, my husband was laid off from work. We had just bought a new house, the holidays were approaching soon and I was extremely worried about how we would make ends meet…. and then, I remembered Mamie and Papa

I thought of all the hardships they had faced over their lifetime. Through it all, they raised a loving family, they were known for their love for each other and had survived with so much less than what I had been blessed with. Somehow I knew, that deep within me was the same strength that Mamie and Papa had. That if they could overcome their setbacks, so I.

Stories like these are why I do genealogy. My ancestor’s stories enrich my life and remind me that if they can do it – I can too!
The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future.
– Stephen Ambrose, 1936-2002


  1. great post sister. Thanks for making them come alive. We didn’t get to know them in life, but thank you for helping me to know them now. No wonder we are such stubborn lot. We have come from forged steel.

  2. Beautiful. I get alot of strength from my grandparents who lived through the depression and WWII too. My Grandfather always had to have 10 of everything; everything had to be bigger and better than normal when I knew him because he was always hedging his bets against hard times. After my Uncle and Aunt and my Mom divided everything up when he died, my Uncle was detained in the airport because of all the gold coins he was trying to take home. LOL. It is so good to come from good tough stock isn’t it? And it is so good to know that we are tougher than we sometimes think we are.

  3. Such a great story–and you’re a good storyteller! Many of the circumstances were endured by my grandparents. It’s important that we remember their fortitude, endurance and strength and to realize that love and family can prosper even in those conditions. Thanks for your endearing story.

  4. Loved this story. Stories like this are why we do genealogy.

  5. Thanks everyone. Everyone who knew Mamie and Papa loved them. It makes me smile to think there are a few more who get a chance to know and love them still.

  6. Beautiful story — and it certainly answers the question of “why”!

  7. Let me know if you want your amazing family story and all those lovely pics turned into a film! http://www.silverscenesproductions.com

  8. Valerie, this brought tears to my eyes. It touched my heart and made me reminisce about all of the hardships our ancestors survived. You are a wonderful story teller!

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