History is Our Story, too

History classes bored me when I was young. They seemed too focused on battles, obscure (at least to me) dates, and ancillary people who meant nothing to me. You know, the people “behind” the famous movers and shakers who defined history as we know it. To me, people such as Galileo Galilei, Henry XIII, Marie Curie, Abraham Lincoln, and Charles Lindbergh – they were worth knowing. Those who influenced, served, or fought alongside them, well, not so much. There was no point to memorizing a stream of dates, facts, names, and events that meant nothing to me.

Stories were more up my alley: fairy tales and myths, fiction and non-fiction, biographies, and family stories. Reading about people, their experiences, and their feelings was my escape from the world. Listening to family stories around the dinner table brought me back into it, wide-eyed and rapt in wonder at the marvelous things my grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles had seen, done, and thought, at times practically in my own backyard. The idea that these people made me who I was spurred a curiosity to learn as much as I could about them, and so began my lifelong love of genealogy.

History becomes more relevant and interesting when you have a personal connection. As we try to make sense of the world of our forebears, we begin to understand that their stories and the historical events and people behind them are also part of our own story. As American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written, “The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.”

With a growing curiosity to uncover more about my family and their stories, I paid closer attention to the surroundings and events that affected their lives. My youthful boredom with history transformed into a fascination with it and its relevance to my life and those before me as I began to look in new ways at my ancestors’ lives and motivations in the contexts of their time and place in the world.

Although as a California resident I knew a fair amount about the Gold Rush of 1849, it took on personal meaning through the family stories of my great-great grandfather, William Constantine McGinnis, who found gold, fell ill, and had to be nursed to health by his wife, Margaret McCoy, who sailed from New York to San Francisco around Cape Horn to be by his side.

I learned of the immigrant’s perspective on the same period from my husband’s own great-great grandfather, Eduard Baron, who left his family in the south of France during an economic depression to seek his fortune in California.

When we moved to Gilroy, about 30 miles south of San Jose, I set my sights on visiting the local historical society and museum. It was there I ran across mentions of two men named Tully, my husband’s surname. One was an ancestor, the other possibly his cousin. Both were early settlers. Researching their places in the history of Gilroy gave me added appreciation for my newly adopted hometown and surrounding area.

Our children didn’t have much of a chance to dislike history. I took every opportunity I could to connect them with historical events. They knew the stories about their Hoppin pilgrim ancestors; their ancestor Zachariah Riney, who taught Abraham Lincoln to read and write; and their Grandpa Bing being stranded in an airfield in Burma during World War II. History came alive for them and helped them gain a wider perspective of the world and how they fit into it.

In 1957, my father-in-law, Welner C. Tully, attended the opening and dedication of Tully Elementary School, named for his grandfather, Charles Hoppin Tully, an educator; and (adoptive) great-grandfather, Pinckney Randolph Tully, merchant and two time mayor of Tucson.  62 years later, two generations of Tullys journeyed to the school to pay our respects.
In 1957, my father-in-law, Welner C. Tully, attended the opening and dedication of Tully Elementary School, named for his grandfather, Charles Hoppin Tully, an educator; and (adoptive) great-grandfather, Pinckney Randolph Tully, merchant and two time mayor of Tucson. 62 years later, two generations of Tullys journeyed to the school to pay our respects.

Last March, on a family history sleuthing trip to Tucson, Arizona, my husband, one of our children, and I snapped pictures of each other in front of Tully Elementary School, named for my husband’s second and third great-grandfathers, Charles Hoppin Tully and Pinckney R. Tully; and gazed up at the ceiling of the old Presidio, made up in part from freight boxes from Tully & Ochoa, their mercantile company.

Charles H. Tully, an educator and journalist in early Tucson, understood well that the current events of his time would become the history of the future. In the late 1800s, he became the treasurer of the Arizona Historical Society, founded by Arizona pioneers committed to documenting the history of the Arizona territory for future generations. His own letters, in the society archives, give insights into the events, culture, and values of the day.

Recycled freight boxes from Tully & Ochoa, the largest freight company in southern
Arizona in the mid-19th century, form the ceiling planks of the Tucson Presidio.

If you don’t know any stories about your ancestors, start where you are. Ask a parent, a grandparent, or an uncle about their life or a recollection of how a historical event impacted them. Record their stories, in writing or electronically, to preserve the details. Ask a lot of questions. And prepare to be amazed.

Like us, our ancestors did not live in a vacuum, and we cannot learn about them without learning about the times in which they lived. Their dreams and struggles, their triumphs and tragedies, and their character and attitudes were shaped in some way by the historical forces that affected their everyday lives.

If we are to make sense of their lives and of who we are, because of, or in spite of them, we need to embrace their historical and cultural context, just as our own descendants will need to do years from now to understand us.

History may be about the past, but it is our story, too, and it is up to us to know and preserve it for future generations.

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Copyright ©  2020 Linda Huesca Tully

Echoes of our Ancestors

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)

Gilbert and Joan Huesca. 1958, Chicago, Illinois.


If you’ve ever thought about writing down your family stories, don’t overthink it or wait until the “time is right.”  Just do yourself and your descendants a favor.  Get busy and start writing.

Though I have been writing this blog for a dozen years, it took me six years until I was able to write about my parents, Gilbert and Joan Huesca. By then, my mother had been gone for  25 years, and my father had been gone for three. It is not easy to write about someone you love and miss deeply, so I expected to write three or four stories at the most over a couple of weeks.

But first I struggled with all the reasons not do it.  The hardest part was the sadness I felt when I sat down to write my parents’ stories. When you sit down to write about someone you miss so much, you risk letting your emotions get in the way and quelching your efforts from the start.  While it might be easier to sidestep the sadness by not writing about them at all, it was also healthier to work through it.  Moreover, it was reassuring to think there would be a lasting record of their lives, something that could endure, even if one day my memory were to fade.

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Amanuensis Monday: “Nuptial Blessings of Our Very Illustrious Lord”

Marriage Record of
José Cayetano de la Trinidad Huesca (1815 – after 1860)
María Josefa Rodríguez (1821 – 1897)

 

My paternal great-great-grandfather, José Cayetano de la Trinidad Huesca. Date unknown.

[Note:  Amanuensis is an ancient word meaning one who performs the function of writing down or transcribing the words of another.  Derived from the Latin root manu-  , meaning manual or hand, the word also has been used as a synonym for secretary or scribe.]

The above photograph (or is it a drawing?) of my great-great-grandfather, José Cayetano de la Trinidad Huesca, holds pride of place on a wall in our home.  Under his watchful gaze are photographs of his son, José Enrique Florentino Huesca, his grandson, José Alberto Cayetano Huesca, and his great-grandson – my father –  Gilbert Cayetano Huesca, along with others of our extended family.

My father received a 12″ x 24″ oval version of this portrait of Cayetano, as he was known, and another of his son, Enrique, from cousins during a visit to Jalapa, Veracruz, over thirty years ago.  It may be a crayon enlargement, which was a technique used to enlarge a smaller photograph.  It is hard to date the portrait, but based on his graying hair, and the fact that crayon enlargements were available beginning in the 1860s, I would estimate him to be at about 50 years old or more.

His lively eyes and his slightly parted lips suggest he wants to share something with us – perhaps the wonder of witnessing the growth of his eight children, or the joy he felt as he finished some of the wood furnishings he crafted for the grand Cathedral Basilica of Puebla in his profession as a carpenter.  Maybe he wants to share the insights he has learned about faith and family and life, insights into the wisdom and values that have flowed through the veins and permeated the conversations of subsequent Huesca generations to the present day.
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Happy Birthday, Mamma!

Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca
   1928 – 1987

My mother, Joan Huesca


Today, on this Fourth of July, as the United States turns 242 years old, my mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, would have turned 90.

We lost her 31 years ago this Fall.  Sometimes it seems as though I saw her only yesterday. Other times it feels like it was a lifetime ago.  But I always smile when I think of her on this day.

Having a birthday on Independence Day was an important part of my mother’s identity.  She used to say she was born with a bang; her uncle John McGinnis was so excited that he set off firecrackers under some of the overpasses in his neighborhood to celebrate.  As a little girl, she believed for many years that all the parades and firecrackers were just for her.
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It’s an Honor to Meet You…

(Originally published April 23, 2013, and updated June 1, 2018)

I am a proud member of Geneabloggers Tribe, and before that a member of its predecessor,  Geneabloggers, Thomas MacEntee’s web-based group of family history writers and genealogists.  It includes over 3,000 members – that’s 3,000 blogs –  from all over the world.  I joined in 2012 but have been fortunate enough to read hundreds of inspiring stories by some very talented people.

Thomas’ website was a rich repository for genealogy news, research and tech tips, writing prompts, and links to some of the best articles about genealogy you could read on the web.  One of the popular features on the site was called “May I Introduce to You…” written by fellow blogger Gini Webb of Ginisology.  Gini’s profiles on Geneabloggers were always a good read, like her blog.  Her interviews introduced me to fascinating new blogs, some of which I now follow regularly.
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He Gave Not Some, but All

John Francis Mattarocchia (1948 – 1969)

John Francis Mattarocchia, 1948 – 1969, from the Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces

I spent Memorial Day this year with my cousin, John. I came across him about eight months ago for the first time in the way distant cousins sometimes meet these days, on the Internet.   His name had just popped up, as names do, in the course of researching my mother’s Schiavone family history.  But I was with him in name only, because he was killed in action in the Vietnam War 49 years ago this month.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the eldest of four sisters, I was a young teenager with limited exposure to the war other than my parents’ conversations at the dinner table, my classmates’ occasional references to their brothers’ draft numbers,  and the latest developments on the six o’clock news.  Not until I grew older did I read numerous accounts of the conflict, many of them first-hand.  But I never knew anyone personally who had been there, odd as it might seem.
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Letter to My Great-Great Grandparents

 

Charles Jacques François Perrotin.        1884, New York

Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin.         1884, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dear Great-great Grandparents, François and Catherine,

A reminder popped up on my calendar today that you, Francois, died of meningitis 127 years ago, on May 25, 1891. It prompted me to reflect on your lives and the values you imparted to your descendants, now seven generations strong. As one of those descendants, I write to let you know of the special place we have for you in our hearts even now.

So much of who we are, we owe to you

So much of who we are and why, we owe to you. I can think of three of my father’s brothers, three of my cousins, two of my nephews, and one of my sons whose faces mirror yours, François. Catherine, your name has been passed down to so many women in our family – it is the name I chose for my Confirmation. And your fair features have endured, from my great-aunt Blanca on down, through my paternal aunts, cousins, and even in my immediate family, exquisite reminders of your grace and beauty.
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That Pioneer Spirit

Eduard Baron (1825 – 1921)

In the first half of 1848, as 22-year-old Eduard Baron pressed through the crowd onto the ship that would take him from his native France to America, he must have had been overwhelmed by a rush of emotions.  Whether he felt elation, anticipation, wanderlust, trepidation, or sadness at leaving loved ones behind, one thing was certain: there was no turning back.
California National Historic Trail, Nevada, by Bob Wick, 2006. Courtesy of  Bureau of Land Management. Creative Commons License, in the public domain. Eduard Baron and dozens of other 49ers from all over the world would have crossed this expanse of land on a wagon train expedition to California, hoping to find gold.

For some time, a sense of unrest had swept the country.  France had been in the throes of an economic depression, and the monarchy of Louis Philippe had restricted basic liberties such as the right to work and the right to assemble peacefully.

 

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Mystery Monday: The Distance between Two Pictures

Selma (Kangas) Tully (1894 – 1949)

 

Selma (Kangas) Tully, about 24
years old.  Anaheim, California,
November 24, 1919.

 

 

 

In this day and age, it is common to see hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photographs marking the great and small events of a person’s life. In the case of Selma Tully, however, we have a single photograph that leaves us to wonder about her life before and after it was taken.

Born April 22, 1894, in Yliharma, Finland, Selma Justina Kangas lost both her parents, Juho and Susanna (Ruuspakka) Kangas,  by the time she was three years old.  We have no inkling as to what happened to her between that time and the time she came to America. Chances are she probably moved between relatives as she was growing up.

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Motivation Monday: Look Up, Look Forward, and Lend a Hand

Matt Oskar Kangas (1876 – 1971)


Look up and not down; look forward and not back;

look out and not in; and lend a hand.

                      – E. E. Hale

Matt Oskar Kangas was born to overcome obstacles.

“That’s Life for You,” by Madjag.
Creative Commons; in the public domain
.

Matti, as he was known to all, was my father-in-law, Welner Tully’s maternal uncle. In a short memoir he wrote in his later years, Matti recalled growing up in western Finland during an era of poverty, pestilence, and famine.

By 1876, when he was born, Finland had recovered from the 1866-68 crop failure and famine that claimed some 270,000 lives, or 15% of the population.  However, it seems some areas of the country were still struggling. Matti’s home province of Vaasa was among those wanton areas.

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