When is the last time you looked at your family tree chart and thought about the dash? The dash as in: Edward Raymond Kelsey 1886-1972 or Rachel Cox 1827-1870. The dash represents everything between birth and death. You might know a lot about your ancestor’s life or you might know a little. Your family tree chart doesn’t know or care how much you know, all it provides is the dash. It’s up to us as family historians to discover the rest of the story.
I mentioned this concept of “the dash” in my family history class a few weeks ago and a class member clued me in to the poem by Linda Ellis titled “The Dash.” She writes of the importance of our time here on earth, “how we spend our dash.” Since writing the poem in 1996 “The Dash” has been read, recited, memorized by people the world over. In 2005, Linda Ellis in collaboration with Mac Anderson of Simple Truths published a small book, The Dash, Making a Difference with Your Life. The illustrated book begins with the poem then elaborates on several of the themes. Simple Truths has since created a You Tube video of the poem from the book. Take 2 minutes and 47 seconds to watch the video and think not only of your own life but of the lives that have gone before you.
As family historians, we feel the responsibility to portray our ancestors accurately. If we do stumble upon a letter or journal that gives us insight into their souls, we treasure that document, but sometimes we don’t have much to go on. We might start with only a few records, but if we keep digging we can enrich our understanding of their lives in ways we never imagined. We can research the time and place they lived. Often others left diaries or letters that give us insight into challenges our ancestors faced. We can reexamine the records we have located and look for clues that might lead us to new records. Most importantly, we can be open minded about our ancestors. They weren’t perfect. They just lived their lives. But each life is unique and each ancestor deserves to be remembered, with more than just a dash.
Writing this blog has given me a vehicle to explore and tell the stories of many of my ancestors, but you don’t have to write a blog to share stories. You can write a life sketch of your ancestor for their detail’s page on FamilySearch. You can create a photo book illustrating their life. You can make a short video with pictures and audio. The possibilities are endless. Nicole and I are passionate about creating and sharing family history.
It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Start simple. Choose an ancestor you are drawn to. Learn all you can about them. Discover them. Replace their dash with those things that gave meaning to their lives. Share their story. I promise you won’t be sorry!
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!
My grandfather, Charles Leslie Shults, in the center of his siblings
Antlers, Oklahoma circa 1915