The Best Bequest (#52Ancestors week 8: Heirloom)
Those of you who know me personally can probably attest to the fact that I am not a collector of “stuff.” I don’t like clutter and my home decor style could be described as minimalist, although my husband might argue that spartan is a more apt adjective. The only two things I am passionate about collecting are photographs and stories. Given this week’s writing topic of heirloom, there was only one possible item for me to share.
Eric’s paternal grandparents, Arthur and Mary Kathryn Wenger, created this book with the help of their family in 1999. Five years later, they made copies of the book for each of their five children for Christmas.
The page below explains the initiative behind the book and the joint effort it took to accomplish such a project.
L-R: Joyce Wenger, Alma (Becker) Wenger, Kristin (Hornberger) Wenger, Eileen (Diffenderfer) Wenger, Mary Kathryn (Heller) Wenger, Rita (Lentz) Wenger, Rosie (Wenger) Rohrer, Janelle (Frey) Wenger
I have to admit that I just squeaked into the Wenger family when the book was nearing completion, so my personal contribution was quite limited; however, I was in awe of the rich family history preserved within its pages.
There were wonderful old photographs of people accompanied by information about them in Eric’s grandmother’s own handwriting.
There were also photographs of the homes, barns, schools, churches, and shops that were important parts of their ancestors’ lives.
Grandpa and Grandma Wenger shared memories and stories that contained priceless details about themselves, their parents, and many generations before.
One page pictured the original sheepskin deed to the Wenger homestead farm, signed by the sons of William Penn, along with the story of their immigrant ancestors, Christian and Eve (Graybill) Wenger.
The following page provided a genealogy of the nine generations of Wengers to live on the homestead farm.
I was amazed. My husband, as part of the tenth generation in Lancaster County, had been given a rock-solid lineage and known heritage through this book that we can now share with our eleventh-generation children and beyond.
This book was a major spark in igniting my passion for family history research. My lack of even basic information about my family beyond my great-grandparents stood in stark contrast. In comparison, I knew nothing.
"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we have come from." – Alex Haley (Roots)
Since beginning my research journey, I have been able to trace my family (as well as my husband’s other lines) back much further in time. Some of my ancestors have been extremely challenging to find, but that makes finally discovering their lives all the more rewarding. While understanding where I have come from and how I fit into the story of the world is fulfilling, more importantly, it inspires me to make the most of the brief life I have been given and focus on what matters for eternity.
"A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives." – Dennis B. Neuenschwander
I will be forever grateful to the Wenger family for making it a priority to document their heritage. Almost twenty years later, with different technology and methods, I am hoping to provide my children and extended family members with that same gift.
"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other wings.” -Hodding Carter, Jr., journalist
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