How Does an Ordinary Person Win a Place in History?
This question was posed by the pioneering social historian of the American Revolution, Alfred F. Young. It was written in the introduction of his book, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, in 1999.
|George Robert Twelves |
Hewes ~ the ordinary man
of the American Revolution
With all the controversy that has surrounded historical monuments recently, I felt it was important to remember why and how the monuments came to be in the first place. His quote in its entirety answers this question more thoroughly:
"How does an ordinary person win a place in history? It has a lot to do with the political values of the keepers of the past---who decides whose heroes and heroines school children learn about, what statues and monuments are erected, what historic buildings are saved, and what events are commemorated.
Take the few ordinary people of Boston in the Revolution about whom we have even a smattering of knowledge. Paul Revere was best known in his own time as a silversmith and a leader of the mechanics of the North End, but in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem he became a legend as the horseman who warned Lexington that the "British are coming," hardly his most important accomplishment. Yet he is honored in a equestrian statue. A monument to Crispus Attucks, a half-black, half-Indian sailor, and the four other victims of the Boston Massacre was erected only after a forty-year campaign by the city's African American community for recognition of their role in the Revolution and over the opposition of leading members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who considered them "ruffians" of the "so-called Boston Massacre."
Blogging the "Ordinary People"
Over the course of the last three years or so of my blogging, I have met some wonderful fellow genealogy and history bloggers online. I have read countless posts about the "ordinary people" of whom we claim as our ancestors. Although I have also enjoyed reading blog posts regarding famous ancestors, it is the "ordinary people" that capture my attention the most.
The "ordinary people" are the ancestors that have built something out of nothing by sheer determination and hard work. They are the ones that, day by day, made decisions and lived lives that influenced their friends, neighbors, and descendants in large and small ways.
For every leader like Martin Luther King, Jr., there was an "ordinary person" like Rosa Parks making just another decision in her life. If it wasn't for her one decision, she would not be remembered today in our history books.
|Rosa Parks ~ an ordinary|
person who refused give
up her seat on a segregated bus
Some of our ancestors chose to leave family and friends behind in another country to move to America. Some chose to fight for our country, to change religions and follow husbands across the country. Some made the decision to stay and farm the land their ancestors had farmed before them. These decisions all affected our lives.
What Can I Do to Help Tell Their Stories?
If you are a genealogy blogger, continue telling the stories of your "ordinary" ancestors. I enjoy talking about my 9th great-grandfather, Hans Herr, who was the first Mennonite bishop in America. However, he is well-known in the Lancaster County, PA area and beyond. I also like writing about my husband's Mayflower ancestors.
However, the family stories that will never be known past this generation if they are not shared are beyond count. Little stories, or big, these are the ones that are truly priceless.
Just a Few of My Own Family Stories:
- When my grandparents married in 1929, the men and women still sat on opposite sides of church. That is, until my grandfather decided he was going to sit with his new bride, and changed a long-standing unwritten church protocol.
- My great-grandmother's sister was a newlywed of only 10 months when she died of the 2nd wave of the Spanish Flu.
- My 4th great-grandfather was a fifer in the American Revolution.
- My grandmother had four brothers in World War II, all in different areas, at the same time.
Monuments to "Ordinary People"
I would like to give a very big shout out to websites, such as Heather Wilkinson Rojo's Honor Roll Project, who are providing ways to share and celebrate "ordinary people". Monuments are all around us honoring the men and women who have fought for our country over the years. To make the names of these "ordinary people" searchable, Heather has created a place where these military honor rolls have been transcribed and photographed. According to the website, "The transcribed names make the soldiers available for search engines, so that descendants, family members and friends can find them on the internet."
|World War II Memorial|
Blogger or not, please continue to share the stories of the common man, the "ordinary people". There are more than enough articles and books on the likes of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other great men. But the stories of people like Basil Biggs (theroot.com), Bill Garrett (news.iu.edu) or Capt. Ephraim Kibbey (This Hoosiers Heritage) are lost to time.
- Genealogy and History bloggers, tell these stories. Whether they are your ancestors or mentioned in a book you found, find ways to tell their stories. If it does not match the topic of your particular blog, please pass it on to someone else who may have the passion to research it and share on their blog.
- History Buffs & Blog Readers, share these stories whenever you happen upon them. I first heard of Basil Biggs as I was watching an episode of Finding Your Roots, and Capt. Kibbey as I was looking at a book on early Indiana trails. Share links to the blogs you read on FB, Twitter and more. Follow and bring traffic to the blogs that celebrate the "ordinary people".
It is now 2020. With technology on our side today, it no longer "has a lot to do with the political values of the keepers of the past who decides". We are the decision-makers now.
We decide. We celebrate. We write.
We blog. We share.
(Source: Introduction [Introduction]. (1999). In A. F. Young (Author), The shoemaker and the tea party: Memory and the American Revolution. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, p. vii, intro.)