The Fourth Generation is Where the Link Breaks in Passing Down Family History

Downing Family Cemetery

I wrote this post nearly four years ago. As I reread it I thought it’s just as true today as it was when I wrote it. In fact this post has given me a little extra motivational push as I start a new year of family research. After you read it let me know what you think!


I read Marian’s Roots and Rambles blog post regarding the Marisa Tomei episode of Who Do You Think You Are, a couple of weeks ago. An observation Marian made has stayed with me in these succeeding days.

In her blog post Marian concludes, “ . . . the fourth generation is where the link breaks in families.”  She goes on to say, “It may be that events such as immigration or early death are really the factors behind these breaks. But none the less by the fourth generation family history information is either lost, forgotten or morphed into something erroneous.”

Hmmm. I’ve turned this over in my mind several times, like while sitting in my car at a stop light, or emptying the dishwasher. You know what? That theory is a fact in my family. I know approximately three stories about one of my maternal great-grandfathers, nothing about his wife, my maternal great-grandmother, who died at 36 when my maternal grandmother was 16 years old. I know virtually zip about my other set of maternal great-grandparents. My knowledge of one set of paternal great-grandparents come from information gathered from newspaper accounts and legal documents. I do have a couple of stories about the other paternal great-grandmother from an aunt but nothing on her husband my other paternal great-grandfather.

We all have eight great-grandparents and the oral family history I have pertaining to mine could fit in a thimble, maybe two. My parents shared very little about family history with their children. To be fair I, along with my siblings didn’t care much about such things when my parents were alive and I believe my parents felt the past was simply the past and didn’t see the benefit of dwelling on it.

So my solution? I will continue the pursuit of my own family history. I will transcribe newspaper articles and legal documents. I will read county histories and land documents. I will sustain any snippet of a story I can coax out of an older family member but I will not allow the chain to be broken by me.

Yeah I know, my kids’ eyes may roll up in their head when I speak of my grandparents. They may even utter under their breath, “Not that again,” but I will share my grandparents’ and my parents’ stories.

It just may happen, in another twenty years, that they might decide they are interested in their own family history and one of my girls just may say to the other, “Remember when Mom talked about Grandma . . . . . “ and I’ll know, somehow I’ll know, I didn’t break the chain.

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