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Why Research?

Maddox Genealogy - Why research our Ancestry?

Why do we research genealogy, anyway?

Historical Perspective: Just who WERE those people we call ancestors and why should we care?

Many researchers just gather lists of names and dates of their ancestors.   Some spend a lot of time collecting this as if their hobby is just the search of details--like the collection of baseball statistics or bottle caps.  Genealogy needs to be more than that.  Consider Alex Haley's Roots.   The famous series on television some twenty years ago enticed many Americans of both races to study genealogy.  It was not the gathering and listing of Haley's ancestors that fascinated us!  It was the stories of the struggles of his people!  For many, it was the history of America not found in the textbooks and so Roots was an eye-opener even for those of us at middle age!

Historical Perspective tells us how our ancestors lived...and therefore, just who they were!  It's not enough to know when they lived but to understand them, we must also know how they lived.
That's not found in census reports!  We can get some ideas about life a century or two ago in ancestral wills.  Don't just read the names.  Read what they owned and considered valuable enough to hand down.  Read about the wars and hardship in history books or newspapers of their time.   When visiting a graveyard, why so many women died at the age of twenty--possibly in childbirth.  And so many children died at ages two and four.  Was there a diptheria epidemic in the town that took so many children?  These are clues to tell us how people lived and died as well.
If we focus only on the lists of names, our children will say,  "Humm, that's nice.  But what's for dinner?"   If you add the historical context to those names and dates, you will draw your children into the stories of how their ancestors lived and make your work live for them!  Make it teach them lessons on how they should live--and that's what we hope to teach our children!    Read on for an introduction to historical perspective on Maddox ancestors.

Which was the Greatest Generation?

To drive home this point, let's consider what America's generations faced.  Depending on your age, your father or grandfather was probably a WWII veteran.  NBC's Tom Brokaw suggested in a popular coffee table book that theirs was the "Greatest Generation."  My personal view does have something to do with genealogy, and I wonder if the WWII Generation really was the greatest?    Yes, they fought a just and fairly recent world war.  And we are very grateful they did their duty.  Most of us have been smart enough to tell them so before they died, as they are now by the thousands every month.

We've learned it was a war in which our fathers found no joy. We've seen it chronicled in dramatic films.  Some of our parents were even willing to think back and tell us a bit of what they remember.  Not all.    Have you noticed that some men find the memory still too painful?   They did their duty, did as best they could, endured it, and hoped they could come home in one piece.  Military graveyards show us not all did.

These WWII soldiers were also children of the Great Depression of 1929-1941.  They told us times were hard and sometimes they gave us examples.  My dad said his farm mother served sugar sandwiches to the hired hands.  And the city family members came out to the farm on Sundays....they killed a chicken so everyone could eat...for the city folks had no money to buy a good meal.  Yes.  They really DID walk a mile to school!    Billions of people on this planet live in hardship because they don't live in America.  It's as hard for us to understand that as it is for us to understand how our grandparents lived their childhoods in 1932!

The World War II generation fought as young and even middle-aged adults.   We know all about the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Coral Sea and D-Day and Heroshima.  Movies were made of those.  But we have to look harder to find out what life was like during the Depression.  Times were very good in the 1920's.  But then the bottom dropped out in 1929 and millions of people lost their jobs...and then their houses!  Breadlines.  Sugar sandwiches.  How many of us, even now, are just a few paychecks from being homeless?

Our grandparents stood in bread lines in the cities because there just was no work.   Most folks didn't care about Democrat or Republican issues.  They needed food!   When President Roosevelt created government jobs, people could then eat and that was a lot more important than politics.  Even today, the other party is somewhat careful about criticizing FDR because he saved millions of people from starvation through make-work programs.  The books say 1932 was the worst but the decade dragged on until the war broke out.  When the war was over, the Depression was finally over too.  We were so lucky because when the war ended, America was not left as a war-destroyed country.  Thanks to the soldiers and the fortunes of war, the nation was not touched by the bombs of World War II.

Victorious soldiers came back to a nation geared up for manufacturing weapons.  Factories that made tanks and planes in 1944 started making cars and new washing machines in 1946.   By and large, women who worked in the aircraft plants during the war did not go back home to raise their baby-boom children.  In 1946, working mothers became a permanent part of American life.  The WWII generation became single-minded with the idea of success and good times.  They remembered their Depression childhoods only too well and no one wanted to go back to the poverty days!

  • The war generation, back home now,  focused on "the American Dream" of raising kids, buying homes a car, and having a better life than was ever known before. Their baby boom children grew up knowing little of the war and nothing of the hard times of the 1930s.


    In the 1950s, science and technology advanced at the hands of this "greatest generation."  People don't realize how many new discoveries and products came because of the military and the cold war that followed with the Russians..  The cold war brought advances in grim weapons but it brought byproducts for everyday life, too.  The good times created a middle class of former soldiers who built new homes on the very edges of cities.  They were called "suburbs."

    Suburbs were just far enough away from the factories that the automobile and the oil that powered it were both guaranteed a permanent place in society.  Why?  Because in most American cities, people have built neighborhoods too far away from their jobs to take the bus to work!  Arab oil producers are smiling broadly for in America, there's no turning back.  We became a country based on the gasoline-powered car.
     This "Greatest Generation" in the 1950s and 1960s invented antibiotics, long range bombers, communication satellites, situation comedies, and the malls to sell both Barbie dolls and designer sneakers!  It wasn't long before many families had not one, but two cars and two full time jobs.  The government then built the interstate highways to link the cities and suburbs together.  And private enterprise built an advertising system to sell the Barbie dolls, the shoes, and the shopping malls where they were sold.  Eventually the advertising agencies realized that sex sold even toothpaste and so the seduction of American's soul began innocently enough on television.
    The baby boomer children born after the war were now young teens by 1958.  They came home from school to empty suburban houses because both parents wouldn't come home from work for another couple hours.  Moms didn't yet panic about "stranger danger" as seen on the news of the 1990s.  In those days, television was the after-school baby sitter.   No X rated movies because HBO didn't come until unregulated cable did in the 1980s.  What was allowed on television thirty years ago was not all that questionable.  Most baby boomer children in America never missed a meal and war was just a 'duck and cover' exercise in class before the kids went home to watch Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" at 5 o'clock.  Perhaps the Baby Boom Generation should have been called the First Television Generation.
    All of these innovations in an advancing society have seemed like such great accomplishments...and Tom Brokaw would suggest it was because of this generation born after 1920.   He calls it the "Greatest Generation."   But are they that special?  Or were they just lucky and happened to live in a society of emerging technology?   Just how horrible was World War II or was every war of the past just as horrible?  Were they really better than their ancestors, or did they just have better breaks?  And in the final analysis, did not the aging men of this generation who became corporate CEO's sell off America's prurient soul for a profit?  Whatever...we have learned ONE truth.  Innocence can never be put back in the box!

    So which generation was really the "greatest"?

    • Was it, instead, the PILGRIM GENERATION that came over here in the 1600's, leaving their kin forever back in England and Wales? 
      Most of them came came over as indentured servants to pay for their voyage.  They didn't inherit anything so what did they have to lose but to get on a ship and sail to a new land?  When they worked off the cost of their passage, and they managed to survive the winters, they got a parcel of Indian land and some seeds and tools.  They fought the Indians for it, settled the land, cleared the trees, built cabins, and endured starvation and disease from both bad weather and bad sanitation.  More than half of the 1600's generation died young in a harsh unwelcoming land.   Few of us today would trade places with them!

    • Was it the COLONIST GENERATION that survived the harsh 1600's into the next century? 
        They built homes and started towns and established a primitive civilization.  They started businesses, raised crops and formed a culture in this wilderness.  They established laws and built churches and roads.    They read Bibles to their children after the chores were done.  With no schools, the children who did learn to read, did so reading that Bible--the only book in the house.  These ancestors made peace with the Indians or ran them further into the wilderness.  They made furniture and tools by hand and learned specialized skills to sell goods and labor to each other. These ancestors also bought slaves kidnapped from Africa to do much of the hardest work.  Fully ten percent of Americans have a very different ancestral story--a story mostly untold because those who could write back then did not see the Negroes fit to record their ancestry.  The 'coloreds', after all were seen as property, like horses.  Who records the ancestry of horses?  That in itself, is a story of its own.
    • Was the greatest generation the PATRIOT GENERATION which grew up in colonies of the late 1700's.  They founded a great nation built on a new notion of freedom?
        It was the generation that rebelled against distant England.  Overtaxed, they fought an unpopular war of Independence for this concept of "freedom".   That was a risky stand back then.   It took courage to speak against the British who were running things.  A man went to jail, lost his property, or his life for speaking too freely.  Many kept silent about the King and those who we now call 'patriots' fought at great personal risk to run the Brits out of our land.  This generation, led by a handful of statesmen founded a nation that redefined government and the concept of rights, although it took another hundred years, or more, to broaden its meaning to make a more inclusive and color blind  "We the people...."
    • Was it the PIONEER GENERATION of the early 1800's which moved west into Indian country and established new states where only wilderness was? 
      These were people who followed treacherous mountain trails with their families so they could built farms in the middle of nowhere.  There were no doctors and those which were, couldn't do much anyway.  Our pioneer ancestors were on their own in the wilderness.  For a time, the British were paying bounties to Indians for pioneer scalps.  But the pioneers homesteaded in groups to protect themselves as best they could.  Their children farmed or started small businesses in tiny towns built from the fortresses that once protected them from the Indians who resented their presence.


      It may not have been in our school textbooks but we've learned later that the westward settlement was really a land grab of territory occupied for ten thousand years by Indian tribes.  The primitive hunter and gatherer tribes had no chance to to keep their land from the more advanced Europeans.  Those not killed were eventually rounded up and segregated to reservations.  And still, there were the black slaves who did much of societies' building but who didn't get to keep the fruits of their labors.  Both stories still make many of us uncomfortable whether we are descended of color or not.

    • Was it the CIVIL WAR GENERATION born around 1830-40 which became divided over the issues of slavery and moral questions of individual rights and community economies? 
      Those who fought, did so for one side to preserve the Union or the other to preserve rights of states and slavery that made their regions prosperous.  This generation lost fathers and sons by the tens of thousands in the most bloody battles ever waged on this continent--not for land, but again, for conflicting ideas.   This could well be America's darkest hour when brother fought brother and states fought each other.  Much of America--especially the rebellious South-- was destroyed as the country battled itself.  The Southerners tried to secede from the Union and the North fought to prevent them from doing so.  It was really about preserving slavery although some modern Southerners still deny that and suggest it was about the greater sounding cause of "state's rights".  Southerners, even of later generations have not fully gotten over the war although they have in growing numbers.  Even so, true Southerners still do not fully admit defeat and to a large extent, they now keep their attitudes about former slaves  to themselves.  Blacks in the south have elbowed their way into the mainstream of Southern life, much to the resentment of the more traditional white establishment.  In the South, times are changing over the last generation and the change has a lot to do with racial attitudes.

    • Was it the IMMIGRANT GENERATION born after 1860, the one made up of a huge group of new European immigrants who also left their parents in Europe? 
      The big immigration influx was between 1880 and 1920 when millions passed the Statue of Liberty by ship to arrive at the port on Ellis Island, New York.They arrived with little and struggled to learn the language.  Many even changed their foreign-sounding names to fit in better.  They made the eastern cities very crowded and for a time moved into ethnic neighborhoods where they could help each other start new lives.  But they became much more "American" in time and they blended so that except for surnames, one cannot detect their children's ancestry.  Many of these immigrants moved west to build railroads, settle the plains and mountain states.  They were hard workers.
        Most of us don't realize that early America really smelled bad and death to disease was commonplace because of lack of sanitation.   This was the generation that built public works projects in cities to get the fresh water in and the garbage out.   Until that time, dogs, cats and rats roamed freely to get rid of the street garbage.   And there were also those who tried to pick up the pieces of the South after the Civil War destroyed their society and their economy for several generations to come.  Like those before them, this generation's hands were not always clean either, but their sacrifice and hard work is not questioned.
      British born Americans were finishing off the settlement of the West.  Indian bands not yet subdued were rounded up and put on reservations.  This generation built railroads to finish linking all parts of the nation and the nation's range land was eventually fenced off and parceled into farmland.  Cities grew larger and buildings grew taller.
    • Was the greatest the INVENTIVE GENERATION which lived through the turn of the 20th century?  It brought a new society, civility and organization to the west.
        Those born well after the Civil War, around 1880,  were young adults when the century turned and they wired the country with electricity and more public utilities.  This generation developed schools for children and built better roads, impressive bridges, and railroads to bring commerce from coast to coast.  The pioneer days were over and this generation brought America an infrastructure where people could more easily travel beyond the county in which they were born to live in safety never before known by the homesteaders.   The roads and public works inventions set the stage for the next generation...which moved by the millions from farm to crowded cities.
    • Was it the WORKER GENERATION that fought WWI and migrated  to cities to work in factories?  
      Business was good in a nation that was hungry for commerce.  For workers born after 1900 or so, it wasn't so good.  By 1920, theirs was the struggle against the early powerful businessmen who had invented mass production even though business was good..  Child labor laws and women's right to vote were passed and workers organized into labor unions to stop worker abuse.   Today, we enjoy the benefits of some of these political struggles--and some of those struggles were bloody.   This generation prospered, began aviation and wireless communication, and made motor vehicles available to the middle class.  This generation prospered only to lose much of it in in 1929 during what was to become the great Depression.  Everything fell apart and millions found themselves out of work, standing in bread lines to feed their families.  The crops failed, the weather was also terrible, and it was a miserable time.  It lasted for some twelve long years until America was rescued by World War II. Depression life for our grandparents was so bad, President Roosevelt's visionary government had to step in to put them to work on public projects, lest they starve.  They built schools, roads, and public buildings that lasted for fifty years.  Many still stand today.
    • Was it the WORLD WAR II ("GREATEST") GENERATION which grew up in the Depression, fought a world war, and return to build the biggest consumer superpower in world history?
        This group born from 1910 to about 1925, now called the Greatest Generation, built a  modern society based around cars, planes and mass merchandising.  The WWII generation became a generation of consumers and discoverers in 1946.  They  invented modern medicine, suburbia and commuting to offices where commerce was done by tidy employees of both genders.  They passed Civil Rights laws in the sixties, modernized schools, and waged the Cold War without managing to kill us all.  In an historic moment, they landed a couple men on the moon in 1969 just to see if it could be done.  While the people of this generation did great things, they struggled over race relations and, some say, were too preoccupied with success to teach their children the values they themselves had learned when they were young..
    • Will it be said the Greatest Generation will be the Technical "BABY BOOMER GENERATION" or GENERATIONS X or Y.  It's too early to declare it yet.  We, born after 1945, were the benefactors of the inventions of the WWII generation.  Ours has taken the twentieth century advancements from what they gave us to light speed.  By comparison, with so many discoveries humans can no longer keep up with them, even on the Internet we have begun.   It's not all been good.  The boomers rebelled in the sixties by taking drugs and turning to rebellious rock and roll music.  Their children did more of the same and American society took on a hedonistic outlook.  There was Vietnam, no small distraction for the post-war baby boomers.
      (For those who weren't told, the "Baby Boom"  started promptly in 1946, some nine months after the end of the War.  It was the big increase in births which followed the return of American soldiers who came home after World War II.)   The war had left a terrible mark on those who fought and returned but they were quick to rejoin American society and if 1945-46 was a big year for marriages, that year and the two or three after were the big years for births.  And five years later, those boys and girls hit the school systems which started crash projects to build new schools and hire new teachers to accommodate the kindergarten class of 1951.
      Years later, many baby boomers struggled with race relations even after the slaves were freed 150 years before but as they graduated from high school, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and the fundamental separatism between blacks and whites ended by law.  We have watched America's industries go overseas to cheaper labor nations, our generation has generally not yet known hunger and bad times have been only temporary.
  •   More than any other generation in American history, this one has had more opportunity and been free of the kinds of hardships and distractions others have faced.  Children could be children, and in the main, could make of themselves what they wanted to be.   Their government now provided even school loans for those whose parents didn't have the money.    Few post war children experienced real hunger and most all had the opportunity to education though many, it's said, threw it away by not taking it seriously.   Even so, today's adults are still the most literate in human history even if not the most serious in attitude.  If a child was so driven within himself (or herself), even parental poverty would not deny that child entry into a college on money borrowed and guaranteed by the government!
    Compared to the rest of the world, America in the last half the century has been free of both disaster and war on its soil.  We were secure enough to build our nation.   Secure, even though the nuclear missiles pointed at us through most of our lives, secure even though the San Andreas Fault lays quietly to choose its own time, and secure even though our financial stability is controlled by economists in tall office buildings.   What happened?  The news just two years before now was preoccupied with a presidential indiscretion involving one Monica Lewinsky.
  • The politicians and the newsmen let us down!

    As Republicans appeared on CNN every night for four years trying to bring Bill Clinton down, terrorists were learning how to fly airliners into buildings.  The Republicans don't remind us of that.  Even on September 10th, 2001, the cable newsmen were preoccupied bringing down California congressman Gary Condit.  That poor sap had had an affair with a missing intern and newsmen like Connie Chung speculated then that Condit surely must know more.   The woman's body was eventually found but Condit was not linked to it by police, despite the news media's speculation.  His career was ruined over his affair but no matter.  The story was dropped abruptly the next day because finally, some better news crashed into their laps at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a desolate field in Pennsylvania.

     Usually covering every possible angle of every possible story, the news media is QUICK to NOT remind us that they were focused for months on political sex scandal rather than the winds of war.  The media can afford to be distracted by sex scandals and missing kids.  But we do NOT pay our leaders to pander to ratings.  We pay them to lead us--especially in dangerous times when dictators have terrible weapons and threaten to use them or sell them to others.

    One wonders how our leaders could break their sacred trust to safeguard our nation?  How can they be so distracted with the "politics of personal destruction" in an era of "weapons of mass destruction"?  Surely they, and the media which benefits from such distractions, hope we have a short memory come election day.

    What were they doing the day before that sunny morning in New York when the planes brought down two tall buildings filled with American civilians?    They were going on CNN.  They were definitely NOT reading their intelligence reports!  And their cohorts in the crime, the media, will not ask them such embarrassing questions.

    Later as the war in Iraq loomed, the debate on television should not have been what to do about Michael Jackson or what we think of Joe Millionaire.  We should instead have debated whether or not to take out Saddam Hussein before he buys his plutonium from North Korea and takes out Tel Aviv or New York.   Newsmen, focused only on tonight's story, generally lack the historical vision to cover really big stories until they're slapped in the face with them.

    The Politicians and the Newsmen let us down.  And now our sons and nephews and neighbors will have to fix it the hard way in far away places called Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq.


    The era of Terrorism

    On September 11, 2001, America's feeling of security changed when foreign terrorists showed  on live television that life is not so secure here, even in modern times.    We still live in the shadow of that horrific event so we cannot know if the date will just be a footnote in history, or the beginning of a new era in world history.  That history is not yet written as it is has been for our ancestors.
    The real point about our modern generation is that our history has not yet been written and yes, we are a little worried about how things will turn out for us!  But yet, we can look to our ancestors who always lived in troubled times.  How did they handle it?  Let them speak to us and inspire us...so we know how to live with troubled times today!

    What about this Genealogy?

    We sit in our heated and air conditioned homes with enough idle time to wonder which of our ancestors was the "Greatest Generation"!   Generations past were too busy to contemplate such questions!  Few of our ancestors even knew much about their ancestors.  They had no time to learn it!    They were too busy clearing the land, building homes, finding food, fighting wars, and burying their young.
    Women just a hundred years ago were less concerned about personal fulfillment than about cooking the food all day, baking bread in a difficult stove, churning butter until her hands were sore, and making and repairing the clothes.  Without both man and woman, a family could not survive.   Divorce was out of the question.   There was too much for one adult to do in raising a family.
    Have we noticed as we read the wills, that when one ancestor died, the other married quickly, just so the family home could survive?   Have we noticed as we look at where families lived and died,  they didn't move around much?    The "extended unit" of brothers and cousins was too important,  They needed each other.  People then could not buy the finished goods they need, they had to make them, often with the help of their parents and siblings and cousins.
    When I see a Maddox male's name, and birth date of 1830, I think of a robust man who worked hard to build his home with bad tools and wood with bark on it, and provide food for his wife and children.  And when I see a Maddox female's name, I think how hard she worked to prepare the food, make and clean the clothes, and pray not too many of her children died of diphtheria.  Our genealogy lists reveal that of the six or eight children born, which we matter of factly call their 'issue' most families lost children to early death.  I wonder how parents could endure the loss of so many beloved, beautiful children.  And how lucky we are not to have faced that in our time.  This is yet another lesson we learn in studying genealogy!

    How to Make Genealogy Come Alive--and make it truly useful to us today.

    As we tell our descendants about their ancestors, tell them these things!   If anything, the stories of their ancestors will inspire them to know that they can do if times get hard.  They'll learn it is deep within us to survive and make the best of of it.  That we have far more untested stamina than we think we do and it'll come out when we need it.  These are the lessons of studying genealogy.  Otherwise, what's the point of collecting it?

    An essay written by:
    B Maddox


    Most photos on this page from Chronicles of America, Jacques LeGrand, Publisher, Prentiss-Hall

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