Sisters as sources

My mother and her siblings.

Each year, on the first Sunday in August, we celebrate National Sisters Day. Growing up together, we often take our sisters for granted. The older we become, the more we tend to cherish our shared experiences and the more we realize that our sisters (and the sisters in each generation) may hold the keys to learning more about our direct ancestors.

My sister and I share responsibilities as memory keepers for our family – but in unique ways. She has the better long-term memory and naturally keeps the oral tradition of events in her lifetime and stories she’s heard from older generations. With my research experience, I am the keeper of written and recorded family history. Thinking to the future, I have interviewed my sister to record those events and stories she stores in her memory. She in turn has quilted tee-shirts from my youth so that I can bundle up in memories anytime I wish.

All of the women in my family have been influenced by their place amongst their siblings. My mother is the second of six siblings but the eldest of the four sisters. They always looked up to her, whereas she often had to follow her older brother’s lead.

My paternal grandmother and her sisters.

Both of my grandmothers had multiple sisters but no brothers. One was the eldest of four, like Louisa May Alcott’s famous Little Women. The other was the second of five, like Jane Austen’s Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice. Growing up with all females must have shaped them. As in the novels, the older sisters learned a great degree of responsibility because they had to care for and support their younger sisters in environments that were less than ideal for female independence.

Since my maternal grandmother has passed away, I have interviewed her youngest sisters, the twins, for stories about her, their relationship to each other, and older relatives they remember. One sister even consented to take a DNA test so that we could have an idea of my grandmother’s genetic inheritance.

*

Outside of my own family, a sister helped establish a Smith family from Orange County, New York. With such a common surname, we were not certain of the links between Gabriel D. Smith (ca. 1806–1885) and other members of the Smith family. Gabriel’s probate records mentioned money owed to his sister Mary A. Smith.[1] She made her will on 27 August 1885, naming her siblings’ children and grandchildren as her heirs. The heirs included Gabriel’s sons, Moses and Benjamin Smith.[2] Gabriel’s death record did not include his mother’s maiden name, but Mary’s did! They were the children of Moses and Hannah (Jaquish) Smith.[3]

As we celebrate Sisters Day, we can take a moment to thank all the sisters who helped our families bloom into the present and future generations.

Notes

[1] Orange Co., N.Y., Decrees, N: 422–24 [FHL 837,219].

[2] Orange Co., N.Y., Wills, 54: 20–22 [FHL 836,331].

[3]  N.Y. State Death Certificate #8970 (1885) and #18863 (1890), New York State Department of Health, Albany, N.Y.

About Kyle Hurst

Kyle, Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press, holds a B.A. in both history and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has a master’s certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University. With experience at the National Archives and Record Administration in Waltham, Kyle has worked on a wide variety of research projects as part of the Research Services team at NEHGS and, with Newbury Street Press, has contributed to a number of family histories. She has been credited for her contributions to The Root, TheRoot.com, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.

3 thoughts on “Sisters as sources

  1. I enjoyed your story. I find my sister recalls things that I don’t and she remembers when I was brought home from the hospital! On the other hand, I remember things that she doesn’t so, between the two of us, we make sense of a lot of things. Wish my brother was still here because, being the eldest, he would know things we didn’t. My sister isn’t involved in my family research but she is always the one who provides a willing ear and feedback on the things I discover.

    1. I am the youngest of five siblings, with 19 years difference between oldest and me. We all share in family memories from basically two generations. And yes, my oldest sister remembers when I cam home from the hospital too. Thanks for the reminder to get this stuff written down before it’s too late.

  2. Sisters can be helpful when looking for fathers, mothers, etc. I had a hard time finding info about my g-4 grandfather, but had his daughters married names. It takes time but I am finding some more information.

Leave a Reply