Genealogy Gem: Capturing Your ‘Favorite’ Uncle
Everybody has one – or more I their genealogy! From Uncle Sam, our nation’s favorite, to yours, it seems every family has a ‘favorite’ uncle. I’m lucky that I have and have had a couple in my life. When I was very young it was my Uncle Jim and later in life it was my Uncle Chuck.
It is one of my favorite aspects of working on my personal genealogy. I really enjoy thinking back, asking family members about, and capturing the stories of our ‘favorite’ uncles.
As I think back on my own family, I realize in hindsight the interesting mix that comes together in making a favorite uncle.
First: Our uncles are adults who we bond with in a unique manner as youths. In my case, this bond was often forged over some unique aspect of this relative. I well remember that with my Uncle Jim, our relationship began when I was very, very young and was mesmerized by the fact that he could blow perfect smoke rings with his almost ever-present cigar.
Second: These uncles, while holding a position of ‘adult power’, tended not to wield that power in quite the same fashion that a parent, grandparent, or older sibling did. They might chide me over some error on my part, but it was almost always with a sparkle in their eye and not too heavy a reprimand.
Third: These uncles were more approachable than many of the other adult members of our families. I will readily admit to the fact some of my uncles were a bit, shall we say, less approachable. Aloof and not particularly approachable. Our favorite uncles were different. There was something about their aura, their mannerisms, their smile, their eyes, or something else that seemed to say to us ‘come on over, sit with me, and let’s talk’. Again, with my Uncle Jim, this was true. Here was a big man who spent a good deal of his life aboard U.S. Naval ships as a Chief Bos’n. Tattooed in an era when they were viewed as far more exotic and a greater rarity than today, his voice was gravely, low, and booming when he laughed, which was often. When we would gather, he invariably had a Bohemian beer in one hand and a cigar in the other. In spite of these traits that scared off many of my fellow younger family members, I was always sidling up to Uncle Jim every chance I had.
Fourth: There was often something magical about a favorite uncle. In the case of my Uncle Jim, he would frequently lapse into speaking Czech when the extended family gathered and while I did not know the subject matter being discussed, it always intrigued me because, more often than not, these sessions would end in gales of laughter by those ‘in the know’ with their Czech. He also had stories – marvelous stories! Many of these revolved around his years of being in the Navy, which began when he lied about his age and enlisted at only 14. Let me just say that my favorite centered on the time he was shipwrecked, eating raw horsemeat, and, once rescued, a never completed tattoo of a ring on his finger.
A bit later in my life one of my aunts and uncles moved in two doors down from us when they returned from living in northern Scotland and so began a whole new ‘favorite uncle’ for me with my uncle Chuck. In the case of Uncle Chuck I found myself the beneficiary of his many lessons that helped me immensely in getting prepared to leave college and enter the world of work, a wonderful friendship, what true compassion looked like when it was acted upon, and he taught me cottage cheese is, indeed, a delicious side dish if you will just try it (and add salt and pepper).
Did you have a favorite uncle?
If you were lucky enough to have a favorite uncle, I suggest you be certain to document this in your family tree, record your reasons, lessons learned, and the stories you have about them. It just makes our genealogy that much more fun.
And it must might come in quite helpful beyond your genealogy as my sister-in-law recently pointed out to me. She was logging into a website and the security question was “Who was your favorite uncle?”
Onward To Our Past