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Every Personal Legacy Matters:
Sharing With Future Generations

That’s a poignant question, and my work as a personal historian has shown me that answers are completely different for each of us. One person defines their heritage by their grandmother’s cooking and their father’s favorite sayings. Another wants to preserve lessons learned through experience to pass on to future generations.

As “Who Do You Think You Are” episodes and Ancestry.com ads play across our television screens, personal historian services have been cropping up to help serve a growing tide of people wanting to get their own personal legacies down before it’s too late. In an afternoon of time, a client tells favorite stories, and a historian puts their words into heirloom book and video keepsakes. For me, this work is personal.

My legacy is intertwined in the journey to discover my birth parents. As an adopted child, when I married and had children of my own, my desire to know them intensified, and I petitioned the court to unseal my adoption records. This appeal took place during the 1970s, during a time when it was rare for such requests to be granted. I was crushed when my petition was denied, but felt in my heart that I shouldn’t give up.

Some 20 years later, my adopted mother passed away. While going through her paperwork, I found my original birth certificate. Armed now with the name of my birth mother and the hospital where I was delivered, I had sufficient information to begin an inquiry.

My birthmother’s family lived in Cincinnati, and my grandfather had worked there many years as a barber. I contacted the Ohio State Barber Board and requested information on barbers with my original surname who were licensed in the Cincinnati area during the year of my birth. The results returned three possibilities, and I turned to the White Pages. The first two telephone calls were dead ends, but on the third call, the male voice on the other end said, “I think the person you might want to speak to is my father.” I was given another phone number, and soon found myself conversing with a gentleman who tentatively identified himself as my birth mother’s brother.

As I arranged for a face to face meeting with my birth mother’s family, my emotions were a jumbled mix of apprehension and curiosity. When I rang the doorbell of the stately home in Withamsville, Ohio, a tall, reserved, middle-aged man greeted me and invited me in.

I was saddened to learn that my birth mother had passed away almost two decades prior, but my sorrow was mitigated by a lovely, large photo of her, which was presented to me. I had missed my grandfather also, by about four years. I would learn that while he barbered for a living, his true passion was preaching the gospel, and he had founded a church in the area. My grandparents tried in earnest to get custody of me, but their efforts were thwarted by the adoption arm of children’s services.

This defining event validating the painstaking search for my heritage was meeting my maternal grandmother. Though bedridden in a long term care facility, she was lucid and able to speak. I will never forget the moment I accompanied my uncle into her room. “Mama,there’s someone I want to introduce you to. This is…” Before he could finish speaking, she interrupted him: “I know who she is.”

To be able to embrace and talk to the woman who had never given up hope she would see her granddaughter again, who had never stopped praying for me throughout my wayward youth and trial-ridden young adult years – praying for my safety and protection, and that I too would find faith in God – was an experience that defies expression through mere words. It was, and still remains, a peculiar treasure of the heart, a spiritual catharsis, and closure of the gaping wound of uncertainty which had plagued my life.

Whatever trials lay ahead were now balanced by a connection to the past and the individuals who played a part in shaping who I was. I had found my heritage, and I want my descendants to know of my journey and the satisfaction it brought me.

My story is told from the unique perspective of an adoptee, but there is inherent importance in leaving our posterity the priceless gift of family history, tradition, and insight into our character and day-to-day lives. Is it possible to grab hold of the transient beauty in everyday lives and memories by turning them into timeless heirlooms – tangible books and videos – that can be treasured forever?

That question has been answered by personal historians, who they believe each life is a legacy in the making, and have made it their mission to ensure that those stories are captured and preserved for current and future generations to enjoy. They offer a multi-media approach to telling stories, whether you are celebrating your personal history or that of a loved one.

A legacy is a gift, and my experience taught me just how precious that gift is: it changed my life.


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