Will He Care?

By Jeff Hendershott

This is Kristian Bradley Stoots (December 14, 2006)

Grandson of Pvt.Jeff Hendershott, 64 Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Civil War Reenactors, Company A (retired).

Great, Great, Great, Great Grandson of Sgt. Hiram Bell, 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company A, 1861-1865.

For those of you who have "been there, done that," becoming a grandparent for the first time lends itself to a wide range of emotions and joy.  After Kristianís birth, he spent five days in a children's specialty hospital for a wide array of tests due to some complications at birth.  But now he's home, healthy, and ready to listen to "grandpa's" stories about the Civil War, his ancestry, and other facts (and hyperbole!)  related directly to his heritage.

Or is he?

OK, OK, certainly not yet.  I'll give him a couple years, or maybe longer.

Seriously, will he, when the right age comes, be interested at all?  Will he find it intriguing that he had a great-great grand-uncle who served with the Liberation Forces during World War II?  Or how about the fact that his 4th great-grandfather Hiram Bell survived all four years of the Civil War and lived to old age?  What about his I've lost count of how many "greats" grandfather Silas Purdy, who was a Captain in the Revolutionary War?

Or will he take one look at me and wonder if all Civil War reenactors back in the 1990's were "Tubby Bearded Guys" just like grandpa?  (Sorry, couldn't help myself). Well, his mother, my daughter, reenacted, so I guess there were some good looking dames playing civilians, at least!

Why, you ask, why am I wondering this?

I wonder because of the loss of interest in our American heritage.  We "history nuts" tend to forget that not everyone is interested in things like the Civil War, places like Williamsburg and Shiloh, and people like Nathan Bedford Forrest and William T. Sherman and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Don't believe me?  Walk into most public school history classes and see for yourself.  Maybe worse, walk into a UNIVERSITY history class and witness the disinterest first-hand!  Read the studies yourself - the data is out there and certainly frightening.  We've, as a nation, contracted one serious bad case of "heritage amnesia," for lack of a better way to put it.  Don't believe me - look it up for yourself.

Even as a teacher, I still wonder why so few care!  I have no answers.

I promised not to rant, so I won't.  Just remember, however, we, the history lovers, are trying hard, very hard, to keep out heritage alive one way or another.  We go beyond attending the Memorial Day parades and ceremonies (which we should do).  We feel a deeper passion, a reverence, for our ancestors and heritage that goes beyond getting all misty eyed when hearing Lee Greenwood sing "God Bless the USA."  It's more than hanging a flag out on July 4th.

I know you reenactors FEEL what I am saying.

So I'm going to try to pass it on to this young fellow.  But I'm less and less confident that it will "take."  Maybe, maybe not.  My daughters seemed to "get it" growing up.  My 9 year old says "cool" but still doesn't seem to grasp the concept (too young still)?  Probably.

But again, I'm going to try, and try hard.  If I used to be willing to put on wool clothes in 90 degree heat for a weekend to try and help hundreds of strangers "to never forget," it's the least I owe my grandson, and Hiram BellÖ


POSTSCRIPT FROM JONAH BEGONE: I share Jeffís concern about the rising generation. One of my many interests is genealogy; nobody else in my family seems to be willing to do it. But thatís okay. I do the research, simply put, because I have to. The puzzle of who I am and where I came from compels me to spend long hours on ancestry.com, rootsweb.com and familysearch.com. I am happy to state that where I had a knowledge base of about zero when I was a kid Ė I never even met my grandparents Ė I now have many of my familyís lines on both sides documented back to the 1600ís and further. Even better, itís all neatly packaged on a software program along with links to scanned photographs and documents. And I can have the computer quickly tell me what the relationships are. Itís a priceless heritage I can leave to my children, and my childrenís children. ButÖ will they care?

My son seems somewhat interested, but I can tell that the information isnít as essential to him at this point in his life as it is to me. My daughters are somewhat less interested. Telling them that they are tenth cousins to Madonna and Celine Dion (sad, but true) only partially piques their interest. But thatís all right; I think that theyíll only fully realize what Iíve accomplished later in their lives, when they have children of their own and wonder about the rising generation as Jeff and I have done.