Thursday, March 29, 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday - Jim & Fannie

Many years ago, when I was just into my teens [don't ask how long ago that might be!], a lovely couple came to our home, in Norfolk, Virginia for an afternoon of coffee, cake, and questions regarding our family and what my Dad could tell them about it.

Well, it would seem that the man was actually a second cousin [or what some would call, Frirt Cousin, once removed]. And this couple were attempting to put together our family history, back to our earliest ancestor.

I look back at that day now, and am ashamed of myself! All I could think about, as a 13-year old, was "when is Mom going to let me excuse myself so I can go bike riding with my friends?" Yep, as a 13-year old, I had no interest in my family history. Finally, after a few pleasantries, and I'm sure I was doing much squirming, Mother excused me so that the adults could talk.

It was hours later before I came back, and when I did, the visitors were gone.

During my college years, I wrote a brief history of our family, if you can call it that, and that was the extent of my interest. I was too busy living in the moment to ever look back at what my ancestors might have done before me.

Fast forward 29-years. A family reunion is scheduled for the summer. Up until now, I have managed to be busy, working, or out of town, for each one. [Our reunions are held biennually.] Dad caught me. "I'd really like for you to go with me. You've never been."

Dad has a way of showing big puppy dog eyes when he wants something bad enough. "I'll be there," I'm sure I said it reluctantly.

Texican and I had only been married three years at this point. He was already working on his family tree on the Internet, using a free genealogy program called PAF [Personal Ancestal File] from a site called  Family Search. "What do you know about your family?", he asked me one day.

What did I know?

Well, I knew that my Dad's family came from West Virginia. That my Grandpa had been married three times, having out-lived his first two wives, and my Dad had 14 brothers and sisters from those combined marriages. And... and.... and that's about it.

With his encouragement, I download a free copy of PAF and began filling in the blanks, beginning with myself.

It went very slowly in the first couple of weeks. I filled in what I knew, which, as I said, wasn't much. Then I read some of the guides and hints on Family Search for finding out more. The obvious next step was to ask the living.

I didn't know it then, but my own Dad was actually a walking, talking family historian! The more I asked, the more he knew! Many of the things seemed fantastical and exaggerated to me, and I was doubtful I should record them.[Come to find out... I was later able to provide documented proof of every wild tale he told me!]

Then Dad asked me, "Do you remember the summer before we moved here that we had visitors to our house in Norfolk?" I'll be honest, I didn't at that time. So Dad brought out the picture above to show me...  "Now do you remember them?"

And I did.

Dad said that Jim and Fannie Beane had been putting together the Bean family history for years. And Fannie had even written it all down and had it in a book. "Can I see the book?"

Well, it was a moderate sized spiral bound book. And Mother took it to the office with her and faithfully copied every single page of it for me.

I poured over that book! I spent hours and hours working on filling in my family history with that book and my PAF software.

When I had filled in everything Jim and Fannie had put into the book, I wanted more. I still had thousands of questions unanswered.

"You'll be able to ask some of the people at the reunion when we go," Dad assured me.

And I did. I was introduced to Phillip, who told me quite a bit about the questions I asked. I explained to him that basically all I had so far was what Fannie Beane had put into her book, and that had left so many questions for me!

"Would you like to meet Fannie Beane?", Phillip asked.

Now, before I ever met this woman, I was in awe of the tremendous amount of research she and her husband had done to put together this book, and we're not talking computer time here. We're talking searching through old musty records, and really digging! And not in one place. We're talking all over the United States!

When I shook Fannie's hand that first time, I was hooked for life. And this wonderfully, kind woman instantly made it her goal to be my mentor.

Fannie and I wrote back and forth for years. She never quavered a bit in sharing everything she had regarding our family. Good or bad. And when she didn't readily have an answer, she would make me stop and think, about different ways I could research to get that answer.

See, by the time I met Fannie, she'd had a stroke, and was in a wheelchair.
But her willingness to continue to help this very naive researcher was beyond the norm. Fannie even sent me some of her research to continue on in her stead.

And see that smile above? In the few years I was granted knowing this precious lady, I never saw her without it!

Fannie became more than my mentor. She was more than a woman in a wheelchair to me. Her stature was beyond measure. I admired and loved her. And in all ways genealogically, she was my hero.

Fannie Margaret Bell Beane passed from this life in May 2010, and there are moments still when I think... "I've got to let Fannie know what I found!" But then, I'm sure she knows that.

Fannie left her huge amount of research to the State Archives at West Virginia University in Morgantown. Which is where I hope mine will go when I must leave it behind, as well.

I do my best to emulate what my mentor taught me. To assist where I can, and encourage those who try.

I cannot think about ever having done what I have done thusfar without standing upon the shoulders of Jim and Fannie Beane.

Heroes. And my true treasure.

1 comment:

admin said...

My grandmother was also named Fannie. It must have been a more-common name back then.

This is a good article and shows how many hidden genealogy jewels there are in our relatives. We recently traced our family history back to 1643 just because of finding a relative online.