Pleasant Distraction

While passing through our utility room on my way to the garage the other day, my attention was attracted to (or perhaps distracted by would be more precise) a shoe box on a shelf above the dryer.

Now what could that be? I wondered. Although I’d passed through the room many times a day, day after day, I couldn’t recall seeing the box there. I forgot why I was going to the garage and stopped to take down the box and examine its contents. What I discovered inside held my attention for the next hour or so. (I don’t think I ever made it to the garage for whatever it was I was seeking.)

Inside that box were old family photos from when our four daughters were infants and toddlers, when we lived in Pennsylvania and Tennessee and the kids were growing up–and when my wife and I were much younger.

Going through old family photos can take up a lot of time, but it sure can bring back a lot of memories! And it can make you think. As I perused those old photos, I was struck by several thoughts.

  • How much fun we had “back then.” We didn’t have much money, but we did enjoy the time with the children–and the photos show that they, too, were having fun.
  • How innocent and carefree life was for the kids. The problems of life–work, money, taxes, government intrusions into private life, etc.–none of that fazed them.
  • How much our grandchildren resemble our own children when they were young. (I can also see now how much like my grandfather my dad looked when he was a kid. And people tell me that I look like him.)
  • How much younger–and lighter–I was back then. The cares of this life, the ravages of time, and overindulgence at the table can sure change a guy’s appearance!
  • How fun-loving my own parents were, such as the Christmas when Daddy got all of us men–my brother-in-law, my brother, and me–overalls and bandanas. We never understood why.
  • How organized I kept the old photos–in contrast to the jumble of files and flash drives I must study to find the image I’m seeking today. I once was super-organized, so much so that I could feel my way through the closet and find just the shirt I was looking for–in the dark. But ever since we moved from Tennessee to South Carolina thirteen years ago, organization seems to have vanished from my list of skills.
  • How glad I am that I can revisit those times with a hard copy of the memory and not have to rely on an electronic gadget–and risk losing the images to a crashed hard drive, an accidentally deleted file, or a lost flash drive.

Technological advancements surely have made it easier for us to capture memories as images. The passage from 35 mm film and flashbulbs to Polaroids to Instamatics and from slides and prints to digital images has been wonderful for picture taking. The quality of photography possible today is phenomenal. And you don’t really have to have an expensive digital camera with all the bells and whistles to get good photos. Sometimes photos taken with a cheap cell phone today rival anything the professional photographers could produce “back then.” (Well, my wife still cuts off people’s heads, and her shaky hand produces some blurry images, but that’s not the fault of the technology.)

It certainly is less expensive to take pictures today. In the “good ol’ days,” I had to send my exposed rolls of 35 mm film out to be developed, and even the cost of sending it to “economy” companies like Clark and York got pricey after a while, especially if you, as I did, ordered double prints of everything. But now I’m glad that I ordered those double prints. As the kids married and moved away, I noticed that our photo albums’ contents seemed to dwindle as the kids expropriated their favorite pics for their own albums.

But even that purloining is good because it shows that they, too, have valued the times and memories of their past. Those old photos ensure that the memories will live on and the girls will tell their children stories of what life was like when they were little. Their heritage will continue to future generations.

Now, if I could only recall what I wanted in the garage before that box of old photos distracted me!


The Greatest Day?

June 6, 1944, just might have been the greatest single day of what has become known as the greatest generation. At least it has become one of the most widely discussed days of that generation’s involvement in World War II.

Individual soldiers and sailors, however, might offer a variety of other days that they consider to have been the “greatest,” depending on where they were serving and what they were doing at the time. For some, it might have been their involvement in the Doolittle raid on April 18, 1942. For others, it might have been the invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. Or it might have been the day of one of any number of many invasions, bombing runs, and other military actions across the numerous theaters of World War II. The soldiers who invaded Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians certainly thought that they were involved in a momentous event, although those invasions are little known or discussed today. It’s sort of like they say of surgery: It’s minor surgery when it’s performed on someone else; it’s major surgery if you’re the one going under the knife!

My Uncle Dillon’s “greatest day” didn’t come on June 6, 1944. He didn’t arrive on Omaha Beach until June 24, D-day + 18. He came ashore with the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Armored Division, that day and then entered the fighting in the bocage region the next day. A tank driver, he took forward observers to the very front edge of the front lines so they could identify German targets and call in artillery fire against them. The fact that he didn’t participate in the June 6 landings in no way minimizes the greatness of his contribution toward winning the war.

But June 6 has another significance for me. On that day in 1844, my great great grandfather, Joshua Peterson, was born. If not for him, there would have been no James Peterson, no Blaine Peterson, no Ralph Peterson–and no me!

Joshua was the son of Hiram Peterson and Nancy Mashburn and was the grandson of Tobias Peterson of Kjolen, Sweden, and Maria Silva of Portugal. Joshua’s grandfather Tobias reputedly was the first white settler along Poplar Creek in the Toe River Valley of North Carolina.

Joshua either enlisted or was drafted into the Confederate Army. In the mountains of western North Carolina, both the Union and Confederate armies enforced conscription. If one army didn’t get you, the other one probably would. Many men from that area, owning no slaves and being predominantly Whig in political sentiment, had “no dog in the fight,” so they often served briefly in whichever army had drafted them, then they deserted and hid in the mountains. To them, it was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” and they really wanted nothing to do with either side. They just wanted to be left alone to farm their steep hillside farms, provide for their families, and worship their God in peace. Such might well have been the case with Joshua.

Joshua survived the war, and in 1866, shortly after the war ended, married Martha Warrick. They had ten children, three girls and seven boys, one of whom was James, my ancestor. Like many of his own ancestors, Joshua was an active member of the local Church of the Brethren, a group of German Baptists that included a long line of preachers and elders among the Petersons. Joshua died on August 12, 1933, in Relief, N.C.

But wait! There’s more! Joshua’s son James, my great grandfather, died on June 6, 1941. He was born August 12, 1867, and died eight years after his father at age 74. I know perhaps less about James than any other of my known ancestors, except perhaps Charles Mathias Peterson, the farthest back I can trace my lineage. He lived in Sweden, and I’ve been unable to find anything about him.

Neither Joshua’s nor James’s life was something that history books mention even in passing. They were not involved in earth-shattering events at which future generations would marvel and discuss ad infinitum. They were not famous in the general sense of the term. They were just common people–common in their appearance, their upbringing, and their lifestyle–yet, they were anything but ordinary. Rather, they were of strong stock, and, as Jean Thomas wrote, they “held safe and unchanged the simple beauty of the song of their fathers, the unsullied speech, the simple ideals and traditions, staunch religious faith, love of freedom, courage, and fearlessness. Above all they . . . maintained a spirit of independence and self-reliance that is unsurpassed. . . .”

And their lives were crucial to my own life and the lives of others of their progeny. So June 6 has multiple meanings for me. Dig into your own family’s past and find a member of your own “greatest generation.”


Lessons from Doing Genealogical Research

I’m told that March 11 was Genealogy Day. (Yes, I know that I’m a little late in getting this date mentioned, but. . . . Better late than never!)

“Doing genealogy” can occur at several different levels, from hobbyist to obsessive compulsive. Over the years, I’ve done my genealogical research in fits and starts, so I guess that I’m more on the hobbyist end of the continuum, although some people think I slide somewhat nearer the other end. It’s all a matter of perspective–and how much time and money you have to devote to the pursuit.

My initial motivation was the result of a sudden realization that I didn’t know much about my ancestors beyond my grandparents and that the people who could best inform me were quickly passing from the scene. If I was to get the facts (more so, the human stories behind the facts) I needed, I had to act quickly. So, in the little time and few opportunities I had, I began interviewing those people.

That’s when I discovered that not all of the interviewees agreed on many essential details. My paternal grandparents argued with each other over many of those details, and, not wanting to cause a rift in an otherwise exemplary marriage, I changed the subject. They sometimes referred to the same people but by different names or nicknames, so I often got confused. And sometimes they got sidetracked telling interesting stories about some of the people while forgetting about the genealogical details that were my main objective. But the stories were so good, and my grandparents obviously had so much joy and fun telling them, that I dared not interrupt to press for mere data.

And mentioning getting sidetracked, the same thing happened to me while I was doing research on the maternal side of my family. I became so interested in tracing the steps of my uncle (Mother’s brother) through Europe during World War II that his story just about hijacked my entire time. (After all, history, especially the history of that war, is “my thing.”) But it just illustrates how easily sidetracked one can get while researching genealogy.

The benefits of doing such research, however, are great–even if (maybe especially if) one gets sidetracked while pursuing it.

The Bible says that genealogical studies can be “endless” (1 Tim. 1:4), leading us to get sidetracked from more important things in this present life. But the lessons to be learned from genealogical research are tremendous. We just have to keep our research properly balanced with the other responsibilities of life.

Perhaps the greatest lesson it has taught me is that I have what the psalmist called “a goodly heritage” (Psa. 16:6). I’ve discovered that my family tree includes a long line of Christian ancestors who were either preachers or teachers, and that line extends all the way to the present generation: an aunt and a cousin were teachers. My brother was a preacher. I was a teacher. And one of my daughters is a teacher. Seeing such continuity of calling in one’s heritage can provide a valuable motivation to make something of oneself, something of which his or her ancestors would be proud.

I can trace my heritage back only to 1735, when Charles Matthias Peterson was born in Kjolen, Sweden. One of his three sons, Tobias, was the first white settler of Poplar Creek in western North Carolina and is my direct ancestor. But those 282 years is far enough back for me to recognize the goodly heritage I have. That time span should provide enough information to keep my genealogical research going for the rest of my life, especially as sporadic as that research tends to be and as many rabbit trails as it leads me down!

I know that some of my readers are also doing their own genealogical research. I hope they enjoy the pursuit as much as I have.


Minds Influenced by the Same Things Think Alike

landmark-booksLast week, I posted some thoughts on two book series that had sparked my early interest in reading and influenced my careers in teaching and writing American history. I’ve since learned that I’m not the only one so influenced by the Hardy Boys series of mysteries or the exciting history recounted in the Landmark books.

Shortly after I posted that essay, Charles Moore, who has been following my blog for a while, contacted me to suggest that I might enjoy a blog post of his that he wrote a couple of years ago. I checked it out and was so impressed that I read it twice! In a gesture of friendship and for the sake of the possibility that his essay might encourage someone else to read and write stories about their own life and genealogy for future readers, Mr. Moore gave me permission to reprint his story here on my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If so, please let us know. (You may contact him or view other blog posts of his at Thanks!


by Charles Moore

I could spend a whole afternoon reading the Hardy Boys. I would get lost in their world, it was magical. The ability to escape in a good book is not to be taken for granted.

I could spend a whole afternoon reading the Hardy Boys. I would get lost in their world, it was magical. The ability to escape in a good book is not to be taken for granted.

I have read several blogs recently that discussed books and reading. The subject of reading is one that I think about frequently as I am always in search of something to read. For me, reading is a pleasure and a way to make time pass very quickly. However, this was not always the case. So I would like to share an event in my life that shows how memory can be woven into a family history. Here is my small example of how you can write a memoir. It is the stories about us and our ancestors that will interest future generations.

Mrs. Alice Moyer was my third-grade teacher at Broad St. School in Plattsburgh, N.Y. At that time, I did not know her first name as all of the teachers were addressed by either Miss, Mrs. or Mr. Even the teachers addressed each other in this manner. I only learned her first name years after when I read her obituary. With her death, another person has gone without me ever expressing my gratitude. Mrs. Moyer was one of the best teachers I was ever to have at any level of my education. Her influence and talent for teaching forever changed my life for the better. Such people are rare and as such leave a deep impression on a developing person.

When I entered third grade, my reading ability was not even on a first-grade level. I had major speech impediments. I had spent my second-grade year trying not to be noticed by the teacher. It is safe to say that my second-grade teacher was the exact opposite of Mrs. Moyer. Second grade for me was a nightmare. It did not take long for Mrs. Moyer to spot my problems and notified my mother.

Mrs. Veronica Moore is my mother. A child of the depression and hard times she never got a chance to finish school. I do not think she made it much past junior high. In fact, the same could be said about my father. They were hard working people that had to earn their wages with a strong back. Education was the goal for their children, and nothing was more important. “Get an education” was the mantra I was to hear over and over.

Mom and Mrs. Moyer had a meeting, and the plan was laid out. Soon I was in speech therapy and would be for the next three years. We had large classes in those days, which 30 or more students were common, with only a teacher in the room. The classes where I went to school were grouped into three sections. The division was along the student’s ability. The “A” group were, of course, the better students, the “B” group were more the average students and the “C” group were the students that were struggling. Now the teachers never called these groups by any names but it was easy for us students to figure out. Even with a large class and having to attend to the different needs of each group, Mrs. Moyer found almost every day 30 minutes for one on one reading session with me. My third-grade work load was hefty. However Mrs. Moyer, was such an accomplished teacher it was one of the best years I ever had in school.

The home front was under the command of my mother. A library card was secured for me. The wonders of the library were now mine to explore and enjoy. I got to pick out the books that held some interest for me. Mom made sure that I had time to read them. I had to do a book report on the books I read and turn them in for school. On a chart in our classroom everyone has listed the books they had read and done a book report for. While I was far from the leader, I was right in the middle and held my own. Also, mom would buy me a book that I could keep and read anytime I wanted to. This was when I ran into the Hardy Boys. Their adventures kept me buying their books for a few years. Also, I liked Tom Swift and many others. Money was tight in our house, yet they would buy me my books. I can remember mom bringing me to the local bookstore and looking and looking for that special book I was to take home.

When I was in sixth grade about to go into junior high, I tested out for reading on a high school level. I have never looked back. Reading is a habit I have kept over the years. I use libraries now mostly for research. I prefer to own my books and not borrow them. Some are like old friends that I have visited more than a few times.

This is my effort at a memoir. They need not be long or in great detail. Just write down your stories as they come to you. In a few years, you will have written a full memoir to pass on. If you wonder why bother, would you not want one from your parents, grandparents? Start writing.

Thoughts on a Family Reunion

This past weekend, I attended what has become an annual event but that I have been able to attend only a couple of times–the reunion of the Peterson family, descendants of Tobias Peterson.

dsc_0155Before the big reunion, we had a smaller reunion when we visited my sister Gina and her husband Allan. The next day, the four of us met up with our niece Leah, our nephew Daniel, and his new bride, Samantha, for lunch at a quaint little diner north of Halls. Later that afternoon, we drove to the bigger Peterson reunion

No matter how often I’m able to attend these reunions, however, I always meet someone I’ve never known, or someone I’ve only heard of from other family members. Invariably, when I meet them, they always mistake me for my older brother Dale (one of the fortunate–or unfortunate–results of being a middle child).

I think that at this reunion I met more formerly unknown (to me) people than ever. Granted, a few of them were the young children of the people whom I only a few years ago viewed as children themselves, which means that I am aging quickly! I also met some people older than myself whom I had often heard about but had never met. That included the famed brothers Tom, Dick, and Harry. (Please don’t ask me which is which!)

As a natural introvert and admittedly the quiet one in the family, such occasions are not easy for me. They stretch me beyond my perceived limits. But I’ve come to realize the importance of getting to know family members and relating them to my broader heritage. They are the puzzle pieces that help complete the picture of the Peterson family. If I don’t get to know them, the picture will be incomplete. So I must force myself to go beyond my natural comfort zone.

Two of my cousins, John and Owen, have been the primary organizers of these reunions, which tend to revolve around the oldest surviving sire of the family, Gene. These cousins have outdone themselves in getting as many of us Petersons together as they can.

John organized the meal and opened his beautifully landscaped home for our gathering. And the weather cooperated wonderfully for holding the reunion in such a beautiful outdoor setting.

Owen has done extensive research into the family tree that has helped me (and others, I assume) to expand my own much smaller mass of information–and to correct erroneous information. He has also made available many heretofore unseen (by me, anyway) photos of various older family members. I came away this weekend with copies of several photos important to me, including the following:

  • Uncle Bob, who, when I was a toddler, wrestled with me and chewed on my ears;
  • Amos, who was the first pastor of the church where I grew up (although I never knew him);
  • Smith, who was first a rural grocery store owner and then produce manager at one of the large local grocery chains; and,
  • James, my great grandfather, whom I had never seen. In fact, the following photo is the only photo I have ever seen of him.


When family members are spread all over the nation, as Peterson families are, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. Typically, it takes a funeral to bring everyone together, and that’s sad. My own children and their children, for example, are scattered from Wisconsin to Michigan to North Carolina. My brother’s family is scattered from Michigan to Virginia to North Carolina. My wife and I are in South Carolina. Everyone is busy, and it’s hard to get away from the busy-ness and make time for the greater family.

As a result of having lived away from the Peterson “base” in Tennessee for so long, those children almost feel no link with the Tennesseans of the past; therefore, they are reluctant to attend such reunions and feel like party crashers, strangers within their own family. The typical comment from my own children when I encourage them to attend is, “But, Dad, I don’t know anybody there!” All the more reason to go–and get to know your family!

This is what makes reunions critical. Families must force themselves to have such times of connecting and reconnecting, or they risk having the family ties die out. I’m grateful for the role that my cousins have played in keeping the family alive. We Petersons have a “goodly heritage,” and we must make the effort to keep the memories of that heritage alive even as we seek to extend it by developing our own family heritage.