Gifts I Got from Mom

From Mom’s album: “Stopped in Albuq. 7-1959” There’s more to this story in my new book!













I grew up in a family of six, with my parents and three younger brothers. We had few relatives. Certainly none who lived nearby.

My parents did not share family stories or photos. Not really. We enjoyed slide shows of our own family vacations, but nothing historical. I guess they were too busy working and raising us up to think of such things. Or maybe the stories they did think of were too painful.

Discovering family history

It wasn’t until I undertook my first genealogy project, in my 30’s, that I discovered, on my dad’s side, that I am from a long line of Quakers, including prominent Quaker ministers. My dad, a Christian minister himself (later a VA chaplain), had no idea, despite the fact that there were only two generations separating him from full-on Quakerism. So, I guess his family didn’t share many stories either. (The last generation of Quakers was largely disowned for marrying outside their faith, which is bad, but disowning is not as harsh as an Amish shunning.)

Picking violets in Indiana. On a Sunday, based on the way we are dressed.

Mom was invested in my genealogical pursuits, offering up unsubstantiated but tantalizing “facts” and bits of lore I’d never heard before in my life, such as these:

Francis Robbins went to the gold rush and was never heard from again.

John Hankins’ father’s name was Tom, and his mother was a 4th wife.

Jennie Lawrence was Ethel Robbins’ step-mother and sister-in-law at the same time.

And my personal favorite:

Oh…by the way… Emma Lawrence’s real name was Minerva Jane Kibby.

Say what, now?

Gifts I got from Mom

Mom loved reading books, figuring out puzzles, and perusing maps – me too! These are ideal genealogist qualities — gifts — that she passed down to me, along with an appreciation of nature and music (she was my first piano teacher), and a belief in myself and my abilities. She left me a few keepsakes, too, of course, including Mom’s Boxes (all 33 of them).

Mom’s Paris photo album

She was always eager to learn about my latest discoveries, and I am grateful for the genealogy research trips we were able to take together before she died, ignorant of what the future held in store for us. She loved to travel — me too! — and another wonderful memory was our mother-daughter trip to Paris, my treat. (I’m not bragging, I’m just saying we were not a family who normally could afford to do such things until I was an adult with a good job. I’m glad I was able to give her that gift.)

From Mom’s album: “Hazel climbed fence to see markers in second cemetery. Quaker, IN. 10-10-00”

On our last trip together we visited libraries, city halls, and distant relatives in Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana. Another time it was Connecticut and Massachusetts. We visited graveyards wherever we went, which meant walking around in nature, which we both loved. Graveyards are peaceful and often quite scenic. I just noticed I am saying “graveyard” instead of “cemetery”. I suppose it’s because the kind we visited were often rural and quite small and informal. Like in a cow pasture. No, I’m not kidding!

Reconnecting with my love of genealogy

After Mom died, I lost interest in my research. I also got “downsized” from my telecommunications career of 21+ years, moved to another state, and got busy with my new professional organizing business, which she never knew about, but would have loved. She was rather organized herself, and generally approved of everything I did. It wasn’t until I’d been a NAPO member for a decade that I joined The Photo Managers and got more involved with photo and memorabilia organizing. This dovetailed with my interest in legacies, which brought me full circle back to genealogy. I am enjoying spending time again on my own research, and have discovered that I love researching for others as well. (Although I am retired now.)

I think she would have approved of me using the photos from her albums to promote my Family History Research Services (when I was offering them). Not to mention, she would have been thrilled with my book, What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy, and the family photo stories I chose to include as examples.

Thanks, Mom!


Mom, me, and my three little brothers at a picnic. (Photo courtesy of Dad.)

What “gifts” did you get from your mom?

Are you curious about your family tree?

Are you the historian and photo-keeper in your family?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!



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  1. Seana G Turner on May 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    I think this is a lovely gift idea, Hazel! We have a couple of historians in our family, and I’ve been fascinated to learn my history. One thing for sure… I can’t trace my heritage to one nationality- talk about a hodgepodge!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 7, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      That just makes it all the more interesting!

  2. Liana George on May 7, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother! I love hearing how she influenced the path you’re on today. Great post Hazel!

  3. Sarah Soboleski on May 7, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Such a sweet post, Hazel. Your mom sounds like she was a wonderful lady. My mother is a pretty organized person and I definitely got that gene. She’s also a dancer and passed down her love of music, movement and rhythm to me. My little guy seems to have gotten that gift as well as he’s always singing! It’s amazing what’s passed down through generations and so important to capture.

  4. Janice Norris on May 7, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing this post. It makes perfect sense to me that you are from a Quaker background. My experience of you is one of patience, peacefulness, and kindness. Those are qualities I associate with Quakers. Also, I was once acquainted with someone who was a Quaker and you remind me a bit of her.
    Indeed your mother would be very proud of your accomplishments and the kind of person you are. If I met your mother I would tell her what a great job she did. (Moms never get tired of hearing that.) Happy Mother’s Day, Hazel.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 8, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Awww, thanks, Janice! You would have loved my mom. She would have wanted to chant and eat healthy with you. 🙂

  5. Janet Barclay on May 8, 2016 at 4:42 am

    My mom was an only child, but her mother had a very large family, and I think she once told me she had 22 first cousins on that side of her family alone. At one time I asked her to write it all out for me, but unfortunately by then she was in poor health, and her medication was interfering with her ability to concentrate enough to do it. I understand some of my relatives have been doing some research in that area and I intend to get in touch one of these days.

    The best gift I got from my mom was my love of reading. When she was well, it wasn’t unusual for her to read a book a day. One time when I was a teenager I went to the library andshe asked me to pick up a book for her. I protested, saying I wouldn’t know what she would like, and she said it didn’t matter as long as it was thick. I don’t remember what I brought her, but she was delighted.

  6. Andi Willis on May 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to your mom! I think some of the gifts I got from my mom include being a strong independent (some might say bossy) woman who can do it herself when needed and a strong desire to bring our far flung family together on a regular basis. Family is everything.

  7. Linda Samuels on May 9, 2016 at 6:53 am

    What a lovely tribute to your mom and your family history. I love the discovery process you’ve shared. My mom is still with me, which I’m very grateful for. She’s the only parent left as Steve and I have lost our other parents in these last years. There’s a laundry list of things my mom gave to me…simple things like the love of black licorice and coffee ice cream, to the deeper ones like the importance of family, helping others, gratitude, and creativity. She has dementia, so each day can bring its set of challenges. Some days she is a different person, and some days or moments she is the mom I’ve always known. I am grateful for ALL the moments, challenging and sweet, because I know that there will come a time when only the memories will remain.

  8. Julie Bestry on May 9, 2022 at 7:15 am

    Thank you for sharing your family with us. I loved your book and all of the stories, and hope this post tempts more of your blog readers to pick it up.

  9. Sabrina Quairoli on May 9, 2022 at 7:42 am

    I love that you shared your family with us. The people I meet who do this type of work are passionate about their clients and their photos and history. It allows the customer to feel less anxious about giving them these items.

    I am a historian for my family and have an extensive history of my side and my husband’s side. It’s lovely to pass this on to my kids when I pass. What a wonderful gift to know one’s history.

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Book cover: What's a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy

What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy

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Go With the Flow! (The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook)

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Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror


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