Family History and The Story Tellers

Eli & Mary Jane (Patton) Lines Family

I’ve been fascinated with my family history since I was a young teenager. Among the first lists and notes I created were those devoted to who my earlier family members were and anything else I could learn about them. Unfortunately I didn’t ask nearly as many questions as I should have nor did I always write things down. It wasn’t until I was an adult and well into my years that I really began to conscientiously keep written track of nearly everything I was told.

I’ve spent untold hours in the cause of documenting all I can learn about my family. Over the years I’ve gone from a few dozen names, with dates, places and sometimes stories, to a few hundred in the mid 1980s to around 1,200 ten years later. By the year 2000 those numbers grew to a few thousand. Now my database has more than 18,000 names [23,700 as of June 2017]. As carefully as I can I’ve tried to assure there are no duplicate records and no mistakes. More than half of them are blood relatives spanning 34 generations.

The photo above was taken in 1905 in Clearfield County, PA. It’s of my great-grandfather Eli Lines and his wife Mary. Two of their six children are standing behind, they are a brother and sister of my grandfather’s. I knew both of them. My great Aunt Cornelia was 12-years old when that photo was taken. She died at the age of 99.

One thing is certain. As I look at the records of my paternal grandparents Harry and Nora Lines and the names of their 13 children, all of whom I knew, except three boys who died as young children in 1910, 1921 and 1926 — and my father who died when I was two — I’ve come to appreciate how short life really is. It wasn’t that long ago that all nine of my aunts and uncles were living, breathing people who I visited with, spoke to, loved and admired.

Following the deaths of those three brothers as young children my father was the next one of his brothers and sisters to die in 1955.  He was only 31.  It would be 33-years before a second brother would pass on in 1988. Two years later my aunt Maxine would die. She was also my adoptive mother who adopted me  in 1956. My grandmother Nora died at the age of 77. Maxine told me on more than one occasion she had a strong premonition she wouldn’t live any longer than her mother, who she loved dearly.  She was right. She died 17 days before her 78th birthday. Maxine is the little girl in the picture, with her hands folded in front of her. The photo was taken in about 1919. She is sitting on her mother’s lap. To the left is my great-grandmother Mary Jane Patton (the wife of Eli in the photo above). 

Mary’s father Edward is pictured below. His life was touched by tragedy when his young wife died, leaving him to raise his four young children alone. He never remarried. The young boy on his grandmother Patton’s lap is Maxine’s first cousin Ray Jr.  He would grow up and enlist in the Army and after a 30-year career would retire in 1965 as a full colonel. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Everybody liked and admired “Ray Jr.” His, as well as Edward’s, are stories that need to be told and shared.

Three years after Maxine another brother passed away in 1993, then five years later my youngest uncle. A year later my oldest uncle died on his 93rd birthday in 1999.  Over the next ten years the remaining four would all be gone. Even if you include my father, who died a young man, those ten adult children of my grandparents lived an average of more than 78 years.

Current life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. So in light of the numbers you could say most of those relatives lived long lives. Over the 20-year span of the early 1900s when my aunts and uncles were born, the average life expectancy was 52.7 years. By the time they were around my age it had climbed to 72 years. Imagine that. The average life expectancy has grown by 26 years in a single generation and that number will no doubt grow higher before my generation has faded away.

Along the way in this journey as I have sought for information about those who were here before us I’ve come to know a lot of blood relatives who share in the same interests. It’s been enriching to know them and to share in what we’ve learned.

A project is underway to tell the story of one of the branches of my family. It will be a book about my 4th great-grandfather William Bloom and his descendants.*  It’s been said William, who was born in 1752, immigrated to the United States as a 7-month old infant. There are claims he served in the Revolutionary War.  One thing is certain, he was one of the earliest settlers and progenitors of the most prominent family of Clearfield County, PA.  He and his wife Mary Ann Mettler’s descendants number in the tens of thousands. Their son John, born in 1786, is pictured to the right. When William was born life expectancy was around 35-40 years. The figures however are skewed by dreadful infant mortality rates, and early childhood deaths. William lived to be 76.


Those of us who work on family history are the chosen. We are the story tellers. We are among those who seem to have been called to seek out our ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and to make them live again, to tell their story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. To me family history is not a cold gathering of names, dates and places but, instead, it’s breathing life into those who have gone before us. We are the story tellers of our tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story.  So, we try.
Edward Byron Patton

In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood over and cried? How many times have I told our ancestors you have a wonderful family you would be proud of? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me?

It goes beyond documenting facts. It’s about who am I. It’s about pride in what our ancestors accomplished and how they contributed to what we are today.

I do this to remember, respect and honor their hardships and the losses they suffered. I feel a deep sense of pride knowing that many fought to make and preserve for us a Nation. I understand they were doing it for us. So we might be born who we are and enjoy the traditions they fought to keep and that we might remember them. So we do.

With love and caring I collect each fact of their existence, because we are them and they are us.

So as one called I tell the story of my family… our tribe. It will be up to yet another, called in the next generation, to take my place in the long line of family story tellers and scribes.

Called as young boy I seek after my family history to put flesh on the bones and meaning in the lives of those that came before me. We story tellers do it in hopes that what we pass on will influence the minds and hearts of those who follow… to remember and to never forget.


The Story Tellers is said to be originally written by Della M. Cummings Wright and rewritten by her grand daughter, Della JoAnn McGinnis Johnson.  It has been rewritten by others and this is yet another version with further editing and words of my own.

~~ Rick Gleason ~~

A special thanks to my cousin Gloria who provided most of these photos.

SEE ALSO this video I made on this subject, We Are the Story Tellers

*The book A Bloom By Any Name was published in April of 2016

25 thoughts on “Family History and The Story Tellers

  1. Like you, my interest in family history stuff began when I was a very small child and it started with my sitting on the sunporch floor, playing with my toys at the feet of my grandfather and his older brother. Listening to them talk back and forth, telling and retelling their stories, their memories, their thoughts about how their lives were back in Sweden (which they left behind at the ages of 7 and 9 to come here and end up in central Pennsylvania) and of days filled with hard, very hard labor working in the depths of the coal mines… I was fascinated then when I was only 4 or 5 years old and would from time to time stop them and ask them to tell me more! But unfortunately, at that age, I couldn’t read or write and even when I could, it wasn’t then something I even thought about, so never ran to get paper and pen….

    Now … 50 years or better have passed since I could have asked either of those two men to “tell me more” and now, I have no one of an older generation to tell me what I really would like to know -exactly what those people and those they remembered or knew about from much earlier generations were like!

    ‘Tis true I’m afraid -this old line from a card I received when I graduated from high school -almost 50 years ago now -“We get too soon old and too late smart.”

    1. MaryLou thanks first for taking the time to visit. Thanks especially for your nice comment.

      I’ve come to know your brother Lee over the last several months. His work in researching and writing the book, which I mentioned in this blog, will be a blessing to future generations. I’m grateful that in some small way I get to work with him in this effort. More grateful that I’m privleged to be numbered among his friends.

  2. One of the great things that have happened to me during the research of my family is that I found you, Rick, a second cousin. I liked seeing the picture of my great great grandfather, Edward Byron Patton. I am still researching the family and having a great time reading what time was like in their day.

    1. Gale,

      It’s nice to hear from you and I especially thank you for your visit and comment. I too find it to be one of the greatest blessings of family research to come to know many of our relatives that I would not have known otherwise.

      Your great-grandfather John Harper Patton was my first very big, very memorable and exciting discovery in family history. It cemented my interest as a teenager in learning more about my ancestry. He was the brother of my great grandmother Mary Jane. The town they were born in, the home of my grandmother where I visited often, and very near my own birthplace, has never amounted to very much. But for John being part of a privileged family had it’s advantages, even if it was small-town, backwoods America.

      John and Mary’s youth was touched by the death of their young mother, only 27 when she died. John’s adult years however were marked by great success as a prominent self-taught lawyer and later a civic leader. He, like many of the Patton family were amazing people.

      What a shame it would be that I would know little to nothing about any of them, were it not for our mutual interest.

  3. I really like your take on family historians being the Storytellers. My Grandmother Rockfield was my inspiration to tell the story of my family. I remember sitting beside her asking her to tell me a story. They were usually stories about her brothers, sisters and parents. Some of them I’ve found to be exaggerated. Nevertheless, they were an important part of my legacy. She also talked about my grandfather and his family. I never knew my grandfather, so it was important to hear about him and his bouncing household of siblings. I now possess all the family records from my mother’s side of the family–pictures and letters. I feel privileged to be the Historian!

    1. Thank you marjulo for sharing your experience with your grandmother and especially of your grandfather that you never knew. Being a family historian does indeed come with many blessings, and like you I consider it a privilege to keep their memories alive for generations yet to come.

      Thanks again for your visit and your comments.

  4. I have been researching my Patton roots for many years and had hit a brick wall with my great grandfather William Francis Patton. I just found his marriage certificate that finally lists his parents as EB & Esther Patton. I have just found out that EB is really Edward Byron Patton and links into your line. Then I googled EB’s name and I found the picture you have posted! I have goosebumps!

    1. Edward Byron and Esther were my great great grand parents. They had a son John Harper Patton and his son Edward Carpenter Patton. I would love to hear from you and where you fit in the family.

      1. Gale,

        You and I are third cousins and are friends on Facebook. Like you Edward and Esther are my second great-grandparents and I descend through their daughter Mary Jane who married my paternal great-grandfather Eli in 1879.

        Always good to hear from you and thanks for visiting my blog.

  5. Rick, I have to check into your Bloom connection, I am from Clearfield County, born and raised. My 5x grt grndfather was Daniel Ogden, first white man in what is now the town of Clearfield, formerly the Indian village Chicklacamoose.

    I have Blooms in my family also. I am totally into my ancestry. Have been working on it for several years. Was able to get back on my Ogden side to the 1400’s. The Hoopengardner connection is on my maternal side. Ogden my paternal.

  6. I’ve been doing a little family research lately and I’m related on the Patton line. William Francis Patton would be my Great x2 grandfather and Edward Byron Patton would be my Great x3 grandfather. Didn’t know this before because Wade B Patton (William’s son) ran away from home at age 13 and never talked about his family. Would love to get some more information or records for application to Sons of the American Revolution.

    Bonnie (who commented above) is my cousin and we have been in contact on e-mail.

      1. How wonderful to hear from more relatives. I wonder if Bonnie could scan the copy of Williams marriage certificate. It would be great to see it. Hope you are well. I have been reunited with 2 more of my cousins since I started tracing the ancestors. What fun!

    1. Kit,

      Thank you for your visit and comment. The portrait is actually of William’s son John, born in 1786.

      Your quote is among my favorites and a slightly different version is heard in my all-time favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.” Ain’t that the truth

      I hope you’ll come back again. There’s a lot to be found here. All the best!


  7. Rick, you are my hero! It is my wish to write a book about a particular branch of my family tree. I’ve wondered why I feel do strongly about doing this. I’ve never done anything like it before. In your post – you mentioned that we’ve been called. This must be the reason why I am so passionate about the book writing.

    I have no idea what I’m doing but I set some goals. This year gather as much information I can from older family members and fill in some missing data pieces. Year two, start a draft of the writing. Year three, add pictures, articles, documents as references and edit. Finally print for publication. It’s a huge undertaking but I don’t think I can stop myself.

    You are my inspiration. I am always impressed by your passion and process of putting it to words on paper. Thank you. I love the pictures too! Is there a way I can get a copy of the pic of William Bloom? My best wishes to you always! Michelle

    1. Michelle,

      Thank you so very much for your kind words. I’m glad that my blog has inspired others, especially in this worthy cause. I encourage you to do as you’ve planned and to take on the task one step at a time. You’ll find that as you do so you will discover just how much you’re able to accomplish.

      I apologize for any confusion, the photo is a portrait of William’s son John, born in 1786. I’d be happy to forward you a copy soon as I replace my Apple Mac Laptop that quit working last year after 8 long years of service. All my family history files are on it’s harddrive. No worries I do have a backup of all my files.

      Thanks again!

  8. Thank you so much for this wonderful article and for all your fantastic research! William Bloom is my 5th great grandfather, and his son James Bloom is my 4th.

    I have always had a huge interest in the past, history and family ancestry. I have just begun to research this for myself, and discovered today that I am a descendant of William Bloom. I see your article was written in 2011, so I am going to check to see if I can find a copy of the book about the Bloom family history.

    I am very fascinated, and excited about more discoveries I’m bout to make. Thanks again!

    ~ Kristen Eve (Mowry) Janiczek

  9. I love your article. I understand what your talking about, because I could have written your words myself. I grew up with my grandparents mostly. Spent countless days asking my grandfather questions about our family. He was already 60 when I was born. Went to graveyards with them an hour away from where we lived. Had photos on the walls of great grandparents. Although I began gathering information when I was young it wasn’t until my grandfather’s death that I dived into it, like gasping for breath.

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