Why Family History?

Cartoon-family-250-pixelsUnaware to some, a quiet power is sweeping the earth as millions of people worldwide are discovering new meaning in their lives. They are doing this by simply connecting with their extended family and loved ones - whether it's a real life reunion or making a new connection with ancestors. Just the prospect of discovering one's family roots and heritage, and possibly reuniting with missing loved ones from long ago is absolutely thrilling. For many, it's a rewarding, deep-seated driving force. Family history is about families. And its changing how some people see life, and helping them gain a sense of identify and purpose in life.

People all over the world, of all faiths, creeds and races, are inspired to search for their family roots and stories. Thus, they are increasingly enabled to more fully appreciate and value their precious and unique heritage, and rightfully honor their forefathers who have gone before them.

As generations pass, people and their lives may be forgotten, but researching your heritage gives you the opportunity to discover who your ancestors really are. And helps bring your family together. As you do this, your knowledge of your forebears will increase, you will gain strength by learning how your ancestors met life's challenges, you will gain a sense of identify and purpose in life, you will feel a sense of belonging that ties generations together, and your family will grow closer.

Connecting the Generations

I think that most people on earth believe, or want to believe, that life does not end at death, and that marriage and the family will continue beyond the grave. I believe that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children and that we can be united with our family and loved ones in the hereafter.

Families can be forever. And tracing your family roots and stories helps establish a sense of belonging that bonds generations together. This bond gives you a sense of identity and purpose in life.

"Till We Meet No More to Part"

major-ballouMany people have an unshakeable faith that families can be reunited after death. One such person was Major Sullivan Ballou who wrote one of history's most beautiful and moving love letters to his wife Sarah during the American Civil War.

Sullivan Ballou had overcome his family's poverty to start a promising career as a lawyer in Providence, Rhode Island. Sullivan and Sarah hoped that they could build a better life than they had known growing up for their two sons, Edgar and Willie. In addition to being a successful lawyer, Sullivan also served twice as the Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

At the age of thirty-two, being a strong opponent of slavery and devoted supporter of President Abraham Lincoln, Sullivan felt the need to serve the Union, leaving what would have been a very promising political career to enlist in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers in the spring of 1861.

On July 14, 1861, Major Ballou was stationed at Camp Clark, near Washington, D.C., while awaiting orders that led him to Manassas, Virginia. When he heard they were leaving, and that in the very near future they were to do battle with the Confederate Army, and not knowing if he would ever get another opportunity, he sat down and wrote a poignant letter to Sarah. A week later on 21st July, 1861, Major Sullivan Ballou was critically injured when a cannon ball shattered his leg and killed his horse during an attack by the Confederate Army at Bull Run, along with four thousand other Americans. He died July 29, 1861, eight days after the Battle of First Bull Run, Manassas, Virginia.

Though Sullivan had many noteworthy achievements to his credit, it was this letter to his wife for which he will always be remembered. His words professed his eternal love for Sarah, his unwavering belief in his cause, his heartfelt desire for the happiness of his sons, and his faith that they would be reunited after death. It is a truly moving and beautifully written piece which to this day, serves as a glowing testimonial to the love of a Father for his family. Yankee magazine published an article on the letter in which they stated "...his words of undying love brought millions to tears". Here's his letter.

Major Sullivan's Letter to His Wife Sarah
July 14th, 1861
Washington D.C.

My dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. ... I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government....

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar - that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night ...always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. ... Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. ... O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

(The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters, by Cathy N. Davidson, Pocket Books, 1992; Brown University Alumni Quarterly (Nov. 1990): 38-42; Geoffrey C. Ward, The Civil War: An Illustrated History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, 82-83.)

Ballou-gravesite When Sullivan died, his wife was age 24. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with her son, William, and never re-married. She died at age 80 in 1917. Sullivan and Sarah Ballou are buried next to each other at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI. There are no known living descendants.

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