‘People from my past’
Tracy area author discusses family history
MARSHALL — Gavin Van Moer wanted to make sure his family history would never be forgotten, so he turned it into a full-length book.
Van Moer, who lives and works near Tracy, chronicled his family’s past from his great great grandfather’s immigration from Belgium to more recent happenings. He shared details from the book and thoughts about the creative process Tuesday evening with an audience at the Lyon County Museum.
He began his book titled “1910: Building a Legacy” with the idea that it might take much of his lifetime to write. Instead he managed to publish his research results after only several years.
“The more I worked with it, the more I wanted to keep going,” Van Moer said. “The people from my past became like characters. As soon as I introduced a new member of my family tree, I needed to go back and explain that person’s background.”
He chose to work toward a unified story rather than a collection of isolated accounts. He said that decision reflects how history continues to unfold, how previous generations influence the goals of today’s families.
He found that people of different time periods went through the same sort of life process. Being young in 2021 has some definite similarities to being young in the early or mid 20th century.
“Many times when we think about family history we categorize the previous generations as old people,” Van Moer said. “Since they lived in a different time period, we think they must have seen the world in different ways. I found a lot of information that shows how people in my family tree thought alike. We would have been like best friends had we grown up at the same time.”
His book contains a variety of historic accounts. It talks about the family farmhouse near Amiret that at one time was home to 13 children. It examines events such as immigration at Ellis Island, life in French Canada, a World War II bombing raid in Europe, and his grandfather’s opportunity to harvest his last crop.
A variety of sources were instrumental in piecing together the details. He relied partly on conversations with older relatives. He also delved into newspapers, letters, diaries, public records, and Internet based family research sites.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “Whenever I found something new that seemed interesting I wanted to share it. If I called my dad and it was something he didn’t know about, I felt like I’d taken a huge step forward.”
He hopes his work inspires other area residents to preserve stories of their families. He pointed to how something has to be recorded to become documented history. Details that are never written about are likely to become vague memories and then forgotten altogether.
Audience members who heard Van Moer’s program said they liked how he turned facts about his family into a detailed, interesting historical account.
Several people said they could relate Van Moer’s accounts to things from their own family past that lead to interesting personal stories.
“It shows how every family has a detailed history,” said Greg Boerboom of rural Marshall. “I thought about my own family as I listened to his descriptions.”
Joanne Christoffer of Marshall said the program made her more likely to go back to her family history documents and look for more details.
“I worked with my family history when I took a class at SMSU,” Christoffer said. “This makes me want to learn more about our past. I thought the program was very interesting.”
Van Moer’s talk was the first in a series of three presentations by authors planned this fall at the museum. A program at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 will feature Cindy Wilson discussing the Ingalls Family, Railroads and the winter of 1880-81. A third session at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12 will showcase Patricia Lubeck and a book called “Victims of Foul Play, a True Story of One Man’s Dark Secrets.”