By MORGAN DuBOIS
An African proverb states when an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.
Like any treasure, family history is too valuable to remain buried. It’s crucial we create a narrative with our aging relatives to preserve their stories of sacrifice, achievement and resilience.
Learning how our ancestors endured through tough times reminds us that we too can overcome life’s greatest obstacles.
Connecting to our family history is crucial in shaping our self-identity and allows us to feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves.
It took an incredible discovery to learn my heritage, which came following the death of my grandfather, Ward Curtis DuBois — a heavy equipment operator. Unfortunately by then it was too late to start any conversations.
At 7 years old I lost my father, Dale Curtis DuBois, to cancer. When my grandfather, Ward Curtis DuBois, died in 2011, the proverbial library burned to the ground.
While cleaning out artifacts from his house in the village of Homer, I came across two old scrapbooks in the basement. Each contained pictures and newspapers dated from the late 1800s through the 1950s.I realized I was looking at the names and faces of my ancestors. The connection to these relatives would lead me on a vitalizing path of self-discovery.
As thrilling as it was, there was still disappointment I was not exposed to this material while my grandfather was alive. Although I knew my grandfather served in World War II, it was a proud moment uncovering several articles from the Cortland Standard and Syracuse Herald Journal, detailing his experience.
A cutout from 1944 included his military picture with details about his departure for war. Another article described a severe wound suffered during battle in Germany. He was awarded the Purple Heart and eventually discharged from the United States Army in 1945.
He also received the Army Occupation Medal and five stars for seeing action in five major campaigns in the European Theater of War. He will always be my hero for his brave service to our country and I wish I could tell him that.
My great-grandfather, Floyd DuBois, was a farmer in Preble. On May 28, 1928, he and his team of horses were struck by lightning while plowing a field. The three horses were killed instantly and he was badly burned. Although he remained in critical condition for a lengthy time, he survived. An article was saved from The Tully Times detailing the ordeal.
The most personal connection came through the discovery of my great-great-grandfather. I always knew the middle name of Curtis had been passed down to me from my father and grandfather, but I was unaware the name originated from a relative. William Curtis DuBois, known as Curtis DuBois, was a barrel maker who built small wooden tubs for butter. They were shipped from Cortland County to New York City. He was selected to demonstrate his skills at the 1927 New York State Fair and was interviewed and photographed for the event. He also met with Gov. Al Smith, which was included in the articles found.
Curtis DuBois lived in Preble until his death in 1938. Multiple articles highlighted his personality and strong work ethic, making it an honor to learn where my namesake had derived from.
Curtis DuBois was one of five siblings born in Onondaga County. All five were married for more than 50 years. The siblings and their spouses gathered in Preble to celebrate on Oct. 8, 1926. A picture and newspaper cutout from The Cortland Democrat were preserved to commemorate the occasion.
Their father, William Addison DuBois, also lived in Preble until his death in 1908. His original obituary was saved, which included details of his marriage that lasted more than 60 years.
Having been married for more than a year now, it’s inspiring to learn of my ancestor’s commitment to marriage.
Another impressive finding was made through Curtis’ wife, my great-great-grandmother, Lettie Woodford. I was able to trace Lettie’s roots back six generations to Joseph Woodford. During the Revolutionary War, he served as captain in the 15th Regiment of the Connecticut Militia. This proudly makes me a Son of the American Revolution, which has ignited family patriotism.
The information found in the scrapbooks helped trace my paternal roots back six generations to Cornelius DuBois. He was born in 1789 and lived most of his life in Onondaga. I was amazed to learn the same valleys I’ve called home for most of my 33 years were also home to my ancestors for the last 200 years.
It brought me great perspective to research and visit all six of my forefather’s gravesites at Glenwood Cemetery in Homer, Elmwood Cemetery in Preble, and Sentinel Heights Cemetery in Onondaga.
I hope my discovery will encourage you to exchange family history with your loved ones. Ask questions at the dinner table, share old photo albums, and record your grandparents’ stories. Preserving our lineage will create an opportunity for future generations to connect to us when we are gone.
I would like to think if I had shown interest while my grandfather was alive, we would have opened those scrapbooks together. I look forward to passing family history on to my children and grandchildren someday. I hope the dive into my origins inspires you to learn and pass on yours.
Morgan Curtis DuBois is an underwriter at McNeil and Co. in Cortland. He lives in Homer.