When Chantel Summerfield began studying tree inscriptions left by troops during World War I and World War II, she did it as part of her archaeology doctorate. But the research she undertook, sometimes involving only a name or initials, led to some amazing discoveries.
The most compelling of these discoveries have sometimes led her to find the surviving relatives of the American GIs who put them there. In one case, the simple carving read: Frank Fearing – Hudson, Massachusetts, 1945 “heart” Helen. Using this information, she was able to find the couple’s daughter in America. Helen, who was still alive at the time of the discovery, didn’t even know her husband had made the carvings.
The article, featured in The Telegraph, includes several such amazing stories about people reconnecting with their pasts. In another interesting case, Summerfield found two tree carvings made by the same Australian soldier, once during World War I and again during World War II. You can find more information on her process here.
“The takeaway from this thoughtful and touching story is how much history can be gleaned from the smallest remnants,” says Randy Sutton, president of Celebrating Legacy. “Based on how family members reacted to Summerfield’s
discovery when she contacted them illustrates how important messages from the past really are to people.”
According to Sutton, families are not the only ones. Since her research was initially covered in the media, Summerfield has been featured in several papers and on radio stations. People are fascinated by history, especially when they touch or connect to it.
“If you can hold an heirloom in your hand or look at a photograph with something familiar in the surroundings, it makes it real,” says Sutton. “Most people feel an immediate connection to the place in history as it relates to that space or object.”
Sutton says there are dozens of ways to make genealogy even more interesting, using any number of technologies. While some of those technologies will be explored more in depth at a future date, he said sometimes it can be as simple as matching a place and date to an archived newspaper.
For example, it’s one thing to know that an ancestor lived in Boston during the American Revolution. But it becomes something else entirely to understand where they lived in approximation to an historic event like the Boston Tea Party or Boston Massacre.
The tree carvings being researched by Summerfield have the same effect. For some of the soldiers that she has successfully traced, it transforms family history like knowing someone served in the military to being able to place them to a specific locality within the greater context of the war.