Recently, the students in the Canton School District displayed their "Living History" projects to the public.

In those projects, the students showed how they had interviewed their older relatives, and then created displays about what they had learned, based upon those interviews.

When I heard about this, I thought "What a great idea!"

A number of years ago, I became interested in genealogy and embarked on my own personal "Living History" project. Sadly, I was many years older than the Canton students who recently completed their projects, and as a result did not have access to as many relatives as they did. However, there were still a number of people around at the time when I started who were able to provide key information about what I wanted to know. More on that in a moment.

Even as I was growing up, I noticed a puzzling fact about my family background. On my mother's side of the family I had (and knew) relatives who went back several generations. I knew great-grandparents from both sides of my mom's family, and also uncovered information even further back thanks to discussions I had with some of my older relatives. On Dad's side, I knew various relatives on his mother's (i.e. my grandmother) side, which were quite a few, believe me.

But there was one big gap in the formula. I could go back as far as my paternal grandfather, and that was it. As a result I knew of a plethora of family members who bore the names of Alexander, Lentz, Karicher, and others, more than I could keep track of. But for the Marshall side of the family, everything stopped with my grandfather John Marshall. Sadly, he had died when I was 9 years old, long before I became interested in such things.

Finally, when I was in my early 30s, I spoke to my grandmother about the Marshall family background. Unfortunately, she couldn't provide much information, explaining that relatives on Grandpap's side tended to go their own way and made little or no effort to stay in contact with each other. I strongly suspect from her vague comments there may have even been bad blood between people, although I was never able to confirm this.

Still, she provided me with a few names, and I later spoke to my dad about the situation. He confirmed that my grandfather had a brother named Ralph who was still alive and living in the area. I looked up his telephone number, called him, and he agreed to speak to me about family matters.

Uncle Ralph turned out to be a wealth of information. He told me the name of his father (my great-grandfather) and the named of HIS grandfather (my great-great-grandfather). He told me what it was like growing up, and I discovered that my great-grandfather, Hollie Sylvester Marshall, was quite a character, and often not a very pleasant person. Which probably explains why I didn't hear that much about Dad's side of the family.

Still, armed with this new data, I went to the local public library, as well as the county courthouse and discovered even more information about my direct ancestors further back in time. I was incredibly fortunate in that most of those family members had remained in Lycoming County from the time they arrived in the early 1800s, and I could finally trace back to my great-great-great-great grandfather Andrew Marshall.

I made little booklets out of the information I had gathered and distributed them to various family members. It was a proud moment, because it was something I had managed to accomplish with some hard work, diligence, and a bit of luck thrown in. But I never would have been able to do it without Uncle Ralph's help, along with some other relatives who were still around when I started my task.

Too often, we take our older relatives for granted - thinking perhaps that they will always be with us. Sadly, it never works out that way. That's why I was so pleased with the Canton School District sponsoring the "Living History" program for its student, because it encourages young people to talk to their older relatives to get a first-hand account of what it was like to live a few generations in the past, as well as provide information about what THEIR older relative were like. Because, once everyone from a particular generation has passed from this earth, the opportunity to directly pass on such invaluable information is lost forever.

C.J. Marshall is a writer/columnist for The Daily Review. His email address is