Genealogy in the Works: Military Mailtime, an interview with a Brett Cain

Oh gosh! This last week has been absolutely incredible. I was able to attend Rootstech for the second year and boy did I have a blast. You can check out my Instagram for more detailed posts, but here is a couple of events that I just had to mention.

  1. If you haven’t heard of NextGen, stop what you are doing and go check out their website here. This group of fantastic folks represents everything that I want genealogy to be here and now and in the future.

Their mission statement states:

“Our mission is to foster the next generation’s interest in family history. We build connections between all generations, provide resources to promote the next generation’s engagement in the genealogical community and offer innovative, virtual opportunities for development. Through communication and cooperation, we empower genealogists worldwide.

During Rootstech, I was able to meet up with some many of my cohorts within the network and we even had a Friday night meetup.

NextGen RootsTech 2019 Meetup

2. It was my absolute pleasure and honor to finally hear and see my mother and fellow genealogist Luana Darby speak. This was a first for me. Many of my friends within the community have heard her speak in person about genealogy, but I’ve only caught bits and pieces of webinars and recordings here and there. But this year was different.

Can you tell we are related?

On Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. (so early, but I couldn’t miss it!) my mother, along with Valerie Elkin and Anne Teerlink presented the first power hour session of Rootstech 2019 entitled “Making the Leap: Becoming a Professional Genealogist”. My mother’s mini TED talk was entitled “Genealogy as a Business” and boy did she hit it out of the park.

But enough about Rootstech (but really, can we ever have enough of it?! XD) and onto today’s Genealogy in the Works interview with Brett Cain. Brett and I met through social media on Twitter and to be absolutely honest, we weren’t fans of each other when we first started responding to each other.

But, through patience, understanding, and compassion, we’ve grown in a friendship that we both appreciate, even if we have very different opinions. After observing Brett’s twitter feed for a while, I knew I had to interview him because of his deep abiding respect for the military and the armed forces — of which he is a part. Read on to learn more about why genealogy and family history matters to him.


Q: Being in the military is a whole new kind of life for families, how do you think that has affected your family in the past, present, and future?

Military life is a real two-edged sword. It strengthens families as well as presenting unique challenges as well. When my daughter was born, I never wanted to go a day without seeing her, but that is not feasible as a service member. The memories, the birthdays, and the experiences that my wife, daughter, and I could write about in our journals won’t always be shared together. What I do now, every day, is either going to help or hinder my wife and daughter’s future, as well as my grand children’s future and so on and so on.

Brett and his wife and daughter

I am grateful for the emphasis on paperwork and recordkeeping in the military, just like the draft cards that you shared online that you found while indexing. Journaling and lettering writing is particularly poignant for military members and their families and I look forward to the journal entries and letters that I will write my family when I am gone on training and deployments. Hopefully, they will be of some value to my posterity in the future.

WWI Draft Card

Military service has greatly impacted my family. My maternal grandfather (Frank Wampach) fought the Nazis during WWII and was severely injured.  My grandfather’s service is what inspired me to serve. I love looking at the photographs from his service days.

Q: What most about genealogy excites you the most?

The whole idea of family history and genealogy excites me. It is such a wild concept if you really think about it. Actually caring about people that you have never met, who are deceased. Finding value in old bits of paper or innocuous possessions that are of little or no monetary worth.

I get really excited about finding connections. People with the same last name as me are of immediate interest. It affects my attitude and how I compose myself. It is inspiring to either live up to your ancestors’ achievements and maybe even make a name for yourself that will leave a legacy.

Even if someone doesn’t grow up to be a world-renowned scientist, a President, or a famous author, their experiences, however mundane, are interesting years after. It is important to recognize the “regular” people who lived and died and paved the way, however minutely, for us.

It is exciting to see the culture change, that people like you, cool, hip, young people are spearheading the fight for history. It is no longer old-timers pulling old tomes from libraries and looking through microfilms.

I am a writer and I am excited to preserve and perpetuate my own family’s history. The great thing about genealogy and family history is that anyone can do it and everyone should do. Family history is one of the few things that is universally beneficial and possible at any age or stage of life. It encourages dialogue and learning. Every single person you meet has some interesting experience and I want to know everyone’s story. Family history and genealogy helps me be more empathetic and introspective and less selfish.

This is my mom’s dad, Frank Wampach. Every year they drove from Chicago to Kalaloch in Washington.

Q: When did you first get into genealogy and what spurred this interest for you?

I first got interested in genealogy in eighth grade when I did a final project for the year and I wanted to do something about WWII. I knew my granddad had fought in Europe and I got some old photographs from him and his old weapons.

I was really interested in history and fighting (I still am). I was fascinated by old postcards (I really like cursive handwriting) and journals. Later, I found my mom and dad’s journals from high school and college and it was cool to see them in a different light. I started keeping journals in high school and as a missionary.

It is so interesting to see who I was back then and what things seemed like the most important things in the world to me and how my hierarchy of priorities have changed.

When I was in 6th grade, I was in the library and I saw this old piece of parchment-looking paper in the trashcan. My curiosity was piqued. It was a copy of the Declaration of Independence made to look like it could be the original (a la National Treasure). I brought it home and my parents framed it for me. I still have it. That was another key moment in my love for old documents and history. History has always been my favorite school subject.

I loved US History in high school and I love theatre history and history of the Spanish-speaking world in college. When I was a missionary in Peru I met a lot of people whose birth and marriage certificates were destroyed by weather or terrorists and I was so grateful for our country (as asinine as our bureaucracy can be) where there is intrinsic value in those key pieces of paper.

Q: What is a fun story about your own family history that you would like to share?

My great uncle Vincent Cain (for whom I was almost named) was in Nebraska after having immigrated from Ireland. He left most of the family in Minnesota and was caught up in a snowstorm and lost his way from his house. The story goes that he used to curse up a blue streak and in the middle of the storm he knelt down and prayed to the Virgin Mary (being an Irish Catholic) that if he was spared that he would never swear again. Just then a mouse came out of a snow bank and led him back home.

He never swore again.

Q: What advice would you give to others interested in their own family history?

Even a modicum of effort will be rewarded. Be flexible, you might not find the record that you are looking for but chances are you will find a new thread that will lead you on a great journey. Write, write, write. Document your own journey and make backups of hardcopies (CamScanner is a handy APP, as well as DropBox, and all Cloud technologies). Have fun and take pride in your past, present, and future. It is never too late to get back on the horse.

Q: Why is genealogy/family history important to you?

Beyond the emphasis that my faith puts on posterity and family history, it is important to me because my grandparents all passed away before I really got to know them, I haven’t seen most of my cousins in more than a decade, and my father is one of twelve siblings.

There has been a lot of bad blood between some of my father’s siblings that have torn the family tapestry. I want to sew that backup. My dad says that it might take a few more funerals before that type of reconciliation.

I don’t want to get to that point, and family history has a way of bringing people together. I want my daughter to know where she comes from. My wife only wants one child and I don’t want my family name to die out (and I am trying not to be typically male about it ‘I need a son to carry my name’). I want my daughter to feel as empowered to hold the name of Cain as any potential sons would.

My family motto is “Gentle in peace, fearless in war.” I want to live up to that. It is important to me because I really care about people.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

I would encourage everyone to look into the history of people they admire —  as a starting point (if they are not already fired up and on the path for their own history). Some of my favorite books as a kid were the books about the Sackett family by Louis L’Amour. I ended up having a teacher with the last name of Sackett and I asked if he had read the books. I came to find out a lot of what had been written was not fiction!

Family history is fascinating.


You can find Brett on twitter @BrettCainBooks and be sure to check out his author debut in his book, Whiteout.


Who else would you like to see interviewed on the blog? Leave a comment below. Could be an archivist, genealogist, historian or anybody interested in the studies of our past. Drop a blog or name below. #onfleekfamilyhistory

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