RootsTech keynote speaker Doris Kearns Goodwin knows presidents, baseball and the power of stories
Steven Senne, Associated Press
Doris Kearns Goodwin knows her U.S. presidents.
The prominent presidential historian has authored six best-selling books featuring famous names such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her book delving into the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. At age 24, Goodwin also served as an assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson in his final year in the White House and helped him with his memoirs.
So more than a year ago when the New England Genealogical Society gave Goodwin an award that included her family's genealogy, she was stunned by what it revealed. In addition to finding out she has Puritan roots, Goodwin learned she has ancestral ties to more than 10 U.S. presidents.
"It was pretty overwhelming," Goodwin said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. "I'm related to Sarah Delano Roosevelt, the Tafts, the Adamses, the Bushes. I had no idea. They kept it as a big surprise for me. Maybe it wasn't just chance that I became a presidential historian."
It's one of a few personal experiences Goodwin will likely share when she speaks at the RootsTech Conference, considered to be the largest family history conference in the world, this Saturday.
"It's really fascinating," Goodwin said. "I'm going to talk about it."
Goodwin's invitation to RootsTech came after she'd mingled with people from FamilySearch International at various events in recent years. Goodwin, a Concord, Massachusetts, resident, has been to "beautiful" Salt Lake City before and looks forward to returning, she said.
Part of Goodwin's appreciation for meaningful family stories stems from her own childhood, when she and her parents developed a common love of baseball. As a teenage girl in 1955, Goodwin cherished seeing the Brooklyn Dodgers win the World Series and receiving an autograph from her favorite player, Jackie Robinson. Decades later, Goodwin met Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel Robinson. Goodwin delighted in confessing her crush on Jackie Robinson and recounted the story of how she got his autograph.
Goodwin's memoir, "Wait Till Next Year," tells about her life growing up in the suburbs of 1950s New York and cheering on the Brooklyn Dodgers with her parents. Goodwin's passion for baseball has not diminished. Today, she is a Boston Red Sox season ticket holder.
"It (baseball) was a link in some ways that bound my father and me together. He loved baseball so much and passed that love to me. Now my kids have it and their kids will have it," Goodwin said. "There is always something in a family that is shared, certain rituals, that make for family life. In my case, baseball was a big part of that."
One of the benefits of having studied the lives of several U.S. presidents is learning from their triumphs, ordeals and strengths. A person can glean similar lessons by studying the lives of ancestors, Goodwin said.
"You watch people in your family going through adversity. Everybody goes through tough things in their lives," Goodwin said. "Learn the strengths of the people who went before you. How were they able to exhibit those strengths and talents? Maybe there are talents you have hidden that you haven't exercised."
Once while giving a lecture, Goodwin talked about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's marital problems. At one point, Eleanor Roosevelt discovered her husband was having an affair. She offered him a divorce. The couple almost split but ultimately resolved to stay together, which turned out to be a blessing for the country years later, Goodwin said.
After Goodwin related the Roosevelts' marriage story, a woman approached Goodwin and said she was going through the same scenario in her marriage. Her husband was having an affair. She loved him but couldn't quite forgive him. Hearing how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt worked through their problems gave the woman hope for her marriage, Goodwin said.
"Sometimes hearing these stories, especially if it's somebody in your own life can help you in your moments of trial as well," Goodwin said.
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