Springing Into Genealogy
Warm Days – Cool Nights
Flowers Blooming - Birds Aflight
I just love spring, don't you? It's a time of new growth, gentle rain and fresh scents. After a recent trip to Salt Lake City I have become inspired to begin a new journey; one that will hone my research skills, showcase my discoveries and validate my dedication to a field to which I have long aspired. You are welcome to follow me on my quest to become a Certified Genealogist.
Since all successful trips start with a kernel of an idea, first, a little background about my roots. My maternal grandmother, Non, was a wealth of family lore. Her powerful stories of her people’s lives in her native Croatia were inspiring, magical and guaranteed to tug at the listener’s heart. These tales encouraged me to persevere against adversity and dream that one day, I, too, would lead an exciting life.
Although I had a vision of my Non’s side of the family, I had no knowledge of my dad’s lines. Since my parents separated when I was five and my paternal grandmother died when I was seven, I had to rely on the limited information my mother gathered while married. “Your dad is German, Scotch-Irish, English, and Welsh.” When I pressed further she would add, “Something about the Indians, I’m not sure.”
I wanted to know more. Who were his people? What kind of lives did they lead? When did they arrive in the US? Why did they settle in Indiana? So began my odyssey to trace my heritage.
My questions arose in the prehistoric time before the internet. Back in the day, there were only two methods to obtain genealogical information – call an old family member or go to the library. With method 1 not an option I sought out my local librarian’s help. My hometown library was small and the local history section limited. The librarian suggested I write down the names, dates and places that I knew and what I wanted to know, then visit the main county library. Her sound advice was the first and best tip I have ever received and something I still do today.
“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” -James Baldwin
Unfortunately, the larger library was also lacking in materials so I put those questions aside for a time.
After our first child was born, my husband and I were given a family record book to note our new family’s special events. One of the pages was a pedigree chart – and my lopsided tree gnawed at me. My mother-in-law had given me my husband’s family history which went all the way back to April 1699. Yes, 1699! Imagine that! His family stories were as exciting as those my Non had told me – a Pennsylvania family member who was an acquaintance of Ben Franklin, a Long Island sea captain who fathered 19 children, early pioneers traveling to Chicago via a Conestoga wagon and a great aunt who had belonged to the Mayflower Society.
Since I was determined to fill in my skewed tree but now lived 1200 miles away from my childhood home, I wrote to my dad for help. He promised to give me his family tree book when he died. What? He has a family tree book? I have to wait til he dies? Huh? This became my second lesson in genealogy – some folks just don’t want to share their knowledge – even if they are closely related to you.
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. “ – Kofi Annan
I practiced patience and was determined that someday I'd have the answers and when I did, I would share it with the world. My father passed away 12 years later. I reached out to my step-mother who said she’d see if she could get the book to me. Months passed and I tried again. She was too busy, then the weather was bad. I despaired that I would never find my family's past.
One hot summer Sunday I was reading our local newspaper when a headline caught my eye. The reporter had interviewed several historians who predicted that the rapid growth of the internet would result in genealogical records with a click of a button. The article listed a few websites for further information. Hmm, could this be the right time to make my discoveries?
Dialing up (yes, we had to dial to get on in those early days!) I typed in the limited information I had and discovered - NOTHING. I did find a web posting site and placed a note requesting further information on my surnames. To my surprise, within a day I received an email from a distant cousin I had never met who had a copy of the family tree and the email address for the author of the book my dad had. In a week I had the electronic copy of the book from the author and a hard copy of my pages in the mail. And so began my journey into the past. Genealogy lesson number 3...
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" -W.E. Hickson
In the years that followed I have used many resources in addition to the internet to make my discoveries. Some information was found in moments, others took years to gain. No matter, each was a happy dance and a shout of joy. Next time we're together, I want to tell you about my latest and greatest find - his name is Wilson Williams.
Your comments are always valued and welcomed. Please post!