I Seek Dead People 2016-07-08

GrGMa Nellie LewinOh,the agony of being an amateur family genealogist. First of all, it’s expensive. Every site has a relatively hefty fee attached to the privilege of discovering your roots. After attaching yourself to the actual effective network of sources mainly ancestry.com, you still have to do all the legwork and research. An advantage with ancestry.com is you are immediately connected with all the other kooky people researching their family histories. I can’t tell you how many relatives I’ve connected with I never knew even existed after researching the same family members. It provides an avenue to exchange information and pictures which each others.

Once research starts, it can become addictive to a degree. Wow, it can take months or years of rummaging through old military certifications, newspaper articles, hundreds of tombstones, old pictures, death records, birth announcements, marital unions, censuses showing  many residences, multiple spouses, a gazillion children who had a gazillion children who had a gazillion children all with the same 4 or 5 names — John, James, William, Sarah, Margaret, Mary – newspaper articles, any and every piece of minutiae available to lead you to that one relative from 200+ years ago. Each and every box on the Ancestry tree has a story. Story after story after story. You just have to have the patience to uncover the mysteries that lie within.

Pinpointing that one elusive person is not only exhausting but often becomes a mind-boring obsession. I can’t let go because the very next thing I find could be that one special thing that leads me to the person I’ve been attempting to find. Some state’s records are good, some okay, and others quite frankly, crap. How can a person be born, move around the country, get married, have children, die, and be buried somewhere; and not one document can be found of that person. So I sit here in my 5th year of having researched my paternal grandmother’s heritage and parentage. I know her mother, my great-hrandmother;  but not her father, my great-grandfather. They have different last names, or do they? They came from Ireland, or did they. My husband is enduring similar challenges discovering his family members. Last night I was researching a long-lost relative from the mid 1800’s.  After dedicating 5 days, I found her name. Eureka! I can go brew a cup of green tea, and head for bed. It’s like I just won a ‘special award’ as Gavin McLeod declared in A Christmas Story.  Craziness for sure.

Why am I so driven by the need, not desire, need to know who these people were and where they came from? After all, what’s important is who I am now and who my family is now, I suppose. However, I am incessently driven by my quest to find out who I really am, and why I’m really here. I mean, isn’t that what makes us even exist? One relative never having met a certain someone, a missed boarding of a ship from the old country to the new, one broken-down covered wagon not meeting up with the wagon train, or deciding to set down roots in Detroit instead of Chicago would make us nonexistent. It’s a matter of decision, coincidence, connection, happenstance, divine intervention,  place, and purpose all of which we have not one thing to do with that makes us the living breathing person tripping through the lives we find ourselves in today.

I’m haunted by the images in the found photographs, the history of the world during their Earthly residency, the stories they must be able to recount, the hard times, the good times, it’s all supremely intriguing and interesting to me. The young woman who lived in the Louisiana Purchase Territory, was pregnant, and moved with her husband from the deep south to Canada at the time of the Revolutionary War. What a dangerous and treacherous trip that must have been for her and her family. All the wilderness, Indians, soldiers, no conveniences, on a buckboard, pregnant, thousands of miles. Just imagine! There was once a fresh-faced lad who with his 2 brothers moved from their father’s Southern heritage to Illinois to join Lincoln’s Army and fight in the Civil War.  One was injured at the infamous Battle of Vicksburg while serving under General William Tecumseh Sherman and continued his service in the Invalid Corp. No getting to go home for them!  Then there was the lady who after having 4 sons and 5 daughters died in childbirth with her last child who was a girl named for the mother she would never meet leaving her husband, a farmer,  with the earnest task of raising 9 children during an economic crisis. Hard, hard, lives were staunchly navigated withstanding much adversity for any of us to have been given the privilege of roaming this mortal coil. They are not only names and dates to me. They are living, breathing pieces of us.

Our heritage is important, the most important in fact to our being born to this world and surviving to be the person we are this very day, this very moment in time.

Well, gotta get back at it.  I so wish Americans kept better records back in the day. That’s one of the habits left in the dust of the old country pretty much until the 1900’s.I think I discovered something from a ship’s log in 1892 Ireland that may be promising. I mean, who am I really? …Sandy

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