Monday, July 28, 2008

Ebb and flow

Genealogy is as addictive hobby. I may put it aside for months at a time and then suddenly I open up my family tree software and begin my search anew. With the impending arrival of my son, I have been inspired to taking up digging around in the roots of my family tree again.

I am struck that the current of my family has oozed across the country like the tides. I find streams beginning in places like Ohio, Missouri and Virginia. They trickle through to Iowa, Kansas and Oregon. Mine washed up in Idaho. Then I drifted on to Washington and sit on the shore in Seattle watching the boats. Some of my mother's family ended up in California and also sit on the shore watching boats. I had one uncle who ended up in Hawaii for awhile. But then he drifted back to California.

The trouble with family trees is that they only tell you where your family was at any given time, not who they were. I begin to understand how archaeologists feel as they piece together bits of information to try an know something about the people who were here. Census reports were obviously recorded by people with various levels of education. I imagine the prerequisite was that you could write.

Information is recorded, but it is obvious at times that the census taker either didn't bother to ask how to spell names or the person providing the information didn't know how to read or write anyway to help the census taker along. My great, great grandfather on my mother's side was named Austin Clark. One census records his name as Oston Clark.

You can get snippets of soap opera as you dig through records. One of my widowed great aunts is shown in one census living with her son and a boarder. Ten years later, the boarder is listed in wedding records in Idaho as her new husband.

Occasionally I see names I recognize from my mother's stories of her family or labels from old photographs that I can now put in context. The irony about genealogy is that the more you piece together the puzzle, the bigger it gets and the more pieces you find missing.

I am in awe, at times, of the way families stretch back exponentially through time. And it challenges my OCD nature to stick to one thread of family without meandering off on another as they branch and weave through time and geography. I wonder at times that we aren't all somehow related somewhere at sometime.

I do this in a way for my children. I want them to know where their parents came from physically, emotionally and demographically. As near as I can tell, my roots were primarily farmers and laborers scratching livings out of the dust of history. I suppose part of me wishes they were all heroes and great figures out of history. But I suppose knowing what I know about public figures, it is better that they were just simple people living out their lives.

In a way, my children are a product of me looking at my roots. A few years ago, not that long after Tess and I married, we were driving to a friend's birthday party. I'd been working on the family tree that weekend. Suddenly I turned to her and asked her if she felt we were missing something by not having children. I could tell by the look in her face at that time that she believed we were. Now three years later we have a lovely daughter and are awaiting our son.

The tides are flowing.
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