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.


Pernicious Panda said...

Very well said, Tim. As you know, I'm big into genealogy too. The more I discover and the deeper I dig, the more I think studying genealogy is like shopping in a second-hand store. If you go in looking for something specific (ancestors on the Mayflower or links to royalty) you are bound to be disappointed. If you go in just looking for something interesting and unusual, you'll usually end up with something to show for your efforts--maybe even something amazing, even if it's in a P.T. Barnum sort of way.

Now, just be aware that while you're doing this with your kids in mind, they may NEVER have any interest in your family tree. Don't be disappointed--ironically, often our own families aren't at all interested in our family stories. But document everything anyway. You may have a niece or nephew of third cousin once removed who will someday take up the torch and love you, maybe without even knowing you, for all the effort you've put in.

Time said...

Thanks Kristy,
You are right, I suppose my children won't necessarily share my burning need to unveil the past. No one else in my immediate family seem to care. I sent a photo I'd handcolored of my great, great, grandfather and grandmother to my brother one year and his response was "why would we want a photo of these people we don't even know?"

And hopefully there will be someone after me who appreciates that I left breadcrumbs that helped them trace the path back to my family's foundation.

BTW, what happened to your blog?

K. said...

No one else in my immediate family seem to care. I sent a photo I'd handcolored of my great, great, grandfather and grandmother to my brother one year and his response was "why would we want a photo of these people we don't even know?"

If it makes you feel better, one of your in-laws is happy you're doing the family tree digging.

One of my uncles who married into the family did some family tracing and had an managed to find 200+ relatives or something like that (he came from a huge family to begin with). R may have better memory about it than I do. It was pretty fun to read through his paperwork.