Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where did I come from?

One of the blogs I read regularly is authored by my online friend (and follower of my blog) JD. Although we've never met, JD is from my home state of Florida and he writes fairly regularly about places I'm somewhat familiar with. He also writes from time to time about his genealogy research.

Now, I am a woman of many interests, and genealogy is one that has occupied me for many years. I love the connection I feel with my forebears, and when I'm lucky enough to find an old photograph, I might inspect it for a while to see if there is a family resemblance that has survived the generations. I have a membership at Ancestry.com, which isn't cheap, but it does allow me to "connect" with others who are researching common ancestors. There's a certain thrill when I find a distant ancestor's information in a census or in an old story, as well as the occasional famous person. (I recently discovered that I'm a descendant of Simon Bradstreet and Anne Dudley; quite exciting!)

One of the dangers, however, is that it's easy to be led astray by connecting with folks who aren't as diligent (read "compulsive") as I about keeping the family lines straight! That's where the family connection comes in.

I've recently been contacted by a fellow genealogist whose own family tree intersects with mine in an oblique manner: My great-aunt was married to a man named Jasper Black; my online friend's grandmother was half-sister to Jasper. So we share no blood, but do have an interest in where our family lines brush up against each other. In her research - which is more linear regarding the Blacks than is mine - she discovered that I had connected with incorrect ancestors. Now this may not seem like a big deal to those of you who live in the here and now, but what it means to me is that I now have a better chance of finding other connections for those family members who have remained elusive.

Via email, this friend and I exchanged phone numbers and she surprised me with a phone call a couple of days ago. It was pleasant to discuss Great-aunt Vesta with someone who shares an interest in the family, and since she still lives in Florida, it was nice to hear again the slight southern accent that she still carries. (My accent has all but disappeared until a few glasses of wine or an encounter with someone from the South revives it!)

By indulging in this kind of research, I know of the long family tradition of interest in things political, in our family's service at sea over the generations, and have a glimmer of where the family interest in writing has coursed its way across the centuries. I already knew that my grandfather was something of a genealogist (although he apparently had no qualms about revising the unpleasant!), and I know that it continues in my middle son as well as a few of my cousins.

My own personal religious beliefs lead me to embrace the idea of an afterlife, but regardless of what might eventually prove to be true, the Johns and Vestas and Fenns and Annes and Simons live on in my research and my desire to know who they were and where I came from. And, perhaps, so shall I in generations yet to be born!