Family Trees

Rooting for Roots

Over the last century we have become a more mobile, more transient society. As we become more electronically connected through social media, we become more personally disconnected. How often do you sit down with a relative like a grandparent and just chat or listen to their reminiscences? Set your phone aside. Sit down and take the time to label old photos, revive and relive family stories. We used to live in the same house, or next door, or in the same town as our families, and their families families. In the spirit of Cheers: places "where everybody knows your name". Community venues like the local post office, or general store, church or neighborhood replace this 'family' feeling to some extent, but they don't fill in the gaps. They don't give you a sense of where you come from.

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Ancestry packets are big business. I believe that as we become more removed we long to be more connected and therefore more interested in our roots. Maybe you find you have a better sense of who you are and where you are going if you know where you came from. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has created a hit PBS series finding celebrities roots. Teams of intrepid investigators travel the world. They scrutinize microfiche, search immigration records and don protective gloves to page through antique volumes of birth, marriage and death records. The results are amazing and illuminating but not many of us have the funds nor the time for this kind of exhaustive research.

I have, however, discovered a rabbit warren of family information you can access for free. Be prepared to go on a fascinating journey, or journeys, that will make hours fly by. The web site: familysearch.org is a massive compilation of family trees, with supportive documents and photos. You can even add photos, comments or documents. (This site is courtesy of the Mormons, or LDS as they note on the site.) Once you open an account with the usual process of creating a user name and password, you then have access to all the information available to follow a specific lineage, look for a particular ancestor, or simply see where the branches lead. Some may dead-end, and others can go back and back and back. I traced one branch of my family back to 950 AD. I had a chance to add photos of my great-grandmother, and a photo of my grandfathers Carnegie Medal of Honor, to my grandfather's 'page'. There was a photo there of him ca 1884 that I had never seen before.

You may never know their stories in full. You may only see their names, but those names, enclosed in little rectangles along with their vital statistics, lead thread by slender thread right up to you. Without each of those connections, you wouldn't be you. Think about it and then take a dive into your past. 

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