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It's late at night.  The G&FH Community has already had a successful Friday Open Thread.  So why am I writing a diary?  I guess because I started to ponder how learning more about my ancestors has shaped to a large degree whom I've become, and how I view myself today.  In one sense, I feel as though I've been in an extended conversation with several of my ancestors.  And I wonder if others feel they've had a similar experience.  More below the fold....

This isn't meant to be a long history of my genealogical "career."  It is meant to spur you, dear reader, to consider your own experience and to add your own thoughts on this general theme.

I come from a Midwestern, middle-class, suburban Republican Protestant upbringing.  And -- Do I repeat myself? -- I led a pretty sheltered existence.  At the same time, I wasn't really raised to feel, well, "grounded" in any real sense.  My family spent weekends at a place out in the country.  My mother took me to another state each summer to spend time with grandparents -- weeks at a time....  So my suburban existence was pretty much limited to Monday-through-Friday during the school year.  I often think that I grew up in three places simultaneously.

Part and parcel of that was that the weekend outings kept me away from a church community, away from Scouting past Cubs, and away from school friends on Saturdays.  In addition to which there were few relatives, so that I didn't get to experience cousins in the way my wife did.  And, while my mother and father both had interests relating to history, I never got to visit a key family business before it closed, and never knew where relatives and ancestors were buried.  It was the Fifties, and I guess being in touch with one's "roots" wasn't the thing.

Fast forward now to genealogy.  Although briefly exposed to the concept as a preteen, I didn't develop an interest until after marriage.  Part of it was wanting to learn about my wife's many distant kin living in her home county.  Part of it was wanting to understand a great-grandfather; when my last grandparent died I was given a box of newspaper editorials condemning my great-grandpa, and who wouldn't have to find out more??  Lastly, a part of it was wanting to know what-to-name-the-baby (whom we were expecting).

Once I really got into it, learning about ancestors told me things about my family I never would have suspected.  One of these things was that my politically conservative mother's grandfathers had both been very liberal in certain respects.  Of course, I was never told about any of this, you see.

And so, without going into detail, my discoveries have led my ancestors to reinforce, if you will, thinking and action that I developed on my own despite my one-dimensional upbringing.  I guess what I'm saying is that some germ of independent thinking burst forth within me even after all that exposure to a vastly different way of seeing the world.  And, once out in the open, the genealogy that I pursued further informed me of where and how I should now see myself.

We shall not cease from exploration;
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.
  --T.S. Eliot
And now let the comments begin....

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 12:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (35+ / 0-)

    "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

    by Zwenkau on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 12:39:09 AM PDT

  •  "ancestral memory" (18+ / 0-)

    We may not have a firm grip on the experiences  of our ancestors, we may not be able to remember our grandparents wedding day or the pain they felt when they were abused, but something of their experience lives on within us. The experiences of those who went before us whisper their influence.

    •  " The experiences of those who went before us... (16+ / 0-)

      ... whisper their influence."   I hope!
      I'm not into Genealogy, but have written a memoir for my grand children.

      At the least I feel it to be important for them to know the details of their blood relation's medical history.

      At best for me was to outline for them my pathway to Secular Humanism in order to provide them with my personal information, in that regard, of a viewpoint alternative to that of Baptist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Jewish religious exposure.

      •  I have saved all the history I can... (9+ / 0-) pass on to the grandkids. I have pictures and stories I know they will be interested to see and hear.

        I hope.

        While my daughter is beginning to be more curious about her past, I can only hope these stories of my parentage can be saved.  My ancestors go back to Alexadr Radischev and further to the Golden Horde. There are some really interesting characters in my family lineage. My grandfather was one of them. And my family's medical history is part of it so they have that.

        Beyond that, I've observed that almost everyone engages in some kind of behavior to leave a 'trace' behind. I think humans are ALL a bit narcissistic.  

        In the the end we "fill our page with history, dream our dreams, and are gone."

        "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

        by CanisMaximus on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 01:22:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  my ancestors (0+ / 0-)

        The first ancestor to reach these shores was Pierre Fluery. He had lled France after St. Bartholamuews massacre. We have little information on him except that he was apparently the only literate person on the ships manifest. All of the others signed with an "X". We suspect he was a French Hugenot. Another ancestor was an atheist, I suspect very rare at the time.

        So, I believe, something of my heretically nature was passed on from the experiences of my ancestors. At least, it FEELS that way to me. Sometimes I can feel the anger of Pierre from the ages.

  •  Secular Humanism & Ancestors (11+ / 0-)

    Bingo!  That's one of the great-grandfathers I was referencing in this diary.  He died two decades before I was born, but learning of his personal spiritual development started a "conversation" I've had with him over the years, and continue to have with him today.  I thank genealogy for opening a door that my own mother had closed by scarcely ever mentioning the man, and then only in a negative light.  

    And, by writing/publishing, we all leave behind something for those who follow.  Just be sure that you allow for skipping one or more generations, because children & grandchildren (as was true in my GGF's case) won't always pass on your viewpoint as you would hope.

    "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

    by Zwenkau on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 08:34:52 AM PDT

  •  While most of my conversations with (14+ / 0-)

    my ancestors involve a bit of lecturing on my part on not having left a better paper trail ;) I do have plenty of moments where the "Aha!" of shared understanding is almost strong enough to believe they are looking over my shoulder and guiding me through my research.

    Genealogy is so much more than the begats. One of my g-grandfathers had a bio in a county history published in 1912 -- which had a gold mine of who/what/when/where -- that had a "throw away" line that he was "politically independent but a strong believer in socialism." Years after discovering that, I ran across a 1904 article in the state horticultural society where the author had visited him at his orchard about a variety of apple he had developed (for possible exhibition at the  worlds fair) -- there was a throw-away line about depressed market prices meaning that the current year's crop was not going to be harvested. That was the moment where I had the "conversation" with my ancestor about robber railroad barons setting impossible freight charges for farmers to get their produce to market, and why so many of them were advocates of progressive changes--the early 20th century socialists.

    It is moments like that that keep me looking for the chances to talk to those I've never met, but whose lives set up my path.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 09:16:38 AM PDT

  •  Who Do You Think You Are (8+ / 0-)

    The program that was on NBC is now on TLC.  When I googled the name I found that it is a long-running show in the UK.  Their stories are very interesting lessons in their history.  The US shows are available mostly on youtube as are the British shows.

  •  Fascinating subject for a diary (9+ / 0-)

    I hope more folks write of their experience in the comments.

     My enlightenment about the importance of ancestors came about in two parts. Long before the internet was even a twinkle in the eye of the military industrial complex, I took on the job of copying and adding new generations to a huge family tree that my maternal great- uncle worked on after retirement, in the 50's. He traveled and did the research the old way and traced his family back to the first brothers to come over from Oxfordshire, England in the 1630's. So it was 10 + generations of 'begats ' and I had no feeling about it beyond awe at his efforts.

     It was an entire winter of painstaking copying by hand, on a huge piece of paper that would later be copied and distributed through the family. This was fairly mind- numbing labor and I amused myself by telling 'stories' about the people whose names I was copying down.  It was at one name that I lightly thought - " he didn't get on well with his father " - and when I wrote his dates, I realized he was born posthumously.  It was a small moment, and probably picked up subconsciously by my quick first scan of the info to be transcribed, but it took me aback. I suddenly got the reality of these lives, these were real people !

     The second part of my enlightenment came during the movie 'Amistad' when the African man assures John Addams that there are forces assisting their case that Addams knows nothing about -  the Ancestors. He explains that we, the living at any given time, are the point of the spear, backed up by all the generations before us and their successful will to live, thrive and move forward. And of course, they wish us well and will assist us in any way they can.

     It was a great explanation of what is often called - belittlingly - 'ancestor worship'. I really GOT it !

     If Ancestry. com were not  enriching the Mormon church, I would definitely be doing more research online. But even without paying any money to any big company, I've been able to find info on several more recent ancestors and it is , as you say, a conversation that changes me for the better !

    “Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!” Julian Bond

    by Dvalkure on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 10:08:29 AM PDT

    •  "...the point of the spear..." (6+ / 0-)

      seems to be one of those unfortunate warfare metaphors that are all too common in society, but I nevertheless enjoy and applaud the picture of each of us being "backed up by all the generations before us."  Except that, if those ancestors were like most extended families, I think there'd be more than a little squabbling in the ranks.  LOL!

      As for the Mormons, I understand what you're suggesting.  Yet although I'd never make a good Mormon because of my own beliefs and political persuasion, I think the things with which I disagree aren't deal-breakers in terms of mutual cooperation.  And long-term I see them coming around on their positions on the "sticking points," albeit relatively late in time.

      Come to think of it, one thing I like about genealogy is that I do get to mix on friendly terms with people from whom I differ -- sometimes radically -- on certain matters.  I think my life is the richer for that experience.  All that I ask is that they represent themselves and their lives honestly, so that I might learn the basis of their thinking and perhaps learn from them.

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 12:24:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here I Stand (9+ / 0-)

    Here I stand
    at the very end
    of a long long line
    of long dead men.

    Each in their turn
    took a lover or wife
    who survived long enough
    for the next to arrive.

    Nature repeated
    since a time before time
    now it's come down to me
    at the end of the line.
    These are the opening verses of a poem I wrote shortly after my fathers passing in 1994.  It goes on another dozen verses but until I find my old notebooks, it's all I can remember.  What I do remember was that shortly after I finished it I was overcome by wave after wave of electric like tingling. It's like every bit of DNA in my body woke up to say "this is who you are because this is who we were".  

    You're a mammal, listen to your body.

    by post rational on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 10:21:47 AM PDT

  •  It seems that many of us (9+ / 0-)

    do not develop an interest in our ancestry until most of our relatives who could shed light on our  history have passed on.

    In my case, my maternal ancestry was half Northern and half Southern.  My paternal ancestry was all Southern.  For what it is worth, I have discovered that all familial stories that were passed down have turned out to be factual.

    I only wish that I was interested in my genealogy when I was in high school and college when the remaining primary sources were still living.

    The Democratic Party stands for equality for ALL, freedom with responsibility, and a civil and just society.

    by TexasLefty on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 12:19:29 PM PDT

    •  There's still time... (6+ / 0-)

      but what you need to do now is to contact your first and second cousins.  Develop a questionnaire for your own use.  You'll want to ask everyone the same, open-ended questions.  What you'll then do is study the answers to find different slants or even different interpretations of the same event as passed down in another family branch.  Also be sure to record any "tips" about where records may be found to document certain events.  Even siblings will remember things differently, so do expect some puzzling questions to go unresolved.  But just the act of getting out there and letting relatives know of your interest may prompt someone out there to send a record our way that might otherwise be lost.  Never give up!

      "There is no way to give to honest toil its just reward--its full share of all wealth produced--but by the full application of the single tax. And righteousness and justice require it to be done." --A. Moll, 1897

      by Zwenkau on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 04:22:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  After Mom died (10+ / 0-)

    I found the family trees after Mom died.  With the help of google I wrote 4 volumes based on those trees, but added history to flesh out the names and places.   We lived on military bases after WWII for 15 years knowing nothing about our past or our relatives.  Perhaps it was the new sense of belonging to places and people that was so exciting.  Please save what you have for future generations including names, dates and places.  That may be enough for the future family history person.  Visit your elders with a tape recorder and save their memories.  Any connection with a famous person or place helps to explain the story of that time.  It also helped that my project 20 years ago could access geneological sites mostly for free.

  •  Henry Lewis Gates' PBS series is so great on this! (7+ / 0-)

    The right of the women of this State to be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches shall not be violated by the State legislature.

    by Mayfly on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 04:54:57 PM PDT

  •  There are lots of good reasons (6+ / 0-)

    to trace your family tree. Some people want lots of names and birthdates and deathdates. Or they want to trace things as far back as possible. And that's fine. I have a little bit of that in me. I know of some ancestors from the 1300s.

    But I much prefer the details. Things like how my ancestors were part of history (in a minor way, usually -- but one of my ancestors knew a future U.S. Senator in high school, one of my ancestors knew the brothers who started the Mayo Clinic, and a distant cousin was the first race car driver to hit 180 miles per hour (3 miles per minute)). I like the minutiae, the details, the stories, even the sad stories about children dying in an epidemic. So here's something I wrote for Daily Kos in 2009: My Norwegian Ancestors, with some stories about a teacher, a sailor, a soldier, and a welder (my grandmother, a welder in the shipyards in WWII, sort of like Rosie the Riveter). I love the stories I've collected.

    Here's another DKos diary about trying to find a specific ancestor: Desperately Seeking Hans Olsen (in 1865 Norway).

    And what's great is that various people from Daily Kos wrote thoughtful comments about my ancestors (and a couple of Norwegians pointed out things I got wrong or gave me more information).


    Family trees are a never-ending quest. As soon as you find someone you're looking for, suddenly you have question marks for that person's father and mother. The more you learn, the more questions you have.

    Good luck with your genealogies. I hope you find more ancestors. And more history.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 07:51:51 PM PDT

  •  When I was in my twenties, I taught (6+ / 0-)

    on the Hopi Indian reservation.  When I began to research my ancestral history, I found through letters, that my great-grandfather had taught on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina before migrating to Texas.
    Interesting  coincidence.

    If I had one wish, Republican men would have uteruses.

    by Desert Rose on Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 06:43:23 AM PDT

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