About two years ago I started doing research on my family. This used to be harder than it is now. Thanks to websites like Ancestry.com that keep getting more and more robust, you barely have to leave your chair to add branches to your family tree. As my own parents age and have trouble remembering things I realized that I needed to get moving. Being part of family that did not step on Plymouth Rock or had English as their native tongue, getting to any level of detail takes hard work and persistence. I am thankful to other researchers who have helped me fill in the blanks and learn more about family members because of a common relative. This work has given me respect for how hard life was for these new immigrants. They made sacrifices and survived wars and economic downturns, and tried to earn a living and raise families in times when graduating from High School was a big accomplishment.
Many of my relatives had large families. Ten or twelve children was not uncommon. They lived in tiny apartments in New York and modest homes in Pennsylvania and Ohio; they worked 60 or 70 hour weeks selling shirts and working in factories and tending bar. Their mother-in-laws lived with them, or perhaps it was the other way around. Some fought in the Civil War, like my great great grandfather, and some fought in WWI or WWII, or like two of my great uncles, fought in both wars. Yes, they signed up for a second time and survived. They dropped out of high school to support their parents and then watched their younger brothers go to college when there was only money for one. My family lived in New York City and the Bronx, in the mid-west, in Los Angeles and Chicago, in Indiana and in Mississippi. They fell out with siblings and nursed grudges. I now know more about who they married and what they did for a living and where they are buried.
I have met researchers who are related to me by blood or marriage. I share information with them and they share with me. In another era we would be total strangers, separated by time and distance. The genealogy world brings people together that wars and crises and struggle have torn apart. I met someone a few days ago whose family lived in the same village as mine and whose relative married one of mine.
My ancestors left Europe as young people and left their prior life behind. They settled with brothers and cousins already living in the States. As they became more confident some started to venture away from the safety of their kin, raising their families across the country instead of down the street. With my work I hope to build virtual bridges to reunite these families. In the old country life was not kind to them. They left the pain behind when they immigrated. Now I am attempting to dig it up.
2 thoughts on “Barking up the family tree”
Fascinating, isn’t it? My family has been here for many generations and I have been unable to find the original immigrants in my research on my father’s side at all. I found one British Sea captain who settled around the border of North Carolina and Virginia where my grandparents lived and his name matches my grandfather’s. His ship had passengers with many names that are found in the family, some of them kind of unusual, so I think he is most likely my great (not sure how many greats) maternal grandfather who arrived in 1772. Family stories on both sides of my family say we have several native American relatives in our direct lines, and my father’s appearance underscored that with his high cheek bones and general carve of his face, so I would love to find that part of the family also. I applaud your attempts with your family that you outlined it here. I would be fascinated to hear how you progress. Cheers.
BJ, yes it is a lot of fun and I’m learning a lot, but it can also be addicting. I find that hours go by in the blink of an eye as I add additional cousins to my tree. I bought some binders to start getting organized and break down the work into smaller bits.