Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Did You Get Here?

This week has been a rough one for me for reasons I will not go into. Instead of explaining what I did in my travels up my family tree, I found myself reading another blog that relates to the question, 'How did you get here?' It is a question I bet everyone who has an interest in discovering the details of their own family tree have asked and can have several meanings. Obviously, the general question about one's family history relating to genealogy is probably the foremost question, but for me, it was something else.

Here is my story.

As a reader of my blog knows, I am not a professional genealogist and as far as I know, there are no other people in my family that have ever been interested in our shared family history. I know this because if there had been anyone interested in discovering our shared past or in leaving some information for our future generations, there would be documents or stories or photos with details. I have no documents of any kind and very few photos, most of which have very little or no information written on them

I was not left with one significant date; what I know I have learned through painstaking online research. But much of what I thought I knew as a child - like what I thought was a direct Irish ancestry - turned out to be inaccurate and things I did not know - like my direct Quebec connection - turned out to be a major part of my family history. My early knowledge of my family was restricted to several New England states; it did not include a rather substantial, fairly recent branch in Utah and Nevada. And all of that is only one one side of my family, my father's. I have not even begun looking at my maternal grandmother's Quebec history for one basic reason - I do not have a good recollection of my high school French!

So, with little to go on, poor childhood memories, and no adult before pushing my interest in the 'family history' direction, how did I get here? It really is pretty simple, though the process took almost 40 years to ferment into an action plan.

In 1967, an historian and anthropologist, Harold Courlander, wrote a novel that became the focal point in a very public plagiarism lawsuit against what would become one of the most significant books in the 1970's. You may know the Alex Haley book by the wildly popular 1977 television miniseries....Roots.

Though Roots was later shown to be largely fictional - the genealogical basis for the book was contested almost immediately upon publication in 1976 - the miniseries helped initiate a national interest in learning about one's own family history. Ours is a nation of immigrants, whether African, English, Irish, or the original American Indian residents. We all have an interest in knowing how we got here.

I never saw the television series - my wife was in grad school and we were raising our first child at the time, so there was no money for a television in the house - but I did have access to a library and managed to check out the rather hefty book. I read it cover to cover over the course of a few weeks working the night shift at a local retirement home where I had a job.

I can say with certainty that book did ignite the ember that eventually became a full-blown fire of interest in my family history, 40 years later. That fire continues today and is the reason I do what I do and why I write about it.

That is how I got here. What is your story?

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