Saturday, October 31, 2009

Distracted by the Bookmarks

I have really fallen behind in the past two weeks, but it's not my fault, really - it's all because of the bookmarks. It's really nice to have such a convenient scapegoat.

Here's what happened: I love the Forgotten Bookmarks blog - the author works in an antique bookstore and posts pictures of the bookmarks he finds left behind in old books. I find this incredibly cool, and my favorite so far is the bookmark found in a book called The Chicken Devil Mystery, which I never heard of before but obviously really need to read.

One day he ran across a vintage baby album and posted (er, tweeted) on Twitter about trying to return it to the family. A geneologist responded and they had a back and forth that I was able to follow - I was on the edge of my seat, really - and in the end, the baby book was returned to the family. The story ended up on the geneologist's own blog, so you can read all about it, if you like.

This got me thinking about my own family geneology. I have a family tree that goes back a few generations - it was compiled by my grandmother and her nephew. But every branch of the tree stops when the people enter the state of Wisconsin - all of the research was conducted there, in person, going to cemeteries and local churches and so on. What about before that? Where did they come from?

The long and short of it is, I signed up for a geneology research website, and haven't gotten a thing done since then. I have overdue library books and didn't even make it over to the library to check out some CD's they had on hold for me  ... I did manage to take my daughter around to Boo a few neighbor kids, but I'm not sure if I should really be commended for stepping away from my historical research to play getaway driver whilst encouraging my daughter to ring doorbells and run. Although she has developed valuable stalking skills, which makes me very proud, as I'm sure you can imagine.

But apart from that, I've been hopelessly addicted to historical records: they're like heroin, and there's no known methadone. It's amazing what one can find on these sites. Stuff I've found so far:
  • The name of one of my great-great-grandmothers (and a census that shows my grandfather living with her at the age of four).
  • The name of the boat that some ancestors came to America on, along with a copy of the ship's registry showing their names.
Seeing these old records is amazing, not just because it's my own history right there, and I can see how it ties in with world history and really feel who those people were, but also I can't help but look at that ship's beautifully handwritten log and think, "Wow, penmanship really is a lost art."

I'm stuck on several branches of the tree, so I posted some queries on discussion boards. I promptly got a response from a man who says he was able to connect my great-great-great-grandfather back twenty generations. He sent me his geneology and it's quite amazing. For example, I may have an ancestor by the name of Freelove, and she wasn't born on a commune in the 1960's, but rather on a farm in upstate New York around 1800. I would not have imagined such a thing was possible, would you?

His research goes all the way back to Europe and royalty. Royalty! Now, I would be happy just to connect my tree to the Revolutionary War (assuming my people fought on the right side, otherwise, I'll just pretend I don't know) - but if I can trace my family back to royalty, maybe there's money and a castle involved. Who couldn't use a moat and some serfs? 

After spending a considerable amount of time researching a couple of family members and coming up with some tantalizing clues but no real hard evidence, I realized something: I could spend the rest of my life lost here in the branches of my family tree, which are hopelessly entangled with those of the other trees in the orchard, which is overgrown. And I've got other things I need to do, like read Tongues of the Dead and walk the dog.

So I did what I do best: I hired someone. I'm not lazy, I'm trendy: I created my own personal geneology stimulus package. I've sent her into the orchard and if she can find the right apples, I'll keep her busy with some other branches of the tree, while I resume my reading project. If not, I'll just buy some apples and make some pie to eat while I read.


  1. I am so fascinated by history like this. I would love to know more about my family history, maybe someday I will do the same thing you are doing. I think my interest in my own history is what has me so caught up in historical fiction, perhaps I'm searching for a clue haha.

  2. We should totally resurrect penmanship.

    Keep us updated!

  3. Wow. Good luck with your project! I hope your research yields even more great information. What a treasure for you to assemble for your family!

  4. That is so cool! I am on the edge of my seat about your maybe-castle. I would love to trace my family someday. I am a hillbilly mutt - nada clue who and where I belong to before my Great Granny. I find it so interesting.


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