I’ve been addicted to Ancestry.com for the past 4 years. This means I took out a fairly pricey monthly online subscription to maintain about 3,500 names, histories, and links to digital documents that make up my family history. Perhaps genealogy is seen as the domain of the retiree, but I’m fascinated by this collection of folks within which I have nothing in common but DNA. Back when I worked at a small local history organization with a genealogical library, we had a term for its users: Genies. And now I’ve become one of them. While I toyed with genealogy before, a request from a cousin spurred me to get serious. He and I don’t have too much in common. I was National Honor Society and graduated college in three years; he fell in with the wrong crowd, struggled to graduate high school, and has been having trouble finding his way. He asked about our family history and I thought, I have those skills, maybe this is something over which we can connect. And so it began.
I hear hardcore library hound pre-Ancestry Genies scoffing. It’s true, Ancestry is only as good as the people inputting info. There’s a lot of incorrect information, duplicate people, and misspelled names. Historical documents have to back up the whole process. But the program itself is addictive. The moment you add a person (like one of your great-grandmothers) and the Ancestry search engine finds related records, a little shaking leaf will sprout on the screen. Hours later, you’ve clicked through hundreds of leaves, accumulating birth dates, copies of census records, and a pile of names, which without the program you have no hope of remembering. It’s a brilliant scheme by those folks in Utah, for all sorts of reasons I’ll discuss some other time.
I’m lucky to be able to research my family history, where so many people cannot hope to begin. Some families came to the U.S. recently, others were disrupted by war, communism, poverty, and immigration, while other families are not from Europe and have yet to be included. Large chunks of my family have lived in the American colonies since the early 1600s and therefore are easily searched through their program.
I don’t intend for my genie posts to be “guess who I found today! My great great great great….. great great great grandfather!” There are already several blogs out there celebrating those discoveries. Instead, I’ll offer a few interesting stories, ones that illustrate poverty, real family life in the good old days, women’s history, and the like. More to follow.