Tuesday’s Tip: Talk to the Living

I confess.

Family History is like a puzzle. It’s not only about finding all of the pieces, but then putting those pieces together and then understanding the picture it creates. At times, this is a daunting project. I am still very new to the genealogy world, but I have already found myself (more than once) surrounded by papers, papers, endless papers, trying to make sense of a particular topic.

We can’t forget the most valuable resource we have: our families. Take the time to ask questions of your relatives and then listen carefully for their answers.

I also confess freely: I recently connected with someone on my mother’s side of the family, and she has been a treat to talk with. I had assumed that all of the “old family” had passed on, but in our conversations, I learned that one of my grandmother’s cousins was still alive and well (and living in the same city here in Michigan where he grew up). I also learned that this man was my mother’s baptism sponsor.

Now. The brick wall has been his parents: where they came from, who their parents were, etc. Do you think he might be able to shed some light on that? I do. And so, my big genealogy goal for this week is to take my own medicine. I cannot interview him in person at this time (though I’m hoping to do so some time next year), but I can write him a letter.

And thus far, I’ve been wonderfully blessed in my letter writing responses. We shall see what comes of it!

In the meantime, happy digging! And don’t forget to search for clues among the living. :)

Blue’s Clues

I wish that searching for family history was like an episode of Blue’s Clues. Every clue would have a blue paw print, screaming, “A clue!” It doesn’t really work that way. There’s no song and dance, no paw prints. I’m finding that more often than not, I don’t even recognize clues as they come at me. It is more often that I look at something and wonder what it means, then forget about it for some time.

Maybe it’s best to let ideas turn over in our minds for awhile before we try to make sense of them.

Still–it would be nice if, once in awhile, clues came with a song. :)

 

What’s in My Name?

Yesterday, I asked you to share the stories of your name, why you were named as you were, how you feel about your name, etc.  Because of the wonderful responses I received (both in the comments and elsewhere), I felt I had better swallow my own medicine and share my name story today.

My name is Sarah.

My father’s name is Earl, and his sisters’ names all end in “eine” (as evidenced by my Aunt Georgeine, who comments sometimes on this blog). Rumor has it that my father wanted to name me “Earleine,” to follow tradition. My mother wanted “Sarah Elizabeth,” after the women in the Bible. I love my aunts and my father, but I can’t tell you how thankful I am that my mom won that argument.

Sarah and Elizabeth are both Hebrew names, meaning “princess” or “noblewoman” and “my God is an oath,” respectively. I don’t think I wear either of these names well in terms of my character, but I do love them both.

When I was young, I hated my name. I wanted a nickname, and there weren’t any nicknames to be had with the name “Sarah.” Or so I thought. Now, it is not uncommon to hear folks calling me by any number of Sarah-derivatives: Sar, Sarie, Hahahaha, even “semmie” came from my real name.

Maybe I would have made a better “Earleine” than I do “Sarah,” but…I like to think I’m growing into my name. After all, if “Sarah” means “princess,” then that means I am the daughter of a King; and that has been the greatest struggle of my life thus far–to see myself as God’s daughter. But I’m working on it. And He’s working on me.

Pax Christi. Enjoy your weekend, all!

What’s in Your Name?

Who are you?

As I continue the search to discover my roots, I realize more how unknown we are. Think about it. How many people know your life goals? How many people know the pivotal moments of your life that shaped who you are today? How many people even known your eye color for certain? (I can’t say that I know all of my siblings eye colors for sure…)

I love walking in the cemetery. Though none of my family is buried locally, I love the sense of mortality that I feel when I consider the lives at rest there. Like you and me, these were passionate persons with dreams and goals and fears and faiths and allergies. When they died, close friends and family mourned them for a time, then joined them. With the passing of one, two, maybe three generations, that life is largely forgotten. The stories that families tell at Christmastime find their own graves there in the solace of the cemetery.

Who can call them to remembrance?

Maybe none of us can, entirely. Though, if you are searching out your own roots and stumble upon a name and a person that you cannot make sense of, there are usually some clues to chase after.

I confess, I find myself envious of ancient (or even outdated) naming practices. In the Bible, names meant something. An entire faith revolves around the importance of the name of Jesus–the LORD saves! If we all went through a name change as Abram and Sarai did, perhaps we, too, would have “a story in a name.” How many years have passed? How many generations have forgotten? But here, generations after the fact, in a different land, with a different language, we still know that Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. We still know the significance of that name change, and the countless stars in the sky.

I’m not suggesting that we can all be as infamous in our names as Abram. He is, of course, an exceptional example. He is, perhaps, the pinnacle of all name stories. But certainly there are stories within our own families.

Begin with yourself.

Were you named after someone, or did your parents just choose a name they liked?

Does your name mean anything to you?

Does it reveal anything about your character?

How about your surname (your last name, or family name)–where did it originate?

What does it mean?

What’s in your name?

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this one.

Book Review: Finding Your Roots

One of the blessings of my journal-making habit is that it forces me into St. Vincent de Paul’s to look for books I can recycle. I am often amazed at the books others throw away, and how such treasures can resell for the lesser half of a quarter.

I picked up Jeane Eddy Westin’s Finding Your Roots on one such adventure. With a 1977 copyright, I honestly did not expect much from this book. I thought the Internet Age had rendered many of the old paths obsolete. What used to require physical digging through piles of paper now needed only a few clicks on some genealogy site. Right? When I found this book, however, I was struggling in particular with the stubborn green root of my Irish family.

I can’t say that I was entirely mistaken about the book being obsolete. Truth be told, the book is full of resources that I’ll never have occasion to use (however, a quick check on the internet would verify whether a particular resource was still current). But it is full of resources, tips, examples and incredible information that I will–and do–use. Each chapter deals with some general topic of ancestry, and is then broken down into nationality, with specific examples of how that topic looks in that culture.

In chapter two, for instance, Westin writes about the importance and heritage of names and the vast clues to be found in a given name or surname. Then in a list of nationalities, under “Scottish,” she writes of an old tradition of the men taking their wives’ surnames when they marry.  If your roots are Scottish, don’t you think this might be an important thing to know?

I was pleasantly surprised with this dusty handbook. What began as a long-shot crack at finding an Irish clue quickly became a fascination not only with my family roots but with genealogy itself. I would encourage anyone interested in her family tree to get her hands on this gem. I am thrilled to add this to my personal library.

I do, however, feel bad that I paid only $0.12 for it. It’s worth at least the $3.50 printed on the cover.