Collaborative Genealogy

The question at GeneaBloggers today is this:

Do you collaborate with others in terms of your own family history research, and if so, what methods do you use?

I’m a great fan of collaboration where genealogy is concerned. Asking questions, telling stories, sharing photos and memories–that, after all, is what genealogy is about. I am so blessed to have several family members who’ve helped me and talked with me when others (I’m sure!) grew weary of my ponderings.

So far, I’ve been mostly on the receiving end of the field. I haven’t had any information, documents, photos, etc, that others in the family didn’t already have (or have access to).  My hope, however, is to compile some of my work into book form for my siblings and their families. That’s what it’s all about, anyway–preserving information, not hoarding it.

Family history isn’t worth much if we can’t share it.

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. :)

 

When You’re Not Looking

In the search for our roots, our ancestors and the stories of their lives, it’s easy to think we know what we’re looking for. We have a name and a birth date, after all. I’m learning, however, that sometimes the most valuable pieces of an ancestors’ life are unearthed in day-to-day conversation–not in family history interviews.

For example, I’ve been asking my mother about her dad (who died several years before my birth). She has told me some wonderful things about his life, his ministry, his talents. But during our time away for Steven’s wedding, my brother, mother, and I were discussing strange foods and types of foods we didn’t particularly like. And out of this random, entertain-the-long-moments-of-our-drive time together, mom remembered that her father always wanted Oyster Soup on Christmas Eve.

It was tradition, she said–though why, or how it came to be, she hadn’t a clue. Every Christmas Eve, Grandpa S. would direct the children’s program at the church, and then the family would come home for Oyster Soup and Christmas cookies. He was the only one who ate the Oyster Soup.

It is not a story I was looking for. It does, however, add some color to my Grandfather’s life.

But as the family history search goes, one piece of incredible information, one enlightening story, one tiny tidbit that surfaces when we least expect it–not only excites and illuminates the search, but also births a dozen infant questions.

Perhaps they, too, will be answered…when I’m not looking.

Family

It is who we are.

It is more than lines and genes, more than long-aged traditions and fading photographs, more than mothers, fathers, siblings, and more than a name. It is so much more.

It is amazing to me how families grow. We marry, we have children, our siblings marry, we adopt, we reunite with an adopted member and her adoptive family. We grow, grow, grow. They say that blood is thicker than water, but how can that be, when we choose our own spouses? When we choose to bind ourselves to another family line?

It is made clear to me again that love is not simply an emotion. It is not merely that affability, that ease of being comfortable around people we know. It is a choice. We choose who we will love–whether we are related biologically or not.

It must be that the greatest love is freely chosen, freely given, and freely received.

And so we gathered–two families, coming together through the bond of marriage–and we simply knew. There was no question we would become family. There was no question we would love. We just did. And somehow, God–in His infinite wisdom–brought together personalities, interests, skills, and histories that were so diverse, yet they shone awkward beauty, like a young orchestra playing together for the first time.

It is the miracle of another person, without intent or effort, bringing out pieces of our own character and being that we maybe had forgotten–or had never known. It is that subtle dissonance–the tension (and resolution) of harmony whereby each instrument’s strength is exalted, and its weakness is supported by another’s strength. It is by others that we come to know ourselves; and it is by us that others come to know themselves.

It is who we are, and who we are becoming.

 

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.