I have a new obsession and I need to talk to someone about it. A few months ago I started researching my family tree on Ancestry.com and now I’m hooked. It started out as a casual browsing of family members and now I stay up late at night, when I should be writing on my blog or returning emails, and I look up members of my family tree.
Am I a weirdo? Probably. But I’m in too deep now. I guess the passion and curiosity for my family history comes about because I don’t really know much about my past. I know my family has lived in Oklahoma for generations, even before Oklahoma was a state. Back then it was the Oklahoma Territory and was joined with the Indian Territory when it became a state in 1907. Now hold on tight, we are going to deep dive into some history and it’s gonna be awesome.
I love history. You’d think I would have done better in that class in high school but I was too busy figuring out how to be the lead in all the school plays. I think this love of history is something that’s developing as I get older. Eventually I’m going to be a part of history myself and I wonder, what will people say about me? What will they dig up in the annals, or websites, of history? What will my legacy be? God I hope it’s not, “She tried her entire life to be a successful actress but never quite made it.” Sigh.
Wow that got melancholy quick! Anyway, when Chris and I first got married I started reading a lot of books about the Tudor dynasty. I mean, a lot. I read fiction, non-fiction, poems, anything I could get my hands on. I was like a sponge soaking up every detail of this time in the world’s history that seemed so romantic, but primitive. Did the poor people bath? Was everyone covered in mites? How on earth was everything so sexy when everyone probably smelled like an outhouse? These are questions I ponder when I read things about the Renaissance.
I also think about this when I’m digging through old records of my family and how they ended up in Oklahoma. What was it like for them to live in one of the last American territories before it became a state? Did they see the horrors of the Trail of Tears? Were they part of the Oklahoma land rush that was beautifully romanticized in Far and Away? I used to imagine that movie was basically my family story and how they came to be in Oklahoma.
The truth I found was far less romantic and more real. So far I traced my family on my maternal grandmother’s side to Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina and Maryland. Quite a journey over a few hundred years I suppose and I haven’t even touched on my paternal side. The thing with trees is that there are so many branches, and offshoots from the trunk that you could get lose site of your goal while climbing all the way up. My goal was to find out when my family first came to America and from where. My whole life I’ve always told people that I’m Irish/English but truth be told, I really have no idea. My granny always told people we’re “Heinz 57, a little bit of everything.” But now I know that’s not the case.
Before I take you through my tree, I should tell you one of the first things I did was an Ancestry.com DNA test. My mom told me not to take it because “Someone will collect that information and use it against you someday!” Okay paranoid old lady. I’ll keep that in mind. (Side note: this is not an ad for Ancestry.com. Although they should probably pay me for this amazing write-up. But I digress…) I took the DNA test and guess what? I am 46% EASTERN EUROPEAN. I mean, what the holy hell? No one in my family even looks remotely Eastern European! I didn’t even know where Eastern Europe was so I had to look it up. But here’s the kicker, I’m 42% IRISH/ENGLISH. Aaahhh, sign of relief. I haven’t entirely lied to everyone my whole life. Also there’s a nugget of Iberian Peninsula in there. Weird.
So come with me on a tour of my tree! I chose to follow my maternal grandmother’s roots because that’s the part of my family I know the most about. What I learned is that even if you have a little information, it will be a huge help. I knew my grandmother and great-grandmother’s maiden names and birth/death dates. That was a huge help to get started.
A really cool thing the site does is give you hints about possible matches in your family tree. It cross references millions of documents that have been uploaded by professional genealogist and others like me who are working on their tree and shows you options that might match your ancestor. I started getting hints about my great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather through census records and birth/marriage records.
From there it was like piecing together a puzzle. Is this the same Maggie Williams from Kansas as this Maggie Williams from Arkansas and eventually Oklahoma? If the birth dates match, and sometimes the middle name, and other details then you have a pretty good idea that it’s a match. Then you can save that record to that person and use it for reference.
I have to admit, even now while I’m writing this post I stop to look up my tree and see another line of ancestors I could research. It’s taken me 2 months and 3 hours to write this because I keep stopping. Must focus. Like I said I find this fascinating. So far I’ve traced the paternal roots on my grandfather’s side all the way back to the mid 1600’s when some of my ancestors first came to the new land from England.
Now I’m digging into other branches of my tree to find out where that Western European part comes from and what the “other regions” entail. I have to admit it’s given me a renewed sense of wonder about the past and reminds me of how much I love history. And my hope is that Chan and I can explore this more in-depth together when she’s a bit older.