The day after our wedding, we enjoyed a Thanksgiving potluck with fifty of the gentleman’s closest relatives. And the next day, I stopped by his aunt’s house… and inherited the family genealogy.

As a building block for other writing, I just want to note here what genealogy has taught me. Sorting through family records takes time, yet for me, it connects to places, historic moments, a cultural identity, and a sense of self.

Most of all, I appreciate how it gives perspective on the choices we make in life, intertwined with the fates we can’t prepare for.

By interviewing family, searching online, helping friends research their families, and even hiring genealogists in distant places, I’ve found such intriguing stories:

Jack, who fled scandals in Canada by moving to Missouri.

Belle, who became an independent professor, researcher, and world traveler in the 1930s.

Caleb, who bet on the wrong side of the American Revolution—and fled with his family to Canada when the rebels won.

Mary, who was left a single mother when her young husband refused to go to the doctor—and died.

Linda, detained in a Philippine war camp because of her husband’s job.

Ruhama, who turned herself in to attackers to save her husband’s life (it didn’t work).

Otto, who got a girl pregnant in 1924 and (surprise!) married her.

Grace, who nursed a husband burned from head to toe, and buried two baby girls.

Phoebe, whose husband ran away to the steamships of Maine.

Lizzie, a young widow caught pregnant for the second time in colonial America.

Bob, who trapped weasels in the Minnesota snow.

Johanna, whose husband gambled away their farm; she left without telling him where she’d gone.

Georgia, who lost all her money in the Great Depression.

Amelia, who claimed Civil War widow’s benefits on her much older husband, in order to get income from the government.

James, who sued a grocer for damages in 1925 when he slipped and fell (and you thought frivolous suits were new!)

…and these are just a few of the stories any family has.

What all of this says, of course, is that tragedy, comedy, surprise, and struggle are nothing new.

What Genealogy Shows Us About Human Nature

2 thoughts on “What Genealogy Shows Us About Human Nature

  • December 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm
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    Sometime let’s get together (virtually or otherwise) and discuss the ways these stories are recorded and tracked. I am my family’s unofficial tree climber (not to mention all the tutoring sessions I’ve given on Ancestry to college students in recent years!), and am hoping to do more of this work after retirement….

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    • December 6, 2016 at 4:27 pm
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      That would be fun! I tend to talk to people, even distant family members, scour online, and of course use Ancestry. Have reached out to reference librarians at times for help as well. 😉

      Reply

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