Years ago, I purchased a family ancestry book in hopes of someday filling it with information for my future children.
Now, I'm more of the impatient type who needs information to come to me quickly, and after just 20 minutes of research back in 2006, I quickly grew bored and packed the book away, thinking I would eventually buckle down and make an effort to fill out these pages.
Honestly, I forgot the book existed until I began unpacking a box of college textbooks dropped into the box after each semester. Wedged in between a heavy textbook and some back issues of Entertainment Weekly, I caught a glimpse of the family ancestry book, bound in some faux leather and tied shut with a silky, white ribbon.
Intrigued, I decided to tackle the project, fully aware of what sort of task I was creating for myself. You always hear of people researching their genealogy, so it can't be that hard, right? People stop by The Daily Mining Gazette all the time inquiring about where to begin researching their own family histories.
Then I found out how hard this project really can be.
Because my genealogy didn't exactly present itself in the early stages, we started with my husband, Zach's (we also have the hope to put off paying for ancestry websites as long as possible while using available resources). For those looking to learn a little about their family history, I suggest starting with newspapers and obituaries. A few taps on the old keyboard and we were able to locate exactly what we need for the early part of our project.
Both of Zach's maternal grandparents passed away in 2011. So we began by using their obituaries as a reference point to learn more about the family. I think my husband was surprised to learn all of these new facts about his Norwegian family, and hours later we were still plugging away on the laptop in our dimly lit bedroom with pages of notes strewn all over the bed.
After I saw Zach begin to doze off, I began to look into my own family history to no avail. It was time to move on to my paternal grandfather who I believe is still alive and living downstate, but I only met once as a young child. Thanks to someone who was obviously doing the same type of research, I came across his family history quite quickly.
Excitedly, I scribbled down notes and dates and was surprised to find links to my great-grandparents, and then my great-great grandparents. I then stumbled upon what I thought was the greatest find of all - great, great, great grandparents. It seemed the facts were checking out, as these people were born and died in the same Kentucky county as the ancestors after them, for which I had reasonable factual documentation. I don't know if it's because my ancestry is English, but it appears excellent records were kept.
I tapped my husband's shoulder and quietly tried to wake him in an effort to share my excitement without having him think our house was being robbed.
"I traced great, great, great grandparents," I said, cupping my mouth to keep my excitement at bay.
I was giddy like a schoolgirl - quite unlike me because I question facts for a living.
Zach stared at me blankly.
"Our book only has the space to record great-great-grandparents," I said.
Three hours later, I was researching the parents of each new ancestor (as the birth locations moved from Kentucky to West Virginia to Connecticut), I was linked to information about what appeared to be my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents in England. That's when things started to get bizarre. Maybe it was the full moon casting light through my bedroom blinds or perhaps I was becoming overtired and delirious, but the names started popping up with titles such as "Sir" and "Duke." I vowed to begin cross-checking these facts and I think this could be a fun project for me when I have time to return to it.
So now that I'm left with this newfound excitement, I wonder if my children and future generations will even care. What started as an experiment for them has turned into a self-realization project for me. I feel as though my identity has changed ever so slightly.
For those looking to start a project like this, I strongly encourage it. Perhaps you will be able to share your tips with others.
You never know what you'll uncover.
Stacey Kukkonen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.