Recently, my sister and I decided to research our family history, and I jumped onto Ancestry.com to begin. For the past two seasons, I have watched their Friday night TV program, “Who Do You Think You Are?” and I have been fascinated with the stories.
Within an hour, the celebrity finds his great-great-great grandparent. He goes to three or four destinations and is greeted by archivists anxious to fill in the blanks. Many times he flies of to England or Spain! And then, ta da, family secrets are disclosed, shocking new is revealed!
Ah, the stuff that media is made of!
After a week of bleary red eyes, a possibly permanent cricked neck and a sore back, it appears that I can’t get much past my maternal grandmother. I looked at census records that seem to begin after Nana married my grandfather at age twenty-one. I found one record of her living with her grandparents from age five to age eleven. But her mother and father seem to have never existed, even though they gave birth to five children in Illinois. Nana’s mother appears again after re-marrying later in life; her father has no birth certificate, death certificate or military record.
So where were those five poor children with no mother or father all those years?
Now this is the moment Ancestry jumps in and says, “We’re off to Carrolton, Illinois, where Connie and Peggy Poole will meet with historian blah blah at the state archives with some shocking news!” . . . commercial break.
I’m certain at some point we’ll be off to London for further research – perhaps a cemetery where our five times great-aunt is buried or to London Tower where our six times great-grandfather was held for treason.
I mostly write fiction where you just make this stuff up. It’s much easier than tediously straining your eyes at microfiche that has faded since 1860. One thing I do know –
After all this hard work, there better be a magnificent or devastating secret in our family closet to make it all worthwhile.