Wednesday, July 31, 2013

stalking the past

For the last few days I've been immersed in genealogy. I ventured into the files thinking I was relatively familiar with a path to a certain cluster of ancestors, only to find myself awash in history and tangled family lines. The tangling is, in part, a consequence of the connections some ancient kin have to one another, but I also have to claim some responsibility for entering names and relationships multiple times, unaware (or having forgotten) that these individuals were already present in the database. 

While mining records to verify--or establish more clearly in my own mind--some of those relationships I also had the opportunity to open new doors to older generations. In search of images to attach to individuals as a way to help me identify names more readily with time, place and story, I've stumbled into all sorts of places and people that deepen a yearning to connect with the roots of my own story. In the process, I've experienced something of an awakening.

I don't have to go back far to encounter one of the mysteries of my family tree. My grandfather's mother was adopted, and although we know her birth name and date and the name of a biological brother, it's astounding how difficult it is to find information that can lead to unearthing her family's history. A full eighth of my genealogical past is blocked from view, a frustration as present as a scab begging to be picked.

Not long ago, thanks to an encounter with a previously unknown cousin of Ken's who I got to know while probing his family's past, I was able to find and fill in pieces of the life of the adoptive parents of my great-grandmother. I began to plug that information into the family tree, then stopped. These weren't my relatives, after all, why invest in further research?

That's when it hit me as a seeker of family history. Although I believe that knowledge about our own kin matters, our lives are shaped by the people who are in them. I know from my own experience that a I am more emotionally connected to a step-grandfather that a biological one. That relationship--not bound by blood--is an important one in my life, and a touchstone to my understanding of myself and the family to which I belong.

Last night, while on the quest for images to attach to individual records (portraits, headstones, family churches or homesteads...), I discovered a file that calls into question a lineage that, for all of my life, I have believed to have been connected. Through that lineage my family traces its history to Edward III. It's a bit of a bombshell to learn that the possibility exists that an entire segment of the family tree might be wiped from the grid. It's also the section of the tree, between my tenth great-grandfather and that royal seat of the 14th century, where I've spent many hours during the last several days.

I admit that it's fun to claim descent from royalty, though in truth there are other stories along the line that are far more interesting, and certainly less tainted by intrigue, power, and politics. The wheelings and dealings, and the "hatches, matches, and dispatches" of long ago have been as distant tributaries to the river that is our present life. I believe that understanding the forces that contribute to our existing shape and condition is useful, and maybe even welcome. In the end, though, how we navigate our own choices and circumstances today and the impact those choices may have on others in our lives is where we find our pulse. 

I will continue to follow the paths that lead me to the lives and stories of those who came before me because it's something I enjoy, and--if you'll pardon the pun--it seems to be in my blood. My attachment to my genealogical blueprint, however, has been released with a certain gratitude. And a growing affinity for the name Maud.

*the image above is of John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III, through whom I am allegedly descended through all three wives.


Terri said...

i love genealogy. so very learn family stories.

The Bug said...

I'm afraid to open that door - who knows how many hours might be lost to the past? While my husband is a historian, I am a present moment person (at least according to Myers-Briggs - ha!).

But it really is fascinating!

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