27 December 2010

“It’s always best to start at the beginning…” – Glinda the Good Witch of the North

            Any genealogical research, or family tree climbing, should begin with what you know.  I believe that even before you start with what you know, you should start with YOU.  How many of us don’t have the vital records pertaining to our very own lives?
If you come from one of those families who don’t talk about the past, or if your family is “broken” in some way, you may not know much.  If you’re the sort of person who would rather not know the details surrounding your birth for example, then I can tell you for sure, that your family tree will not be one that you want to hug.  Life expectancy is about 75 years, give or take, and a lot can happen in that many years.  People make mistakes, people correct their mistakes, people make different mistakes than you would make and you make different ones than they would.  Keep in mind that parents are people too and often they are very good at keeping embarrassing facts to themselves.  All we can hope for is a little growth from time to time, and over time. 
I have found that an open mind has served me well in the pursuit of truth.  If it wouldn’t rock your reality to find out that you were born out of wedlock, were adopted, your biological mother is a convict, great-grandpa was a horse-thief, WHATEVER, then move forward.  If the possibility of anything like this would devastate you, then my advice is to find another pursuit.
Over the years of researching my own family history, although I do enjoy being very methodical in this pursuit, I have proven to myself that there will always be holes.  I wouldn’t call them brick walls (i.e. impassible), they’re just little pieces of information that I hadn’t gotten around to digging deeply enough in the right place to find, yet.  Sometimes these little facts don’t seem too important in the big picture and they sit on the back burner.
            Here’s my case in point.  A few years back, I asked my mom if there was something special that she wanted for Christmas.  She said that she couldn’t think of anything but that she wondered if I could find out where and when her parents were married.  They never celebrated their wedding anniversary that she could remember and it bothered her that she didn’t know.  This is one of those little pieces of fact that I hadn’t spent time with, so, I told mom that I could and would find out for her.  However, I asked if she was ready and willing to find out whatever truth I might uncover based on the documentation.  She said that she was okay with it and even assumed that there would be something amiss.  Sure enough, I haven’t yet been able to prove that they were married beyond a shadow of a doubt, because the signed marriage certificate was never sent back to the state of New York.  However, the fact that they applied for a marriage license in March and Mom was born in August makes it clear that Mom was a pre-marital bun in the oven.  I have since learned that in some cultures, although not my Irish-Catholic grandparents culture, it was important that the first birth occur before the marriage to ensure that the family name would continue.
By the way, my mom’s response to this information was, “well mama always said ‘the first one comes any time, all the rest take nine months’.”
So, if you’re still willing to press on, first gather any and all documentary evidence of your existence.  The facts are that you are here in this place, and in this time.  You are alive!  Imagine that you are proving this to the future generations through documents, so that the future will not only know THAT you lived but also HOW you lived.
Here is a short list of some personal papers that document your life and of course this is the same list that you can go back to time and again to document your ancestors’ lives making sure to add census and death records where applicable.  You will want to gather:  birth certificate, school records, marriage certificate, divorce record, passport, social security card, photos, any journals or diaries you’ve written over the years, property deeds and titles, your will, driver’s license, any legal record, religious records, proof of membership in any organizations, and especially your personal military records.  If you have children, do the same for them.
Now, read them, look at them, examine them, and stare at them for a few minutes each like you’ve never seen them before.  Write down any questions that come to mind, any discrepancies you see, and any thing that you don’t fully understand.  If you don’t have all these papers and should have, get them through the issuing body.  If there are any mistakes, typos etc., get these fixed now; your great-grandchildren may thank you some day.

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