Here in Lala Land, we like to be aware of not only where we’re going, but where we’ve come from. To that end, Downtown Dad and I spend more time than we’d like to admit researching genealogy. While I’m rather new to this pursuit of dusty dead people, DD has been at it for most of his life, back when there was no Internet, no Google, no Ancestry.com. He’s the one that turned me on to tracking down my roots. OK, I should say I took it up out of boredom, while he spent our vacations in courthouse basements with his nose happily pressed into old wills and tract books. But once I found the first piece of evidence on someone from my family, I have to admit, I was legitimately hooked.
Genealogy can mean different things to different people, and we search the past for varying reasons. Some look for a sense of belonging, some to learn about genetic traits, and some even do the research for legal reasons such as property disposition. For me at least, I have a need to get to know the people who make up my family – I want a link to my past. I want to know who my ancestors were and why they did what they did – because, as I’m fond of saying “everybody has a story!”
As a child, I heard stories from my sturdy aproned midwestern grandma and aunts, about the Swedish immigrants on my mother’s side, while we rolled out sugar cookies around the kitchen table. I learned how my great grandfather and his bride journeyed from Sweden to their adopted hometown of Sioux City, Iowa and proceed to build most of the houses on the east side. I also heard that they built most of the town’s population as well by having 9 children in rapid succession.
I learned about my father’s side a little differently. It wasn’t so much stories but simply the colorful characters who inhabited my world. Immigrant schoolteachers and farmers, fresh off the boat, who staked out their hardscrabble homesteads as a result of the Kentucky land grant. My Irish grandmother who lived to be 105, was married with a baby on the way before her 14th birthday. My German, ne’er do well grandfather became a Southern Baptist tent preacher, and took his young family to live on the island of Guam for a number of years as missionaries.
But just how much of those stories is truth, and how much is embellishment? As it turns out, a lot of the stories I was told held only a few grains of actual truth, but as I dig, I’m finding that the facts are more fascinating than fiction. And more tantalizing as well, since I have to coax each bit of information from blurry and misspelled census forms, crumbling headstones, and tight-lipped relatives protecting family secrets.