[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]This post is neither about CSI, nor owls. It’s about genealogy. Prepare to be bored amazed.
On Saturday night, as I tried to quell my pre-race jitters, I flipped through the channels on our hotel television to one of the few English-language programs (we watched an entire show of daredevil bloopers in Spanish, which was totally awesome). Rosie O’Donnell was scrolling through microfiche (the bane of my college existence), hoping to find a link to her Irish ancestors on a show called Who Do You Think You Are?.
While Nick gave me a look that, if it were an NBC show, would be called Who Gave You The Remote?, I got completely sucked in.
Who was the mysterious woman in the photograph that hung in her childhood home? Did her grandfather know he had a half-sister? How did the person who hand-wrote those parish logs have such perfect penmanship? Will she ever find her Irish roots? (In case you were doing something less embarrassing on Saturday night, the answers are: her great-grandfather’s first wife who died after an oil lamp explosion, yes, I don’t know, and yes.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own family tree (not the Japanese maple by the pool, the imaginary one that we’re all attached to). Having moved to the neighborhood where my paternal grandfather grew up, I often wonder about the places he went, who he hung out with, and what he would think about my taking boxing lessons in an old warehouse on Dorchester Ave. I wonder what people’s parents were like, what they ate, and how they kept busy. I wonder what it was like to come to America, long before Neil Diamond wrote a song about the process.
In a world where we’re so seemingly connected, I can’t help but want to know the people who aren’t on Facebook or stored in my digital camera. I want to know my roots (and not the ones I dye). So, I did what any gullible person watching Rosie’s family story unfold would do, and joined ancestry.com. In a matter of minutes, I was looking at a hand-written census report from the 1920’s. My maternal grandfather, according to the record, was 4 and 4/12 years at the time. I bet he was so cute. I doubt he understood fractions yet. After digging a little deeper, I found a photo of his parents, including his mother who died when he was very young.
I felt like I was opening a time capsule, or was following a path of clues deeper and deeper into the past (if you’re looking for a new procrastination tool, this is it), or just plain old being creepy. Before I knew it, I had navigated out of Boston to Nova Scotia, Northern Island, the Irish Free State, and Scotland. Suddenly it was 1790.
I hit a bit of a digital dead end when approximately 9 million people shared the same name as one of my great-grandfathers, but never fear. My dad’s father was a bit of an amateur genealogist, and kept detailed records of our family history. I can’t wait to get my hands on his old blue binder and start plugging in names and dates, as the adventure continues.
In the meantime, I am left to ponder… If my great-grandfather was so tall, my parents and siblings, too… where the heck did I come from? Maybe I should start wearing a top hat.
The following, brilliant pictures of the Irish countryside were taken by my older brother. I did not ask his permission to use them, but he never asked permission to hold one of my Pyrex containers hostage for two months. I’d say we’re even. On that charitable note, here’s one of my favorite Irish blessings.
I hope you all have a lovely St. Patrick’s Day.
Also On Tap for Today:
Fart Watch Day 3: So far… nothing to report, folks.