Swinging from the Branches of My Family Tree
I’ve been spending 3 — 5 hours a day researching a specific branch of my family tree for six weeks. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this would be so addicting, frustrating, fascinating, educational, and … well … the words that come to mind vary in direct relationship to scale of my success-to-failure ratio. My husband has gotten so used to hearing me muttering, that he barely notices when I’m actually speaking directly to him instead of a long-dead ancestor.
The genealogy bug bit me when I was exposed to this ‘illness’ through my Aunt Bessie. She would spread out her albums of family research at annual family reunions, hoping to deliberately infect the younger generations. I honestly don’t know if my elders would be more pleased or horrified at the results; research inevitably digs up surprises and secrets … but more about that later.
I remember looking at those albums as a teenager and marveling at the far-reaching roots in the family tree. Aunt Bessie must have seen the faint glimmer of a future genealogist in my dark brown eyes (an inherited trait, no doubt, mirrored in those old photographs). It’s an odd affliction, often taking many years to develop full blown symptoms. First there is mild interest, then a few casual questions, followed by probing interviews with older relatives. One day you happen to realize there is an entire shelf devoted to albums of your own, taking up premium space on the bookcase.
Aunt Bessie gave me a test assignment when I was in my early 40’s; find the Civil War records of my paternal great-grandfather. I signed up for a bus trip with the local genealogical society to the archives in San Bruno, California. I was the youngest person on the field trip by at least two decades, which probably worked to my advantage. My fellow researchers took me by the hand and initiated me into the world of microfilm and sound-ex. There were volunteers at the archives who gave a quick lesson on what was available and how to get started and offering individual guidance to anyone who, like me, was still standing there looking bewildered.
Since I identified myself as a novice, I needed to be indoctrinated on how to locate promising microfilm. The volunteer who rescued me asked a couple experienced questions and nudged me in the right direction. I had a roll of microfilm in my hands within minutes, learned how to load the projector and began scrolling through the film.
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