Saturday, January 23, 2010

Climbing Trees

You're never too old to climb a tree.  Especially your family tree.  I've been casually perusing my family tree lately.  Actually, it's becoming a bit obsessive.  But I'm not bothered by that, so I suppose it's not unhealthy.  I find it fascinating to trace the lines of family who have come before me.  It's a jigsaw puzzle, of sorts, piecing together incomplete records and photos and stories.  I first took an interest in genealogy (or, "geekiology" as I have fondly been calling it as of late) as a teenager.  I spent hours poring over my grandmother's photo albums and notes, and scrolling through page after page of census records online.  It was kind of a secret pastime; it wasn't the kind of hobby about which most teenagers would brag to their friends.  I even (gasp at the irony) took my share of ribbing from family members.  But, alas, they have now joined me in the joys of geekiology.
So now, with the help of website, we are putting together more pieces of the puzzle together than ever.  It's like facebook for dead people, and it's great (except the not-free part).
I haven't completely figured out why geekiology is so intriguing to me.  What is it that draws me to find out about my great great great grandparents?  Why do I get excited to hear that Grandma has found a box of nearly ancient photos that none of us have laid eyes upon before now?  I eagerly wait for my younger sister to scan the photos and send them to me, then marvel at the almost-eery semblances between ancestors long-dead and family members now living.
I wonder about the ancestors who are in my now state of life.  What was it like for my great grandmothers to be new mothers in their day?  Or for their grandmothers?  How did they deal with crying babies at night in their tiny homes, or deal with cloth diapers without washing machines or even indoor plumbing?  How did they deal with the fear of childbirth after childbirth (and no epidurals, laughing gas, or morphine?)  I'm sure they loved their children just as much as I love my child, and I wonder at their collective resilience when so many women had stillborn babies, or lost young children and infants to illnesses that now cause little concern.
The censuses are particularly interesting because they are a record of families at an otherwise uneventful time in their lives.  Simply a record of where they live, what they do for a living, religion, and other tidbits.  I noticed that I haven't yet found a single widow or widower who lives alone prior to my grandparents' generation.  In every record, they are living with one of their children and that child's family.  I wonder when and why we as a society moved away from taking in our parents later in life.
My final observation for now (because I'm itching to get back in the tree while baby naps!) is the loss of handwriting in our day.  The genealogist may be frustrated by the illegible handwriting of the enumerator of the censuses, but there's something splendid about seeing old-fashioned handwriting.  Everything is so digitized and efficient nowadays.  I realized lately that I just don't have the patience to journal by hand anymore, because it takes so much longer to write everything down.  With the seeming lack of memory that motherhood has brought on, I can't remember where my train of thought was going when I started writing the sentence by hand.  What was I just saying?


  1. " facebook for dead people."

    I love it Andrea :)

    Now you've got me curious about Hmm, another way to amuse myself online when I want an escape from mothering ;)


  2. I promise no more jabs about geekiology.


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