Sunday, January 29, 2012

Life Experiences

Amy Coffin, MLIS, has a 52 week series of blogging prompts relating to genealogy.  The prompt for this week is:

Week 5 – Life Experiences: Sometimes the challenges in life provide the best learning experiences. Can you find an example of this in your own family tree? Which brick wall ancestor are you most thankful for, and how did that person shape your family history experience?

First of all, can I just give an "ain't that the truth?" to "challenges in life provide the best learning experiences."  Most often I find that those aren't especially comfortable to go through at the time, but if I look back at my challenges in life, most of them are things that I wouldn't have chosen to go through, but I wouldn't change the past.  Nor would I volunteer to go through them again.  LOL!  But I've gained a lot of experience and insight and my entire "self" has evolved into someone stronger, and hopefully a little better.

As far as brick wall ancestor's on my family tree, I'd have to say Andrew Myers from Aleppo, Greene County, Pennsylvania and his family have been a huge influence on my family history experience.  His daughter, Goldie Agatha Myers, was the first person I researched, way back when, in college.  I knew her name, but nothing about her parents and family.  Speaking of challenges, this lady had so many of them.  On paper, with the bare facts, she sounds like a troubled soul, but from the things I've learned about her and her family, she was an amazing, spunky, wonderful woman with a heart of gold.

Goldie Agatha Myers, daughter of Andrew and Emaline Duncan Myers
The Myers family were dirt poor. Andrew served in the Civil War (Co. L, 6th WV Infantry), and claimed to have been in poor health due to his service.  He married his wife, Emaline Duncan, when she was 16 and he was 31, ten years after the war.  They had 13 children, but as he got older, Andrew was in progressively poor health. His father had been a fairly well-to-do farmer, and it appears that Andrew's older brothers fared a little better than he did, financially.

I learned a lot about researching, have found obscure little records about hidden cemeteries (thank you, FDR!!!) that have long since crumbled, and have had to really expand my outlook on research.  Poor farmers in rural Pennsylvania, who would rather travel one mile to the town across the state border than twenty miles to the county seat to makes things "official", are hard to track!  They don't leave a huge paper trail.  Some of them bury their children on the farm with wooden markers.  Itinerant preachers that married them don't have church records, per se, that are handed down to the next installment.

They don't get mentioned in the society column of the local newspaper.  In fact, society tends to shun them.  But Jane Eyre said, "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!" And these poor, obscure people did have fully as much heart!  Piecing together from the different records, sleuthing down pension files with descriptions from family and friends, just reading the bare facts - a little daughter dying young, a teenage son drowning tragically, teenage pregnancies, alcoholism, and Andrew finally dying of the effects of a stroke, after lingering for several months in a shack, with his wife too poor to call for a doctor - these things all fill in the blanks.  These people had such a hard life! 

And yet, as I've talked to younger generations who were able to meet some of the children from this family, they all talk about what raucous, joyful family gatherings they had.  Always laughing, joking, and happy. You have to admire the human spirit that can survive hardship and come out with a joy in life! 

So not only did this family history experience help me grow as a researcher, it also gave me a sense of strength in my life.  I come from this stock. Their DNA provides some of my genetic makeup.  I may have inherited a little of their attention deficit disorder, but I also inherited their sense of humor. There are times where I have wanted to wallow in self-pity, and pictured my great-grandma Goldie laughing at me with a twinkle in her eyes.  Kind of hard to wallow at that point.

Some people who do family history are disappointed when they aren't connected to someone rich or famous or notorious.  I love learning about the quiet masses and finding out what they were like, what they went through.  I love putting a name and a life story to each of them and discovering all that I can about who they were and what their lives were like. I love the challenge of finding the records they show up in and piecing together the clues.  And I love knowing that they survived, what to them may have seemed insurmountable challenges, and pulled through and went on to thrive and find joy and carry on. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hanging Out My Shingle

After spending several years raising my five beautiful children, I've decided to step back into the professional arena and re-start my genealogy business. And lest you think that I haven't done genealogy in years, I assure you, it's been the main cause of unfolded laundry and "cereal-for-dinner" nights in our household.

I've worked on several projects over the years for family and friends, pro bono, because it's kept me sharp and given me experience outside of my own family tree.  I've enjoyed learning about fascinating people from all over the United States and various countries (British Isles and Romania, most recently).  One of my favorite projects of all time involved a young rogue who changed his name and made and lost fortunes - and families - moving on to the next adventure, leaving his family thinking he had died.  The piecing together hung on his naming one of his son's a very unique name - which happened to be the name of his younger brother back east. He deserves an entire post (if not book) about his life and shenanigans. 

I've also had the opportunity to do a few transcription projects.  One involved a beautiful letter box of a young woman, handed down through the generations, with remarkably preserved letters written to her from would-be sweethearts, family and friends.  Another project came about as I "met" a new relative on-line, and she mentioned that she had a cassette tape from the 1980's of an amazing and spunky aunt who lived over a century, that immigrated from Romania as a girl. Hearing her talk about her life story, from a child in Romania, to a young girl working in a textile factory in Los Angeles, to losing her husband to the 1918 flu epidemic, to owning her own grocery store and raising her three daughters, was one of the most priceless experiences I've ever had. 

I love researching and discovering people in history.  I love old letters and recorded memories and journals and newspapers, too - they flesh out the skeleton of the pedigree chart and bring people from black and white back into rich color (it amazes me how human nature hasn't changed much over the years.)  I'm excited to use my knowledge and experience and intuition, doing something I love, to help others discover their family.