I am a HUGE genealogy nerd — I love researching and learning about my ancestors. I can’t understand why this isn’t a hobby that grips everyone. I mean, to know your ancestors and their trials and triumphs not only honors them, but can also help you to, perhaps, understand yourself a little better.
In my case, for example, I don’t really have any recent immigrant ancestors in my family, so I can’t share in the beautiful stories of grandparents arriving on boats to New York or Boston, but my people have their own poignant stories to tell.
Most of my ancestors were already in either North Carolina or Virginia by the 1600s, and certainly all of them were here by the early 1700s. That said, my forebears had a real stake in helping build this nation.
What stories would your ancestors tell?
I had ancestors who fought in the Indian wars, the War for Independence, the War of 1812, the Civil War and WWII. I had ancestors who were poor farmers in rural counties, while others were well-to-do town lawyers. I have grandparents generations back who can be found living at Jamestown, while others lived on 18th century Indian reservations. Some helped to plant churches, while others seemed to have questionable morals.
Many of my ancestors were illiterate, and most were not slave owners. One was bound to an apprenticeship in the 1760s in which he was mistreated by his master — something I stumbled upon while poring over 18th century court records. Some were white, some were Indians and others were listed in census records as “Other Free” or “Free People of Color.”
I’ve had some genealogical DNA testing done on myself and other family members and have unveiled deep ancestral origins (these would go back thousands of years) to West Asia (mtDNA haplogroup K) and Scandinavia (Y-DNA haplogroup I). Other DNA tests revealed ancestry in western Europe, east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Considering I’d always thought of myself as a random mixture of western European and indigenous ancestry, I was floored to find out my own maternal line (mtDNA haplogroup T2) goes back to Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent — modern day Syria and Turkey. Although it’s surely been many centuries since I’ve had ancestors living in those distant lands, it definitely increases my own sense of connectedness to far regions of the world.
What about your own story?
Each and every person alive today is the manifestation of the collective experiences of countless ancestors. If you start digging into your own roots, I have no doubt you’ll discover your own wonderful history.
You might learn that one ancestor fought in the Revolution, while another was a cooper in a port town (which likely meant he helped prepare barrels for shipping American exports back to the old world). Maybe a grandfather lived in the frontier and traded with the local Indians, while another grandparent was a member of one of the nearby tribes.
Perhaps you’ll find one of your distant grandmothers had twelve children, while one of your grandfathers made furniture. What long migrations did they make in the days before automobiles? Were any of them lost to one of the many epidemics that hit populations in generations past, or did they survive in the midst of a plague?
How would it make you feel to see one of your own ancestor’s names on a ship’s manifest or land grant from the turn of the 18th century?
You may connect with relatives you didn’t even know you had, or in the case of DNA testing, you may find your origins are far more exotic than you ever imagined.
What a great way to not only learn about yourself, but also to honor your ancestors and pass a legacy on to your children.
The winter months will be here before we know it — my favorite time to sit at my computer with a hot cup of coffee and some research notes — to see if I can dig a little deeper into the roots of my own family tree.
Are you already a fan of family tree research? If so, why not share some of your favorite discoveries in the comment section below?