I have been a documenter for as long as I can remember. I have stacks of journals dating back to the first one my mom purchased for me at age 7, a tiny little thing with a latch clasp, covered in deep blue fabric with itty-bitty bears patterned across it.
I received my first camera on my 10th birthday — a 110 film camera, something that has long ago become obsolete.
My parents took quite a few photos of us on a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm film camera. When I was younger, most of these photos were taken on slide film. Both of my parents used to record what was represented in each photo on a roll.
In this way, I see that documenting is in my heritage. I have revered photographs because my parents gave them the same regard. It was an exciting thing for me to help pick out which boxes of slides we would put into the slide projector to view on the wall. When I was bored, I would pull down the photo albums from our bookshelves and pore over them, even though I had seen them dozens of times before. Filling the albums became my task at some point, as well, because it was something I loved.
In my teens, after my grandfather had passed away, we received my grandparents’ photos. I scanned some of them and made this collage. I was drawn to these type of activities — remembering and examining the past and the people who came before us.
It wasn’t until I was much older, in the last couple of years, that I really became interested in genealogy. I had heard stories of how my mom’s family had at least one relative who came over on the first Mayflower (and that a pewter pot came along with him and was passed down from eldest female to eldest female, which has landed it in my possession). I had also heard that we were related to Jesse Reno, namesake of Reno, Nevada.
At some point, my mom passed along login information for my aunt’s Ancestry.com account, where she had traced our line back to the first Mayflower, a direct line to passenger Richard Warren. And then she was done with the account. So I logged in and began fleshing out more of our family tree. I discovered that we were related to a Jesse Reno, but not the namesake of Reno, NV.
I started researching my husband’s line. He is related to Jane Austen‘s brother. He is related to the brother of Brigham Young. But I became stuck trying to trace some of his mother’s line. The 1890 census for the United States was lost in a fire, and that was a critical timeline for my understanding of this particular family. I searched various ways and the pieces of the puzzle just weren’t there.
But recently I started watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Genealogy Roadshow” and found a renewed interest in the hunt. Because it is a hunt. When I worked at a library, I used to say I was “sleuthing” — looking for clues to answer a question. That search is what drives me.
I started researching my dad’s family and texting him about what I found. (We have a very old relative named Zenith. That amused me.) He has Canadian roots on both sides of his family that I never knew about. And this fine lady is among the first settlers of the Sonoma County, California region. (I found more photos like this from that area’s library. Thank you, tireless library staff and genealogical societies!)
This renewed interest led me to seek out some videos on YouTube about genealogy, and I found some created by Ancestry.com and learned some new tips and tricks. And I went looking again for my “brick wall” relative from my husband’s line. Bingo! A record I had never seen before came up immediately. I don’t know if it was added to the database more recently or if someone else found it and connected the dots, but it doesn’t really matter. I learned the sister of my husband’s relative often went by a shortened version of her name, and I learned her mother’s name (which had eluded me because I had thought her father may have had a second wife because there was a large age gap between children).
And I learned she was about 10 years younger than I had thought. This also lit another fire in me to seek another way of searching for her mother and father, and I finally found a record showing the woman I had the least information about, my husband’s direct relation, living with her parents. Finally! Their last name had been entered into the database incorrectly and therefore didn’t come up on a straight search by name. I had to search for her mother’s first name and the year she was born and where she was born and limit it just to a mid-decade census for the region they had been living in, taken in 1885. This relative, too, was also about 10 years younger than I had thought. Ladies, don’t lie about your age. If nothing else, it confuses those who come after you who want to know about their lineage and history!
Genealogy brings me great pleasure. There are puzzles to solve in the riddle of our genetic makeup and history and I want to know more about the people whose existence shaped ours. Sometimes city directories or census records tell what occupations people held. They may show exact addresses where our relatives lived. And through Ancestry.com, I can connect with others’ family trees and further fill in the blanks, sometimes finding photos of relatives that others have and have scanned and uploaded, and therefore also learning of others who are related to us. These branches in our lineage are filled with people who, purely by living and procreating, shaped who we are in this very moment. That alone fascinates and thrills me.