Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Family History

So with Thanksgiving coming up, my historical thoughts are turning closer to home. Every family has a history, and often it's every bit as interesting as what's in a history book. In fact, I've spoken with more than a few authors whose own family history has inspired aspects of their novels, even if their book is purely fiction.

My husband is really into genealogy. The history of his family in the New World goes back pretty far, as he had ancestors chasing the Mayflower across the Atlantic. They landed at Plymouth Mass about 2 or 3 years after the Pilgrims. Which I suppose showed good judgment on their part - they missed that really bad first winter. And then proceeded to criss-cross the US in the following centuries. There's even one great-great-etc-grandmother who knew Abraham Lincoln when she was a girl, and traveled from Illinois to Oregon in a covered wagon as a teenager. He's got ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and in the Civil War, on both the North and South sides. His Irish ancestors arrived more recently, in the 19th century.

So how did he find all this out? Some of it came from a scrapbook of obituaries kept by his grandmother and great-grandmother. Which sounds macabre, I know, but in genealogical terms, a scrapbook of obits is pure gold. The rest he searched out online on various genealogical websites.

Lately he's been expanding his family history back to Europe. Ancestry.com is a fantastic ancestry website that allows you to search a gazillion documents, and hook up with other people searching out their family histories. Some of these people turned out to be my husband's distant cousins! So when they all hooked up their family trees, my husband was able to trace his ancestors back to 1600s England and--surprise!--Holland. Really cool. Maybe someday when we're retired we'll go to England and dig some more. All the way back to 1066? Who knows :-)

Compared to my dear husband, my own ancestry in America is a babe-in-the-woods. Both my maternal grandparents, and my paternal grandfather and my father, emigrated from Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century. I know my mother's family were farmers from Calabria, and my father's family stone masons from Molise, but don't know any names of any ancestors past the late 1800s.

But it's been fun searching their record on the Ellis Island website (ellisisland.org) and on the 1920 and 1930 census records on ancestry.com. On EllisIsland.org, I've found the original ships manifests for my ancestors' voyages to America, and can read where they came from, where they were going, how tall they were and how much money they had in their pockets. The census records show where they lived, who was in the household, and who their neighbors were.

So...Happy Thanksgiving, with a special thanks to all the people who came before us.

Anyone else out there have some family history to share?

Joy

4 comments:

Cindy Holby November 26, 2008 at 7:12 AM  

I love researching family history. My greatgrandmother on my mother's side was a cherokee who worked for Devilance Hatfield of Hatfield and McCoy fame. My greatgrandmother on my father's side was chased off a mountain by a bear. They found her and the bear dead at the bottom of a cliff. My dad's other grandmother came across from Ireland in the potato famine as did most of my mom's family, except for that Cherokee grandmother.

It turns out my dad's father's family chased the Mayflower across too. They've been traced back to 1600 England.

My husbands family is decended from William the Conquerer on one side and from Vikings on the other. My son's love it since they come from warrior stock, Vikings and Cherokees with some invading Normans thrown in. Plus who wouldn't want some Irish blood thrown in the mix.

I've walked the Cherokee lands and felt the pull of it in my blood. Now I really want to go to Ireland, which is where most of my heritage comes from and see if it feels the same.

Joy Nash November 26, 2008 at 11:16 AM  

Wow, Cindy, what a legacy - sounds like you have a lot of family inspiration for your romance heroes and heroines!

Joy

Terri November 27, 2008 at 5:01 AM  

My husband's family is big into learning their family history. My husband has spent years researching and my oldest son has joined him. They use to get with my husband's grandmother and compare notes but she died last year. My husband's great grandmother was alive until he was in his 20s so he was able to get lots of verbal history from her. He has his family line traced back to a small city in Scotland. They came over as deported folks from England in the late 1600s and landed in MA. They migrated north to ME and during a stop in Sacco ME, my husband found out that one of his relatives had been the first treasurer for Sacco!

My family, he has tried to follow it back but doesn't get far. My grandparents came over around 1904 from Russia and Germany. They were both Polish and their families had transplanted even in Europe. As I don't read Polish or Russian, it's a little hard to get far. My German is okay but it takes me forever to read the older stuff due to writing style. The other side he can get back to the 1800s but that's not saying much seeing my great grandmother was alive until 1985 and she was born in the 1800s!

Still, I've enjoyed hearing stories about my uncles racing motorcycles up mountains in the 30s and my mom helping on her uncle's race car.

Terri

EmilyBryan November 27, 2008 at 5:55 AM  

My dad's side of the family has been in this country since the 1600's, which tells me they were probably in serious trouble in the old country.

My husband's father still spoke the Norwegian that was his only language until he went to school in northern Iowa. He didn't teach any of his 8 kids his first language, because he wanted them to be "Americans."

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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