Digging in the dirt: my family tree

NOTE: This is a post that I recently wrote for another blog.

I’m researching my family history and trying to assemble the pieces of my family tree.

It’s been a project that I’ve been interested in for a while. I first talked to my father about the idea five years ago, and he shared some information with me and traced one line of the family tree back several generations.

The idea (and the research) gathered dust for a while, but I was fascinated by the genealogy programs that were on TV this spring: NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?and the Henry Louis Gates four-part series Faces of America.

So a few weeks ago, I finally committed to searching my family tree and started on Ancestry.com. I’ve learned some interesting facts about genealogy (most trees, particularly online, don’t list the living – it’s considered bad form to list anyone whose birth wasn’t over 100 years ago).

My interest was sparked by these shows, but I’m sure that there are other reasons I’ve been so engaged in this search. There’s nothing like hitting a big milestone birthday – say, the big 4-0 – to bring you face to face with your own mortality – and to appreciate others who came before you in a way you hadn’t before.

Losing my mom in 2007 is also a big reason for my search; we missed an opportunity to talk about this in detail when she was alive and I want to capture as much information as I can, while I can.

I’m also interested because I was the youngest (not only in my family but in my generation) and I missed out on knowing some of these people. For example, both of my grandfathers died when I was very young. I always felt like I’d only ever learned about the tip of the iceberg as far as family was concerned.

As a writer, I’d been trying to tell other people’s stories. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get stuck in development hell. It often led to conflict and people who wanted to take away my words and my voice.

This is the best antidote for that: an opportunity to tell my own story, in my own voice. I still want to write about other worlds, but for now I am happy to research my own.

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