My grandpa is way into genealogy and tracing our family’s ancestors. My aunt got him an ancestry.com subscription for his birthday and let’s just say he’s making the most of it. We spent Thanksgiving with him and my grandma (and the rest of the family) and last Wednesday night, he was so excited because he got an email from someone in Greece who may be a distant cousin of ours (included in this email was an invitation to come vacation in the Greek Isles, so, fingers crossed).
I’ve always known my ancestry in the broadest sense — I’m a mix of English, Irish, French, German, Polish, Greek, and Swedish. A Euro-mutt, basically. The thing is, the latest any of my ancestors came to America was in the early 1900s, so we haven’t maintained many “Old World” traditions and I don’t really identify with any one particular background.
That said, it’s been fascinating hearing bits and pieces about my background that my grandpa’s found over the years. Last week, I learned that I have direct ancestors who got here basically right after the Mayflower. I have an aunt (not related by blood) who can trace her family back to the freaking Norman Conquest — because they were all lords and earls and stuff in England. And on the other hand, we can’t yet go back more than a handful of generations in my dad’s family because they were peasants in Poland.
It was insane — mind-boggling — looking at my grandpa’s family trees. He has individual “trees” (roots?) set up for me, my brothers, my cousins and he was showing me the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of names he’s traced. (He wants to start tracing my husband’s ancestors too.) Some are nothing more than a single name. Some have multiple possible spellings (especially on the Greek and Polish branches). Some have dates of birth and death, and some have more information — marriage(s), other children, siblings, occupations. A few even have photographs, or scans of documents like birth certificates or immigration papers from Ellis Island.
For me, it’s a wealth of story ideas. I’ve got a half-formed plot about Greek bootleggers in Minnesota. There’s a story about a young man who gets conscripted into the Russian army, and when he’s released, has to cross the Ural Mountains alone to get back to his village. The girl who was sent across the ocean to a meet a much older man who became her husband. The settler who was guarding a fort one night, got kidnapped by Native Americans, and traded back to an English settlement a year later. The man who watched the final battle of the French-Indian War as it took place on his land.
What do you know about your ancestors or genealogy?