Some genealogists are born into the hobby. A mom, a grandfather, or a favorite aunt has been researching for decades and uses gentle encouragement to lure a young person into continuing the hunt. Or for some genealogists who become intrigued later in life, there are old boxes of information, relatives who wrote things down, or famous ancestors whose details are not hard to find.
And then there’s the rest of us.
Like lots of people, I grew up with two sides of the family, mom’s and dad’s. Dad’s side were Scottish Highlanders who settled in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia during the Scottish influx of the 1820’s. Dad lost his father very early, but his mom, who lived to age 100, raised her children to know and love the place where she and her husband grew up. Even though that part of the family was far away, and seldom seen, I grew up knowing what my heritage was.
That is, until I started thinking about my mom’s family. This started around age 50. Although I knew my mom’s parents and grandmother well, they seldom or never spoke about any family background. Of all of them, I suspect my grandfather was most interested in that sort of thing, but he had a lot of gaps in his own family story, so probably didn’t feel it was possible to discuss the details with children. And I was the youngest of his 6 grandchildren. Genealogy is not a youngest child’s game … far better to be an oldest child, and have those generations around longer.
I wondered why there was no “heritage” on my mom’s side. How could that be? They must have come from somewhere. I gradually realized that I had to know. A lifelong reader, I couldn’t live with having a blank sheet of paper where there should be a story – a story that belonged to me, my mom, my brothers and sister, my cousins, my nephews, and my children.
Well, the paper was not completely blank; it consisted of these names that my grandfather had written down about 50 years ago of his and his wife’s parents and grandparents:
Modest as it is, this was the legacy that helped me to get started. And my mother knew not one iota farther back, and knew the birthplace of only one gr-grandparent: Jessie MacLeod was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia (and go figure, I’ve never been able to trace that). Of my 8 gg-grandparents on this piece of paper, one is adopted, one is a total mystery, two are very murky, and four have amazing stories that go back to the earliest settlements of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia. While I am sure I will never be done with this, I’m so glad I got started.
But sometimes I have to wonder, why the mystery? Why do people not know where they come from? Of the two families, why was one ignoring its history?
WHY DIDN’T YOU KEEP TRACK?
Recently I spent some time with the wife of a co-worker, who was born and raised in Korea. She heard about my genealogy interest, and confided, in a nice way, that in the decades she has spent in the U.S., she has never understood what genealogy is all about. In Korea, everyone knows their ancestors. Families keep careful records. No hunting needed. I could tell that if she wasn’t so pleasant and polite, she would have stood up, put her hands on her hips, and shouted, “Why didn’t you KEEP TRACK?” And I have to ask myself, why didn’t we keep track?
What stops the average family from carefully noting the coming and going of each generation? Early on, a lack of literacy? A lack of paper (thus, writing in the one book in the house, the Bible)? A lack of interest? hard feelings? A belief that this is common knowledge, and will always be known?
Are you a “first generation genealogist”, and if so, why do you think that is?