A few years ago I had a friend offer to trace my family tree and my knee jerk response was not to bother. I had never had any interest in genealogy. The one thing I knew about my family was that we are born to run. Scattered far and wide across the globe, “tracing” would be quite challenging. My paternal great-grandfather was literally a foundling that was left out in the woods in a basket and “found” by someone walking by. Nothing to trace there and most definitely a cold case. Given the facts as I knew them I didn’t think it was possible to go back very far in my family history and had always had the impression that my family’s past was best left unquestioned and undiscovered.
Fast forward to the present and you will find most of my relatives have passed away leaving just a few of us behind like scattered leaves and twigs after a storm. I am nearly the family elder with the exception of a couple of aunts. As the few cousins were brought back together by the passing of the elders we all realized we had lost grasp with the few family stories that were told. The lives and the history of the dead had passed along with them into the great unknown. This seemed more than a little sad and caused the investigator in me to be called into action. I felt I should at least poke about and get a tree together, even if it seemed overly pruned and sparse. What a surprise I was in for. Information was available and as I filled in the tree I added as many stories and historical events as possible. I also researched the towns, events and occupations of those ancestors that were traceable.
The first thing I gained from this project was a real sense of why I behave the way I do and where I came from. Both sides of the family were adventurous and fiercely independent. There was an underlying theme of each generation trying to improve upon the lives they were born into which also explained why stories weren’t shared. Perhaps we were trying to rise above and didn’t want to speak of what had been. This was particularly true on the maternal side. The paternal side brought other surprises. Of course great-grandpa found in the woods will always be a missing branch of the tree. My fathers maternal side brought forth a rich heritage that revealed a branch of the family that had been in the USA since the pilgrims. I had always thought we were all just a few generations here. But it also solidified the family rumor that Great Grandma’s family shunned her for marrying “beneath herself” when falling in love with a German immigrant. Part of this branch of the family was instrumental in North Carolina history where I, purely by chance, chose to live and raise my family.
Aside from shaking the dust off quite a few skeletons in the ancestral closet another surprising secondary gain was made. All of my ancestors, maternal and paternal, came from a very tight area of Ireland, England and Germany. This was supported by two DNA tests I underwent for verification. My father’s family ventured west to the New World and what would become the USA. My mother’s family ventured the other direction to Australia and New Zealand (where I was born). Somehow, so many generations later, my father traveled from the USA to NZ thanks to the Air Force and Project Antarctica and met my mother. All that ancestral DNA converged and became me. A few years later and I traveled from NZ to the USA and it became home.
How crazy and improbable that I should be me and live where I do. The two ancestral lines traveled as far away from each other as possible on this earth and somehow came back together to form me. Perhaps the world is actually quite a small place or perhaps a certain destiny lies within us all that we are called to. I am certain that I am not the only improbable human. I am guessing this applies to us all and genealogy just makes us aware of how incredible it is that we exist. It is both humbling and empowering to see all the humans that came before us and made it possible for your particular collection of cells to have come into existence.
How wrong I was to think genealogy boring or that it had nothing to offer. I started my quest out of a sense of obligation to family and was left with a total sense of awe. We are all created from chances taken, choices made and a healthy dose of chaos. Be aware, be grateful and be amazed – you are an unlikely creation.