Let’s be completely honest up front. I am not a professional genealogist. Most of the time, I’m not even a hobby genealogist. Every once in a while, when I find interest, I will dabble a little here and dabble a little there. But I always seem to get distracted when looking at my family lines. I get lost in the stories of what was happening in the times and places where my ancestors lived.
I have never been one who enjoys fiction. Real stories of real people, and getting a picture of how they really lived, always entice me much more. I am very lucky to have rich genealogical records passed down to me. Many of them are filled with the stories of my ancestors, not just their names and dates. From these I begin to assemble the larger stories of the places where they lived and visited, and the people they knew. So my question for you is, Are you just gathering names? Or are you attempting to relate to them by understanding who they really were, based on where they lived, how they lived, and who lived around them?
When we find names, we find more than just names. We find time periods and places where people lived. If we rush on to the next name, we never learn who they were and how they became who they were. If we look further, we find the occupations, politics, and religions of the people there, and even the illnesses they suffered. In the end we better understand how we became who we are.
Not long ago, my husband and I were sitting at home, reading books about our separate family lines. My mother was from Canada and Beverly Hills. My father was a Jew from Manhattan. I had always made fun of my husband for being born and raised in American Fork, Utah. (I said it “Fark,” like some of the natives.) I loved to poke at him because of his family’s provincial Utah background. But on that night, as I was reading the Journal of William Hyde, who spent many years working away from his family and even marched across the West with the Mormon Battalion, I ran across some names that appeared to be very . . . familiar. I started to blush, and I tried to hide what I was reading.
He saw me shifting nervously. “Clare, what’s that you are reading?” he asked.
“Nothing you would be interested in,” I responded. “Just family history stuff.”
“Why do you look so uncomfortable? Let me read what you are reading! It must be heavy stuff.”
I had forgotten for a moment that he is a huge history buff. I tried to keep the book from him, but he quickly pulled it out of my hand, and like a schoolboy, held it just out of my reach.
He opened the book. “Huh,” he said, and turned the page. “Huh.” Another page. “Oh reeeeallllly?”
He had found it: The part of my family history I will never live down, after teasing him for years.
Our families were nearly next-door neighbors in — where else? — American Faark.
We looked further and were stunned. Our ancestors had come across the plains in the same groups of pioneers. They fought in the same battalions. They lived in the same cities. They owned land next to each other in multiple states. They were active in politics and served in the judiciary in the same places.
They were not only friends, but business partners. They were neighbors. They attended the same church services. They had children who died of the same diseases along the same pioneer trail.
We always said that the angels must have helped get us together, because we’re “a match made in heaven.” We never realized our paths started to cross almost two centuries ago.
I learned that night to love to relate to the unrelated. Any name we find, related or otherwise, could mean more to us than we ever imagined.