Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ancestor Collector

I've come to think of myself as an ancestor collector. This is not to be confused with the disdained name collector whose goal is to add as many names as possible to his/her family tree program. I imagine people like that troll online trees to find more people to add into their genealogy software. They may even congratulate themselves on a high tally. 

A few of the people I have collected, or at least, I would if I could identify them.

Then there are the people who claim they can trace their lineage back to Charlemagne or King So-And-So, almost always through an illegitimate child. I don't know how anyone could even begin to connect the dots on a story like that let alone try to prove it. From a tree I found online it's possible that one of my lines might lead back to the Mayflower, but I have never taken the time to seriously investigate the lineage. About all I ever did was to see if I could find any men who fought in the Revolutionary War (when Fold3 had some of these records free for a limited time).

I guess there are two reasons for this why I haven't spent more time trying to confirm this line. One is that if I didn't find the connection it's just not as much fun to trace because the mystery is gone. Second, I have much more fun looking into relatives nearer to me in time and for whom I have found more records (like newspapers, court records and Civil War pension files). A string of names is simply not very interesting to me. I want to know what made my people tick. Why did they move from New York to Michigan? Why did she marry five times? How did he feel when his business failed? With the documents I have access to it is easier to piece this together for my southwest Michigan people than it would be for long-dead New Englanders. Besides, those New Englanders aren't going anywhere. Someday I can seek out their stories too.

Speaking of stories, I don't know about other genealogists, but after I add people to my tree and start to think about their lives I begin to feel protective of them. They become “my people.” Not in the “MINE” sense like a toddler is possessive of a prized toy, and whose goal is to keep it to himself. Rather, I feel like once I bring people into the fold that it is my job to care for them. I would even go so far as to say that in some cases I feel almost obligated to tell their stories. After all, there may be no one else who will.

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