Sunday, June 05, 2011

Living in the Past

Is there as such thing as a chrononaut, and if there is, can such a person get the bends?

The past few weeks, I've been living and breathing genealogy, and it's hard coming up for air.

I've done more or less with it off and on in the past.  But given that most of my research perforce had to be over the Internet, it seemed I had hit brick walls on pretty much all my lines.  More would have to wait until I had the money to travel to some archival library or at least could afford to subscribe to

Then this past February, I started watching this season's run of Who Do You Think You Are?  And I thought to myself, Well, maybe there's something new on the Internet that was posted since I looked last.

There was.  On the site, there was a report on the burial site of my three-times great grandfather.  And one for his wife, my ggggrandma, whose name I hadn't known before.  And a list of some of their children.  It overlapped the family's enumeration on the 1850 census, which I'd accessed via microfiche and printed out on a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2005, so I knew it was the right guy.  I e-mailed the man who'd posted the Find a Grave memorial to tell him about the missing older brothers and sisters (including my 2x great grandpa).  He immediately replied back, and joy, joy, he turned out to be a fourth cousin, he supplied me with further info about our mutual forebears going back to colonial days (including our family's reputed relationship to Daniel Boone-- it's true, he'd be first cousin to both of us, several times removed), sent me a facsimile copy of an important document or two, and generally broke the logjam for that branch of the family at least.

I'd been messing around with since 2009 when my niece Micki* started entering the family info onto it, and after I talked with cousin George*, I logged back on and filled in the members he'd supplied me with.

Only trouble is, since I'd last looked at it, my tree had been overrun by unknown putative distant cousins (or whatever) who've added to my tree without my permission, merging theirs with it so it had tons of duplicates, sticking in folks with only initials for first names, and most annoying of all, modifying the profiles of close deceased family members that only my mom and my siblings have any direct relationship to.  Carp.  I'd thought it was bad enough when my niece put women in under their latest married instead of their maiden names.  The state of my tree was scary, and without getting "permission" from a lot of unknowns, there was little or nothing I could do about it.

Worse, I read online that is infamous for violations of privacy, that their goal is to make one worldwide family tree, and who cares if it's accurate or not.  Me, I don't care about everyone in the world.  The family tree I'm interested is mine.

So I blew the money for the Legacy software, the Deluxe paid version, because it has what's supposed to be a handy way to enter sources.  I've already had one extensive Family Tree Maker tree go into the cyber bit bucket thanks (no thanks) to faulty backup software and to my reluctance to post it online with no sources attached.

In time, my new genealogy software arrived.  But it wasn't the most user-friendly program I've come across, so I let it, and my family research, alone for a month or two.

But then, towards the end of April, I got a positively juicy idea.  Now that I've got more information, wouldn't my mother like an updated version of her chart for Mother's Day?  Oh yes, oh yes.  I figured out how to use Legacy 7.5, I got out my paper files, and off I went.

And off I've gone, and gone, and gone.  For all of a sudden, a lot of the brick walls are tumbling down.  Where it came to one particular line on my mother's mother's side, I hit the, um, mother lode.  Pay dirt.  Grandparent after grandparent after grandparent, good, credible, documented progenitors, going back literally to the Dark Ages.  So of course, since I've got the information, I have to add it in.

There's a line in Shakespeare's Macbeth that goes, "What! will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?"  And that's how it feels, only in this case it isn't a family line into the future, it's the one into the past.  Thanks to this one ancestress sometime in the 1500s, I find I'm directly descended from most of the Irish, Scottish, Pictish, Welsh, and even a couple of the Saxon kings who stomped around waging war and exercising their petty tribal authority the length and breadth of Great Britain after the Romans pulled out.  I'm not descended from Macbeth himself, thank goodness, but apparently Duncan, the king he killed (in battle, not in his bed, it turns out) is some sort of multiply-great uncle . . .

What I think about all that, with theological reflections, needs to go in another post.  The point is that I've somehow grown obsessive about this.  Addicted, more like it.  Here it is, what? four weeks after Mother's Day, and I feel I can't send the chart to my mom until it's finished.  I stay up all hours working on this, I'm neglecting my house renovations and my English teacher certification studies, I dream at night of filling in the blanks on the Legacy family pages, and fathers of mothers and mothers of fathers call to me, saying, "Add me in!  I'm here, add me in, too!".  It's actually a relief when I settle that some ancestor reputed to be descended from British nobility really is not (Matthew Howard, I'm talking about you), because British nobility and gentry were so damned conscientious about documenting their pedigrees, and if I really am related, I have to put them in.  That's how enslaved to this process I've become.

And oh, the mess it makes when they start marrying their cousins, especially cousins once and twice removed!  Even today's advanced charting software can cope with that only by duplicating the trees.  As it is, my mom's chart is almost four feet high-- goodbye to the idea of printing it out at home and taping it all together.  But how can I leave all that out?  I mean, won't she get a kick out of knowing that she's the 49th-great granddaughter of Old King Cole?

I've gone back in time, I'm scarcely living in the present at all, and don't be surprised if you hear I've painted my body blue.
All this said, see this post here.


Marlene said...

Find a way to post it online so you don't loose it. I have a tote full of stuff I entered into Family Tree, oh about 10 years ago. I don't even know if I can transfer it now to a more current version.
As for the mother-lode that is so fun. I had a similar thing happen to me, I found one of my distant cousins that documented a line I hadn't even looked at back to the early 1500's and published it in book form. It also partially answered the question of why my gggrandmother moved to Kansas as a widow with a bunch of kids when her late husband was a Doctor here in Washington, PA. What goes around comes around!

St. Blogwen said...

If you have an uncorrupted Family Tree Maker file, you certainly can transfer it to an updated version of of FTM. And if you want to use another kind of genealogy software, you can save the FTM file as a GEDCOM and import it in.

I haven't thought about publishing my redone tree online, since a lot of it is cribbed from other people's (distant cousins') trees and I haven't verified their work and probably never shall-- who's got the time? Just today, I encountered credible evidence that yet another putative ancestress is not -- no big deal, it's easily corrected with modern genealogy software-- but I don't want to be perpetuating errors in cyberspace. Right now I'm working primarily for my mother's (and my own) amusement anyway.

Of course, there's the bracing side of it as well. Before last month, I had the idea that my "only" slaveholding progenitor had washed his hands of the Peculiar Institution in the 1820s and turned abolitionist like everybody else in my line. Uh, no. I find I had plenty other gggggrandpas who had no trouble with it whatsoever. Disturbing to see an online facsimile of a direct ancestor's will where he's leaving our fellow human beings to his children.

So now you've made some discoveries about your family, too. Hmm, what was it that took your 2x great grandma to Kansas? It can't be that she was prophetic and wanted her kids to play basketball under James Naismith at KU...

Marlene said...

The problem is I've saved the files on the the old hard disks. I suppose there is a place to get those transfered to another format.

On my ancestor, a memoriam that I found on her husband indicates that he died at 51 and left a "large and dependent family...nine fatherless children". The obit of the son who later became a Dr. in Washington, PA indicates he had to withdraw from medical school upon the death of his father. So I'm assuming that although he seems to have been a successful Dr. it wasn't enough to support the family after his death. The other older children took the teachers exam in Kansas and taught there. I discovered that my 2Xgreat grandma had a brother in Kansas that I didn't know about. That must be why she moved there of all places.

I have two other family mysteries that I'm trying to track down. One is that we are related to James Wilson, signer of the Declaration and the other that we are related to a Kep Walker who was a double agent in the Civil War.

St. Blogwen said...

By "old hard disks" you mean the little ones that fit in the a:/ drive? You can still get external a:/ drives to run those. They plug into your USB slot. I have two, because for some reason I thought the one I got for the IBM laptop wouldn't be compatible with my Hewlett-Packard PC.

Hmm, about your great grand aunts teaching in Kansas, wouldn't it be a hoot if they knew some of my ancestresses? At least two of them where teachers in Kansas, too, at different periods.