Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ghosts


Along with many other people, I have become obsessed with the show Who Do You Think You Are, that airs on TLC on Tuesday nights 9 pm EST.

It's not that I am a celebrity follower, in fact it wouldn't matter to me who they showcased, I just love the idea of finding out who you really are, and following along as they discover long lost relatives and family triumphs and secrets.

I abhor so called reality tv, and refuse to be sucked in to following overpaid and often ill mannered celebs, so when I do watch television, which isn't often, my tv is normally firmed fixed on PBS.  But somehow, amidst my general disinterest in stars and my disdain for reality tv...I am transfixed by this show.  I think a part of me has always longed to know my lineage in a more in depth way than just the hearsay of relatives, and I also love the idea of being able to jump on a plane and go to the far flung places my ancestors once called home, like they do on the show.




So, about a week ago, we signed up for an account on ancestry.com and I began to delve a littler deeper into who I am.  It didn't take long for me to find out some really fun, sad, and interesting facts about my own family, stuff I had never heard before, and to substantiate some things I already knew.

I was able to confirm things I had known about my own relatives, and dig deeper into mysteries that no one seemed to be able to answer, and sadly no one had thought to ask before that person was no longer with us.  Like where my great uncle had actually fought in WWII.  I'm sure my mother and grandmother likely knew the answer to where he served in the Pacific theater, but when you are busy raising children and treading water just to keep up, the idea of asking about deceased family members is not at the top of the priority list.

I feel lucky though that I at least knew names, had some oral history, and had vague ideas of when and where people had died, but my digging rewarded me with so much more.  It turns out I had relatives who fought in nearly every war this country has seen, including those wars we fought abroad.  My great uncle from WWII, was in one of the toughest Marine Corps infantry units that ever existed, and he participated in some of the most terrifying and horrendous battles of the Pacific theater.  That participation resulted in him being injured and returning home, only to suffer from his mental and physical battle scars for the rest of his relatively short life.

As I dug deeper on both my mother and father's sides of the family, I found more info, more service members, and more tragedies as well as stories of great courage and even wealth and prestige.  It turns out I had relatives fighting for both sides during the civil war, and even against one another at the Battle of Gettysburg and Appomattox.

And I have a strong connection to England, and have likely even wandered the countryside in areas where my ancestors once lived and worked.  It has amazed me that the parts of the world for which I hold such affinity and love for, are the very places where my ancestors once knew joy and heartbreak.  It's as if their ghosts have drawn me there, so that I too could love these places they once called home.





One of the saddest things I found out as I was searching was about my great uncle, brother to my paternal grandfather.  We found records of him having served in France during WWI and it was there that he died.  Because I am a stickler for facts and also very curious, we decided to find out which battle he died in during the war, something we assumed since he was buried in an American war cemetery in France.  So we did a Google search to help verify what we found on ancestry.com, and what we found was a daily journal kept by the chaplain of my great uncles battalion.

It turns out they had only been in France for a short time when they had a battle against the Germans to try and prevent them from coming in to that area of France.  But what we discovered was that he hadn't died in that or any other battle, but he had drowned while swimming in a nearby river on a hot summer's day!  So he had survived and even won the battle with the Germans, but died tragically none the less.  It was just months before the war ended, and the chaplain describes it as such a sad event and that he was one of the best liked soldiers of his platoon.  How heartbreaking it must have been for my great grandmother to receive the news that her son had died, and even more gut wrenching that he died from drowning just months before returning home to her.  And to think I was only a short distance away from where he is laid to rest, and that the river he died in flows directly in the Seine, the river I have so been drawn to when visiting Paris!

Not all of the stories I have found are sad one though, it appears that I have relatives who were pillars of their communities, philanthropists, ministers of many faiths, and gentry with ties to wealth and power.  Of course I will continue to independently verify these sources, aside from what others put on ancestry.com, because I've already found one instance of someone claiming I had a relative who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts with the earliest of settlers, when in fact further verification showed he had come a little later and settled in Connecticut and Rhode Island...so you have to double check your facts.

But I will say that I have found tons of documents from census records to marriage, birth, and death certificates, and even photos of old homesteads and manor houses in England that are a direct link to my family, and I couldn't have done that in a week without the help of ancestry.com, so I am thankful for the information they provide access too.

I think I now understand why I love certain parts of the world and why I have or want to visit them.  Though these people may be distant ghost like figures in my storied lineage, I am a miraculous mishmash of each of them...the good, the bad, and the ugly...I no longer wonder who I am, but revel in everything they contributed, allowing me to be me!


9 comments:

  1. Hi, Kat! How are you feeling?

    We are back from Maine. Yes, we went up again :)

    Coming from a very large family, I grew up listening to stories about this uncle and that auntie. Nothing ever recorded (I do not think). All passed down via stories, recollections and gossips. Someday I'd love to write it all down for my nieces and nephews.

    I loved reading about your research and agree with it all. You are such a gifted writer in addition to being a talented photographer. I hope I've mentioned it.

    Bye for now! Gotta catch up on laundry :(
    x Loi

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  2. What a great thing to do,Kat. Tracing your family lines. That really is tragic about the drowning though. His poor Mom. Sounds like you are feeling better- xo Diana

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  3. That is so interesting Kat. What a great source the internet is. My uncle self published books on my Grandmothers family and also his parents, so we knew loads about that side. My father on the other hand, left home (England) at 18 and disowned his family. I never even knew their names. After he did in 2001, I had access to his documents and searched for them using census and public records. It was very difficult because he was a Smith from Nottingham. 3 years ago, I found an ad on a people search site and fond the whole lot of them. He had 10 brothers and sisters, some I have now met. and I met met and established friendships with the cousins. My father, who forbid any such contact or knowledge, would be rolling in his grave, but I firmly believe one has a right to know their family.

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  4. Love this post. I have often thought of joining ancestry.com. You have inspired me. Bonnie

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  5. I delved into my ancestors some years ago. But kind of found it more disturbing than interesting. And have opted to stay in the dark. I lost my blog (long story, but wrote about it yesterday) and am starting over after four and a half years of Cozy Little House. Google lost the feed somehow. So now I'm A Cozy Little House. A different kind of history, I guess you could say.
    Brenda

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  6. I don't think I've ever seen this show, but I can see how it would draw you in. I know my husband would love this website you found...he was basically raised by his many aunts and uncles after his mother passed away when he was just four. They shared many stories with him and their children about their French ancestry. There is such a wealth of information online and your family history is fascinating...so many soldiers! And I agree with you, we never seem to ask the questions we now want to when our relatives were alive. My sisters have boxes of pictures from my parents of relatives with no names!

    I think this is a great thing you've found that has captured your interest, Kat. Enjoy!

    XO,
    Jane

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  7. Beautiful picture!
    I didn't realize that show was still on. A couple of times a year I start looking into our heritage and CANNOT STOP ! - I will stay up until an unbelievably late hour on one tangent of a family tree, night after night! It is so addictive! It all started when my husband showed us an old family book that described how he was descended from Pocohantas, so my daughter used that in 5th grade at a social studies fair - which started me looking into our ancestry. Then, in 7th grade, she had the most pitiful excuse for a social studies book which gave a ridiculous account of the cold war and I realized our American history is being hijacked by academia - so I found a Revolutionary ancestor and joined the DAR in hopes of helping preserve our history. She is now 20 and I am still searching every little line I can find.

    One thing I have learned in researching my family history - we have been in America a very, very long time. Way before the Revolutionary war on most branches that I trace. I think that is true for so many of us that live in the deep South or maybe in any of the original colonies. What a heritage of strength, courage, and liberty they left for us to hopefully instill in our own children.
    Enjoy your new hobby!

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  8. Kat - this is so interesting, and I think now that you have started you'll want to go deeper. Being aware of my own family history and of who 'my people' were, knowing their journeys and homes, their relationships, joys and tragedies - it all makes me feel grounded in my own world. Beautiful photos!
    xo,
    Phyllis

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  9. Oh Kat, I am just blown away by your images that are such perfect illustrations of your post's title! And then everything you wrote about was so fascinating. I have been toying with the idea of signing up with Ancestry.com and I believe you have convinced me that it would be well worth it. Trying to research the cemetery we are restoring would be an added benefit too. But oh, your images and your beautiful write up...I really enjoyed this post so much! xo

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