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!