Passion for the Past
I sit in my home office amongst mounds of papers, computer disks, books, and
file cabinets stuffed to capacity, I glance up to see my husband standing in the
doorway. Sighing heavily, his eyes
jump from one document to the next: a Xeroxed copy of a barely legible ships
manifest, a tattered volume with the faded words; Ancient Calabria, and
printed pages in a foreign language dotted with the translation marks.
Finally, with a look of defeat, he tosses his hands into the air, and
exits the room. Once bitten, the
genealogy bug can leave deep marks. I’ve
tried several times to explain my obsession about the past to him; but like many
genealogists this is a path we end up traveling alone.
Sometimes, I find myself at a loss for words in trying to explain the force that drives me to explore my past. I have a burning desire to learn all that I can about my ancestors. Maybe this is because who they were helped mold me into who I am today. I am simply not satisfied with the oft-heard comment: “This is how it’s done.” “Why do we do this?” I ask, “When did we begin doing this?” and, “Who did this first?”
to a person with little or no interest in their heritage, our addiction becomes
quite difficult to explain. I get
the most bewildered looks from non-genealogists when I tell them that my heart
is drawn to a small mountain town in Cosenza that I have yet to see.
They will never understand the magnitude of the desire that I possess to
walk the old cobblestone streets where my grandmother once played as a child.
I never had the pleasure of knowing my maternal grandmother who made an
incredulous journey across the Atlantic at a tender young age.
It is very likely that my lack of information fueled the fire for me to
become a glutton for facts.
am not alone in my ancestral quest. The
December 1995 issue of American
Demographics contained an article that stated, “More than four in ten
adults, or 13 million, are at least somewhat interested in genealogy, according
to a 1995 poll conducted by Maritz Marketing Research. Seven percent, or 19
million, say that they are involved a great deal in tracing their lineage.”1
you are one of these one in ten, then you know exactly what I am talking about.
While shaping one’s family tree still requires the skill of a Sherlock
Holmes; access to many necessary information resources may be no further than
your home office. The Internet is a
marvelous resource to utilize for all types of research.
This tool has made the world a bit smaller by placing information at our
fingertips. According to Maclean’s
Online, “Genealogy has become second [only] to pornography as the most popular
use of the World Wide Web, with two million sites and counting.”2
Creating a family history is very much like combining the delicate flavors of an old recipe. I begin with the historic aspects the country, region, province, and town, then add maps, logos and photos. To this mixture I fold in the flavors of folklore, traditions, songs, proverbs, and poetry. I next stir in the information about the immigrant experience at Ellis Island and show photos of the ships on which my ancestors traveled. To this crown of beauty I add the most precious jewel of all, the genealogical data made up of ancestral and pedigree charts.
I have more extensive information about a particular relative, I put together
what I call I call bio-pages. These bio-pages include photos of the ancestor
along with information that attempts to tell a short story.
For example, I have compiled a two page spread for my great-uncle Tony
Caruso. Photos are captioned such
as a picture of him entering the Marines at fifteen after convincing the
recruiter he was old enough.
Tony later went on to join the Merchant Marines and traveled the world.
Included are two items of old Chinese currency from one of his travels.
When I was in New York in the summer of 1998 to visit Ellis Island, I
found a monument in Battery Park dedicated to the Merchant Marines.
I photographed the monument and copied the inscription so that I could
add this information to his bio-page since serving as a Merchant Marine was the
love of his life.
professionals in this area promote this method of ancestral compilation. Matthew
L. Helm said it best in a terrific article called, Color Your History with the Web. He states, “As genealogists, we
tend to focus on the vital facts about our ancestors -- birth, marriage, and
death dates and where our ancestors lived.
In some ways, we become mechanical in filling in the blanks of our
genealogical databases. Although
collecting these facts is necessary to substantiate our ancestor’s existence,
they don’t paint a full picture of our ancestor’s life.
Knowing what was going on in the world around the ancestor is just as
important as the vital facts for the ancestor.”3
the future generations of my family, I wish to hand down the most comprehensive
compilation that I am capable of producing.
There is a story to be told. Our
lineage began as illiterate farmers engulfed in poverty who persisted to become
a family that now possesses numerous college degrees and successful business
during a time span of a single century. Maybe
I am mistaken in my concept, but I believe that researchers who search for and
record names and dates alone to be missing some very unique pieces to their
ancestral mosaic. By succeeding in
my quest, only then can I begin to tell the story of who we were, who we are,
and whom we may become.
1. Fulkerson, American Demographics. December 1995: 42. (return to text)
WWW [http://www.macleans.ca/pub-doc/1999/09/20/Cover/22915.shtml] (link no longer operational) (return to text)
Vol.17 / No. 5: 58. (return to text)
© PIP Chapter 1, 2003 ~ Webmaster: LPRoots@yahoo.com ~ page last updated on Tuesday, October 31, 2006