William and Addie ~ circa 1900
(Two of 148 known ancestors)
Wednesday night I was watching one of the few television shows I'm interested in. As it ends and I'm reaching for my book, this other thing comes on called Who Do You Think You Are? This is a spin-off of a program I used to watch in the UK, so rather than blow it off, I decide to see what the American version is all about.
Three days, peeps. Three days I've been sucked into a time travel vortex, lost in a space/time continuum of major proportions. Come walk with me whilst I explain...
Thursday morning, I'm mulling over the show, thinking of family and history and ancestors while hiking with the dogs. When we get home, I finish some chores, have lunch, then because I'm curious, I sit at the computer and go to Ancestry.com...and lose myself totally, completely, absolutely.
It was addicting and mesmerizing and exciting. Also exhausting and brain damaging, but wow, what an adventure. I learned an amazing amount of things, about my family, American history, life and death struggles, and the vagaries of Fate.
The mathematics of the experience nearly did me in at one point late Thursday evening. It's one thing to start with your parents, easy to add in the four grands, still okay juggling the eight greats, and almost maintaining sanity with the sixteen great-greats...but then, like amoeba in a Petrie dish, they quickly turn into 32, then it's 64, and suddenly there are over a hundred--148 to be precise--each with a history, a story and a connection to...me!
There were many plain, average folk: carpenters and millers, farmers and blacksmiths, gunsmiths and teachers. There were also soldiers and militia men, captains and constables, judges and legislators, and even--I was amazed to discover--colonials and settlers back to the early 1600s.
My 10th great-grandfather arrived from England in 1634. He sailed with his wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 6. They left behind all that was familiar to start fresh in the New World. His family died on the voyage. Can you imagine? By the time his ship docked in Boston, he had lost everything. After a few years, however, he remarried and had two boys...one was my 9th great-grandfather. And here's where a strange fateful thought occurred to me: I wouldn't be here today if Thomas's family had not perished on that voyage.
Thomas turned out to be a very interesting fellow--one after my own heart really. So not into the whole Puritan thing, he and a merry band of like-minded people left Boston in 1637 and founded Windsor, in Connecticut. Later, Captain Samuel, his son and my 9th great, fought and died leading the Connecticut militia at Ft Narraganset, in a battle known as the Great Swamp Fight, in December 1675. (And yeah, I had to look that one up. I'm pretty sure I didn't learn about it in school). The next year, his daughter married my 8th great, who had just graduated from a fairly new university...Harvard.
To a man, both sides of my family fought in the Revolutionary War; later, a good portion of them participated in the Indian Wars, and nearly all of them again in the Civil War. Either they were very political and patriotic, or they just liked to fight. Most of the families on both sides moved West after the War between the States, generally ending up in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada.
As I searched, some avenues petered out and some led nowhere. Once I followed a thread for over an hour to find it was the wrong one and had to backtrack and start over. Genealogy is grueling work, though I loved the discoveries and the research; the thrill of a eureka moment when finding a certain young Irish girl on a ship's passenger list from 1886, the girl who would become one of my great-grandmothers. (See photo above).
I lost hours--okay, an entire day and a half--following the many branches of the family until I reached, well, the Atlantic Ocean. Late yesterday afternoon, I crossed over The Pond and began to unearth the European connection. I say Europe, but they all came from Ireland, Scotland, or England.
Roaming, I went from the Highlands to Cornwall, County Cork to Northumberland, Yorkshire to Wales, Sussex to London...until I finally got to the absolute end of the line, where I couldn't go any further without physically being in the UK to read the parish records. The last stop in the time machine came with three sets of 13th great-grandparents: Richard and Ellyn, 1507; Oliver and Elizabeth, 1520; and Richard and Mary, also 1520. I'm boggled really. A tangible family cord that stretches out behind me for 500 years.
So, in my adventures for the 52s this week, I learned many things, and even with my head spinning after days of travel, I've still had long moments to contemplate just how fortunate we all are to have arrived at this point in time. After reading about plague and shipboard fevers and deadly childbirth, wars and arrows and famine, I'm in awe of my ancestors for their strength and fortitude, because truly, without them? I wouldn't be sitting here writing these words...