Tag Archives: ancestor

sometimes it pays

Sometimes it pays off to be a COH, grand-daughter of self-affirmed packrats, and from a family of collectors. Today I was advising a student about types of assessment he can expect will studying in Switzerland, and as I pulled out a file from a history course I took in 2001, I caught sight of printouts from my research that year in France. Low and behold, I had kept all of the hard-copies from programs I attended and that happen to be relevant to a paper I’m writing right now. I was convinced that I would never be able to verify the historical point I was trying to make in the paper, and suddenly references are in front of me dated 15 October 2001. Thank you to whichever ancestor who also taught me how to file things.

hoarding ancestors

I keep watching the not-so-inspiring episodes of Who Do You Think You Are as I grow my family tree on Ancestry.com, and this week I was treated to Gwyneth Paltrow calling a great-grandmother a hoarder. It is all the rage, after all, to talk about hoarding. Like many hoarders, this relative suffered a double loss of mom and brother in a short period of time and her college education started to fall apart. Paltrow’s grandfather apparently often said that while growing up his house was not a home and that he and his siblings were sent home from school for being dirty, and so on. His mom just didn’t take good care of him.

Paltrow, like many celebrities featured on this show, had a curiosity to understand the genealogy of mental illness, instability, or other past traumas that the family doesn’t like to talk about. She commented that it’s so hard to know what’s true, even when your family members tell you with some level of certainty about the past.

D.’s mom sent me a class project on family history that D. completed in the 1970s with some nifty details written out by his teenage hand. As I entered these “facts” into Ancestry.com, though, I picked up misspelled names and mistaken roots. A few of my queries came to the same dead-ends as his own family search some thirty years ago. These details, even the recorded ones in the archives, are never fully trustworthy. Names get changed, misspelled, ages mistaken, locations shifted, and names of locations change throughout time as well. It’s a little blurrier the further back we go, and while we can trace the family lineage back through the generations, I somehow do not feel any more certain that this is really who we are or where we come from.

ancestral hoarding

I jumped down the rabbit hole of my ancestry on Saturday in almost obsessive fervor as I whizzed past the 1600s ancestors I’ve known about down to the kings of England, princesses of France, to Charlemagne, to Clovis and back even further to latinized named kings of the West Franks until I arrived at rock-bottom, 6 AD.

I come from one of those families that has thoroughly documented that infinitesimal piece of DNA that represents our surname. It was not difficult to link to the first known ancestor in England. As I tracked back his wife, though, I started to wonder just who these people were to cause records to continue back so far. For a moment D and I thought I’d end up at a priory in England with Tom Hanks proclaiming me the last ancestor of Christ. Almost relieved when the lineage stopped in “Austrasia” near the supposed time of Jesus’s birth, I couldn’t help but wonder why all these people, not likely really linked to me genetically, were populating my head. I suddenly felt a swarm of community around me as the names filled my genealogy program with pages of cross-referenced data.

Last night I began the ascent into D’s lineage, and although I didn’t get far, I did come out of the search with a few ships’ passenger lists with his father and grandfather’s names on them. I went to sleep late last night, my head foggy and crowded, and throughout the night awoke with thoughts of being tucked in by the hoard of ancestors. Somehow this knowledge is comforting – to know these names, so easily forgotten, providing a trail of a past, even one we can only imagine is real. I felt comfortably enmeshed in this web of stories, on the tracks of others who have done the research before me, leaving my own notes for some who may wander down the line later on. What else might our ancestors have passed on besides changed names, nationalities, homelands and numbers of children?