Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why We're Gathered Here Today

My first stab at family history, aka my high school Senior Project.

This is a blog about family. This is a blog about uncovering the stories of the people who came before me. This is a blog about understanding how I got to be where I am, because of how my parents and grandparents and great-grands beyond got to be where they are and were.

I’ve been doing family history research off and on since 2001, and much more seriously since about 2007. A fair amount of the credit (or blame, depending on how you look at it!) goes to two of my high school teachers. One, my AP U.S. History teacher, assigned this awesome project where we went to the historic Woodland Cemetery in West Philadelphia, chose a headstone, and researched that person’s life through records at archives and repositories across the city. To be honest, I don’t remember a darn thing about the person my group chose – not even his name. But what I do remember is how cool it was to get to search through historical records and actually find out what this person’s life looked like at a time when the world looked different than the one I knew. (It’s also the first, and only, time – to date – that I’ve eaten lunch in a cemetery. I’m a terrible Victorian!)

Around the same time – maybe junior or senior year - my English teacher had us read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Spoiler alert, if you’ve never read it, there’s a children’s rhyme that pops up several times in the story that turns out to reference the family history of the story’s protagonist. There’s a haunting coolness to that that made me wonder what I might be able to find out about my own family. I took that question and ran with it – my senior project was a cookbook with family recipes that I got by visiting and interviewing family members in DC and Columbus, OH.

What really sealed the deal, though, was something my Grandma in Ohio told me before I went away to college. (Nope, not a deep, dark secret!) She told me that when she heard what college I’d decided to go to, she went to church and told her fellowship how proud she was to be the daughter of a coal miner whose granddaughter was going to Harvard. The sense of motion, the sense of time, and really, the sense of history in that statement – especially knowing how and where both my parents grew up – has stuck with me to this day. So has the question of what I could learn about my coal mining ancestors, and all the other folks who came before me, on both sides of my family.

In the past 14 years, I’ve answered a lot of questions, and raised a thousand more! I’m going to use this blog to share a lot of the information that I’ve found, first and foremost with my family, but also with all my genealogy and history buddies (and hopefully new ones as well). Maybe I’ll even connect with new family, or with fellow researchers who can help me break down brick walls in my family history.

I’m looking forward to this blogging journey and hope that you all – family and friends – will take it with me. More than that, I hope you’ll participate: sharing stories, memories, photos, and family recipes, and maybe writing a post here and there for me to share! At the least, I hope you’ll leave comments, ask questions, or just tell other folks about what’s here, so we can keep this information – our stories – alive for generations of family to come. 

P.S. My posts won’t all be this long!

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