Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who Do you Think You Are ? A long review in tracing family history.

Hello There My Little Manifests,

So I am a total reality TV junkie. I love the most mindless TV. However, I've been watching the show Who do You Think You Are which is actually really informative. Basically celebrities trace their lineage. And as in "they", I mean a whole team of experts that have all the resources at their hands. (Something I don't have access to at the moment) Some celebs I got so see this season: Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Emit Smith, Spike Lee, Matthew Broderick and Lisa Kudrow. You can find an article about it here.

I enjoyed watching these celebrities look through old records and travel back to where their ancestors came from. It was an emotional show. I think most of us want to know where we came from and feel connected somehow. Susan Sarandon went back to Italy, and Emit Smith traced his slave ancestors back to Africa.

I was fascinated by this show. The show is a walking advertisement for Ancestry.com. In reality you need way more than access to that site to successfully trace your lineage. These celebs went waaaaay back. I consider them lucky to have the records that they did. Some people aren't so lucky.

I don't know why, but I get emotional when I start to trace my family roots. Probably because there are a lot of dead ends and will I ever get the answers to my questions ? I wasn't the first one who decided to have a look into our family past. My dad and aunts did too, and they've hit a bunch of stops and I was warned. But I still hoped that with newer technology, more documents would be uploaded into Ancestry.com. Which is true, but nothing that really answers my questions.

Also, are all those stories you've been told all your life about family members actually true ?
My relatives each told me different stories about relatives that don't match up. Some details match, some don't. Who to believe ? But that's because my aunts and grandma have different recollections because they talked to different people and had different earlier experiences.

For example, I was told that my great-grandparents came here through Ellis Island. Not only could I not find them in the records, but when I questioned the family members who told me, they said that they really weren't sure after all. Maybe they never arrived in New York, maybe they stopped somewhere else first. I've had these tidbits of info I was told as a child, but how do you know those tidbits are correct ? Who is right and who is wrong ? I went to Ellis Island thinking I was standing where my great-grandparents did, and maybe it never happened. Maybe they stood somewhere else first and I totally got it wrong.

Plus, once you get some information, what do you do with it ? It can be very overwhelming. There is soooo much information and I forgot how easy it is to get confused. It's easy to get discouraged. For example, my Russian great-grandmother's name is 11 letters long, but phonetically spelled a million different ways. How do you trace that ? It was spelled differently on records that I saw.

Here are some new things I learned while perusing the site.............

1.) My last name appeared a lot in the Jewish registry and I got to see a lot of people with the same last name who immigrated from Lithuania and Belarus in the late 1800s. (I thought it was just a Russian last name) I grew up being told that my last name was cut short by officials at Ellis Island. I thought our last name was very uncommon. I thought if anyone had the same last name as us, that we were related. I am not sure about that anymore.

2.) My grandmother's side was easier to trace thanks to the Census records. Those census records are interesting. They showed up in the Census in the twenties and thirties. What was interesting was looking at my great-grandparents in the Canadian Census as far back as 1916, possibly further.

My Russian great-grandparents never appeared in the censuses. I know that they lived here and died in the US. I don't know why they didn't show up. Perhaps they didn't trust the Census employees ? Maybe they were ashamed of their English ? Maybe they were too busy working and never were home to talk.

Just keep in mind that just because you can't find the records does not mean that they don't exist. At Ancestry.com you can find some interesting things, but you won't get the complete picture. If you want to do that, prepare to talk to a lot of relatives, and hire some experts to help you. And have a lot of patience.

Some interesting things I found.........

-- My brother's birth certificate but not mine. They actually showed a picture of it. Mine is really hard to get for some reason.
-- Old addresses which come up from voting records. So if you vote, I am pretty sure that people know where you live.
-- Old directory listings (waaaay outdated) My old college address was there because I think I took the census at the dorms back in 2000.
-- My parents marraige certificate numbers. The numbers I would need to get the actual document if I wanted to. No pictures were offered of it. (Their divorce wasn't listed)
-- My grandparents divorce listing back in the sixties as well as documents about their other marriages. Not much information really, but a starting point if you wanted to dig deeper.
-- A picture of my biological grandpa's ex-wife's (not my grandma) headstone in the cemetary, which was found in a Jewish database. I had no idea that pictures of headstones were recorded.

--Speaking of Census, I still need to turn it in. My roommate got the papers a couple of months ago but never turned them in. We even had a guy come by our place, but I was at work. I guess I need to call him. I want to leave some sort of trail for people down the road who are looking for me after I am long gone.

--I also need to have more talks with my family that's still around. My grandmother has been a wealth of information. She's already told me a lot of information. But I think I may have hurt her feelings a little. I've been fixated about finding some sort of information on my grandpa's side from Russia, but not hers as much and she asked me why I never asked her. I feel so bad because I do want to know, but she was right. I focused more on what I didn't have in front of me and less than what was in front of me, which was her and her family's history. I was asking her a lot of information about my grandpa's side and not hers. I guess you also want to know things that you don't have access to. I have a lot of immigration history in my family. But my paternal grandmother is American as apple pie, and her side has been here the longest. Her mother's family can be traced all the way to Iowa, at least on paper. I know that way before that they came from France.

This can probably explain that while I love traveling across the world. I was not only born here, but have long roots here in the Good Old US of A and while a lot of relatives fought for for their countries in Europe, I have a lot of ancestors that shed a lot of blood for this country as well. No matter what, I am proud of the USA and never called myself a Canadian (even though there are some traces) while traveling to hide that I am American. I was born and raised here and love this country for better or for worse. Plus, while I traveled people were nice and respectful to me. Probably because I make all attempts to speak their languages and keep the political talk to a minimun and show interest in their cultures. That and smile a lot. I got the occassional jab at our presidents, but I didn't take it personally. They were mad at decisions, not at the country and it's people.

Anyway, I hope this review has been somewhat useful for you. While I watched episodes of Who Do You Think You Are, I felt like I was along for the ride. I wonder if the celebs knew what they were signing on for. Some people had very fortunate families. Brooke Shields' family was traced directly to Henry V with other Italian and French royalty along the way. Lisa Kudrow discovered her great-grandmother was torched by the Nazis and went to the field where it happened. Great-grandparents aren't that far apart, especially since I was able to meet mine who passed when I was 16. You really don't know what you will stumble upon, and families are like businesses as well. You sort of inherit what is passed down to you. If your ancestors did something atrocious, you bear a little of the shame as well. You don't know what you can find, whether your family was normal and just lived normal lives, whether they were heroes, or villains.

I can say that I am proud of my roots on both sides, my mother's in Austria and my fathers here. I came from lineage of strong, proud women and men did all they could to be successful and contributing members of society. I hope I can be half of what they were.

Anyway, I apologize if my thoughts are scattered. Please share with me your experiences. I really want to know. What are your thoughts ? Have you tried researching your lineage ? Did you use Ancestry.com ? Did you make new discoveries or did you stop at dead ends ? I hope you can either leave comments for me or share your own experiences in your own blogs and tell me about it.

Here is a picture of my paternal grandma who is not only the matriarch of the family and the reason we all gather for the holidays, but she is also the link to our family's past. The other young lady is my cousin from India and Molly, my grandma's dog who gets treated like a spoiled human child.

16 comments:

Charlene said...

I saw some promos for this program on Ellen, and Regis & Kelly, etc. It was my understanding that it is underwritten by Ancestry.com. I could be wrong.

KrippledWarrior said...

One of my cousins did an extensive search of our family history. And he did it before the internet existed. My family immigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1689. There have been family in every war ever fought by the US. From The Revolution to The Persian Gulf.

Senorita said...

Charlene,

You are probably right. Ancestry.com is written under and all over that TV show.

Thanks for sharing KrippledWarrior.
Kudos for you following in their footsteps !

Candace said...

My ancestry is partially Russian as well. From what I've been told, my last name was shortened when my great grandparents came here from Russia. I haven't done much research myself.

mac said...

Such lovely ladies in that photo :-)

I haven't traced my lineage past my grandparents.
On my Dad'd side, grandma was too nice. It seems she didn't like my mother much so she wouldn't see us kids. She lived about 10 miles away.

My mothers parents both passed before I was born. Grandma was sick, and died when Mom was 16. Granpa was the owner/operator of a small coal mine in rural Ohio. I think he died a few years before I was born.

But, my mothers uncles all lived forever. I think 4 of them reached at least 95. Uncle Walter was 97 the when I saw him last. He was still pretty healthy, and more aware than most 25 year olds :-)

I hadn't seen him in years, yet he insisted, "You're one of Red's (mom) boys, I don't know which, but you are one of 'em"
In his defense, we do kind of look alike, and he knew both our names.

I think I told the story of Uncle Danville here once, he was a character with his 50 year old girlfriend when he was well into his 90s.

mac said...

One more story I might share?
It speaks to the importance of knowing your family tree..and I still laugh when I think of it....

I was in High School and had a "friend". She was the cat's patoot. We were a bit sweet on each other though we had never done anything, besides a quick kiss when I dropped her off at home one night.
Her father died when she was 16. I, being a good friend, went to the funeral.
I happened to notice a very familiar face at the funeral - Uncle Walter's wife, Aunt Helen. Helen was a card! She had great intelligence and a huge sense of humor.
I asked my friend what my Aunt Helen was doing at her father's funeral...turns out, it was her Aunt Helen also.
See, Helen's brother had married her dad's aunt.
There was no blood between us, but it sufficiently creeped me out that I never wanted to go out with her after that.
We remained friends for a while, until life took us seperate ways.

Big Mark 243 said...

I don't mind that your thoughts were scattered. Means you were enthusiastic!

Wonderful picture at the end... you and and your cousin favor one another and the three of you are beautiful.

There is no real desire to know where I come from and should my daughters want to mine me for such information, I am sorry to have to tell them that I didn't keep up with my family.

Aunts had their rivalries and Grandparents passed well before I grew old enough to know them. There has never been nor is there any desire on my part to find out about anything in my lineage. But I don't hate on anyone who do or resent folks such as yourself who have such a rich family history.

Loving Annie said...

Senorita,
That was VERY interesting! You found out a lot, even with the missing spots.
It would be amazing to truly be able to track back the last 500 years accurately, and have a working knowledge of who these people were in teerms of where they lived, what they did, personalities, etc.
Who We Are is part of a constant search for self, and our roots are part of it.

Riot Kitty said...

Great pic, and interesting stuff! I did some research myself, but nothing's as thorough or available as it is, I assume, if you're on that show and have an entire staff of people at your disposal.

My family is Irish, Polish, Apache, Swiss, German, Scots and who knows what else. I do know we are brave - a trans relative in the 1930s in Iowa, a great-grandfather that arrested Baby Face Nelson - and also careless, such as the arsonist.

Funny story though - my Polish relatives were named (and I don't know how to spell this) Crookinski. Ellis Island staff shortened that to "Crook." Boy were they pissed off when they found out what that meant!

Pesto Sauce said...

Hey you have a cousin from India?? No wonder we connect

There was a TV show in India last year where celebs were taken to their past life and they recounted their tales under a hypnotic spell. The show was a huge hit here (such shows normally are) though I never watched it

Zsuzsi said...

Oh, this sounds exciting. And it's great you are interested in and proud of your roots. My family is completely Finnish, I don't even have the random aunt in Australia. When I was little I was really gutted about it, so much in fact that I got extremely upset when I realised I wasn't Chinese (talk about living in denial). Nowadays I'm quite proud of being Finnish, when it comes to these things you learn to be thankful when you are away from home (and the crazy all-Finnish family).

Sir Thomas said...

its scary the things you find when you dig back in time....

Jessica said...

This is a fabulous post!

The paternal side of my family has kept some decent records - I know everyone's name going back six generations. Not many photos or other written documents have made it, but the places of birth/death and the names are more than I could ask for.

Red Shoes said...

I agree with what a lot of the commenters said... you have more than you think... You should start charting out what you have... and start asking questions... I have a friend at work, whose husband is from the same small town in Illinois that my Dad is from... she has done extensive work on their family lineage... I think I will get her to help me get started in the right direction...

My Aunt Winnie had done some family tree work... the the extent that she discovered that we are direct descendants of Jean Lafitte... the infamous pirate of New Orleans...

I've probably posted way too much about my Grandmother Brown... I know she was a Coles.. and I have a document (can't recall the dates), but the Coles were asked to come to this country by an "explicit invitation" from the King Of England... I'm not sure what they had done, but there was a Something like a 10,000 Pound reward for their heads... HAHA...

Intersting... very interesting... this is why your blog is always one of my first reads... :o)

~shoes~

Danielle said...

Wow, that is very interesting. I am very curious about my families history. My cousin is working on a tree and I can't wait until he is done with it. I will let him do the work! :)

Danielle said...

Wow, that is very interesting. I am very curious about my families history. My cousin is working on a tree and I can't wait until he is done with it. I will let him do the work! :)