Troy Dunn, aka “The Locator” of missing relations, says “you can’t find peace until you put the pieces together.” He, of course, helps find the missing parent or sibling of the person searching for answers. But what if we feel the need to go deeper…what if the nature of our being is connected to individuals we are related to further down the DNA line…a great-grandmother, a great, great, great, great-grandfather, or someone even further back in our family tree? Do these connections really mean anything? They must mean something. It seems the bustling traffic on Ancestory.com and popular television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are” are hitting a collective nerve with us Americans. We mostly have short memories…perhaps because many of our families arrived in a new country happy to assimilate into the Great American Way…to simply belong. How many of us have no idea who our great-grandfather was, where he was born, what he did for a living?
The idea of legacy is something I’ve given a good bit of thought to in recent years. What have I been “handed down”…and what will I leave behind…and does any of it really matter? In my work as both a site manager of an historic house museum and as a development director at a major historical society in Philadelphia, I’ve come across a good number of other people’s “illustrious ancestors.” At this point I have a number of friends and acquaintances who hail from “important” families…and in Philadelphia these families and their connections have never been forgotten. “Your People” as some call them, speak volumes. Over the past two years I have worked one-on-one with a woman who spent more than forty years of her free time researching her great-great-great-great-grandfather…a “founding father” who worked along with the likes of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Wilson. Her ultimate bucket list item was to publish a book about this grandfather—a man mostly forgotten by the historians. She died in recent months, but even in her last days, she was concerned with “the book”…and whether it would be completed and published after her death. This regal lady held on for a number of days past the time she was expected to live. I knew exactly what was holding her here on earth. And when I received a phone call from her daughter-in-law informing me that the family had indeed decided that the book would be published, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind—after we were done talking—whispering into my friend’s ear…please tell her that the book will be finished I said…it will put her mind at ease. It was only a matter of hours after that conversation that my friend finally passed away. Not a coincidence in my mind. My role on the project transitioned from one of “ghost writer” to co-writer…and in the days that followed, I was certain that my friend was sitting right next to me as I completed the project. Her legacy will indeed be published in the coming months.
So what of my own legacy? Who exactly are my people? I will readily admit that I have fallen into the abyss known as Ancestory.com…and I am nothing if not a victim to all those little green leaves that pop up on the family tree…little clues that lead you deeper into the lives of these hundreds of individuals who inhabit your tree. I can’t let myself visit the website without knowing I have several free hours available…hell, who am I kidding…several free days. It’s THAT addictive.
What have I discovered about my own ancestors so far? Were they ordinary? Extraordinary? The answers to these questions will be left for another day. Today my goal was simply to start a blog…the first step in what I hope will be a weekly exercise… something separate from my fiction writing and a means of instilling a bit of discipline in my writing in general (something I am sorely lacking)…and to also bring a bit of focus to my research, which I will readily admit is haphazard and located in bits and pieces all over my office. I can tell you this though…what I have already uncovered is nothing I ever imagined… yet the question remains…will these pieces provide peace?