Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kurt Plugs His Genealogy Site

I got something very special this weekend--a copy of my great uncle Bob's genealogy notebook.

I've never been hugely interested in genealogy, but at some point in the last six months or so I discovered a website called Actually, when I found it, it was called "It's Our Tree", but the name change is for the better. It's part social network, but mostly it's just a family tree repository--anyone you invite into your tree can edit it, and it's a fairly intuitive interface.

Finding this website opened up some possibilities to me. Again, family histories have fascinated me, but never really interested me until now. But I had a kind of hokey epiphany about it, suddenly recognizing the extent to which people are connected...

I must pause to give Uncle Bob a few words of praise--his very detailed, going back six generations from myself in some lines. He has photocopies of newspaper clippings, birth, death, and marriage certificates--the man has done some research. And this was assembled in 1994, before the internets were everywhere. He did his work with his own shoe-leather, visiting halls of record, cemeteries and libraries.

So now I'm adding his work to the tree, and it has grown. And it's grown in other ways, too--a new niece, a cousin gets married. Part of me has this silly ideal that a few people in any given family will have the gumption to fill things out as much as they can and it will grow and grow and trees will collide and grow even larger.

I'm also amazed by the real-life drama involved in it. You learn about the uncle who got on a train one day and was never heard from again. There's a clipping in there about a great-great-aunt on my mother's side who was orphaned and adopted at the age of five, only to discover thirteen years later that she had five siblings she never knew about, one of which had never been tracked down, one of which had spent a few years with a rather cruel foster family before running away and living with horse traders for two years, and then traveling the country for ten-odd years doing odd jobs and such.

Long sentence, that.

People disappear. But other people leave paper trails.

So anyway, it's a UK-based site, so it's got a few minor regional quirks (like asking for height in cm rather than feet and inches), but it's worth a look at. I think.


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