Friday, February 9, 2024

Genealogy, part I: or, Learning to climb the tree.

 It started mildly enough, a few decades ago. My mother-in-law, a librarian, went to an Elder Hostel at BYU with my father-in-law, and spent the next 4-5 years compiling several binders full of research and pedigree charts for her children and her sons-in-law and daughter-in-law (that's me). My parents, especially my mom, pitched in and came up with notes from my grandparents and great-uncles and aunts, but there weren't a whole lot of mysteries in my family within the last hundred years, and a great-uncle had already written a book about his side of the family, so I didn't think much about it. Eventually the binders came to live with us. They were interesting to leaf through, and wonder if I was really descended from the Plantagenets or if that was just mythology, but I had no way to evaluate it all.

But Mom Chapman never really solved the mystery of her own roots, for all that work. So some years back, Steve got her an Ancestry DNA kit as a gift, maybe for Mother's day. Then he took the test, maybe for his birthday. And by Christmas, or maybe New Years, I took one too. It's a little weird and feels, to this descendant of Puritans (which I already knew) a bit too potentially prideful and self-indulgent to be proper.

But then, a month or two later, when the results came back and had very few surprises (Scottish, English, Northern European, Germanic, and that's pretty much what I expected) I had to laboriously enter my own family tree just to give the database something to work with. I was irritated about how long-ago record-keepers had spelled my ancestors' surnames. And I wasn't willing to pay a subscription fee just to find misspelled records for people I already knew were my ancestors, so I just kept entering the family tree Mom Chapman had so generously researched for me, as well as the lineage recorded in Great-Uncle Everett's Maffett book. On some lines it was easy to get back to the Puritans, or the later English or Scots-Irish settlers in the mid-Atlantic states... but on others, it quickly became confusing and frustrating. Still, I was hooked. I was just curious to go back further in time than 150 years, which had all been pretty well documented for most lines, or find out about the hillbillies, who weren't documented much at all. The gaps in Mom Chapman's notebooks became increasingly tantalizing to me. Who was the father of Zebulon Burch? Who was the father of Martin Burch? Who were the parents of Mercy Rodgers Crouch? Who was Catherine Unknown? Where was Thomas Bogue buried? I still don't have the answers to those questions. But I came to view it all as a grand exploration and quest for knowledge.

Sometimes I'd see something on Ancestry and wonder if the claims made about that person were true, so I'd do a basic Google search, and I started seeing WikiTree profiles occasionally. And I discovered that, basically WikiTree is a vast database of genealogy that you can contribute to. I was in the phase of wanting to learn Markdown formatting for my Wikiversity Latin course (which, I'm sorry to say, I haven't added much to the way I'd hoped), and I just jumped in, and created a profile to try to learn my way around. It involved recreating separate profiles for myself and my family, which was excruciatingly slow at first. And it made me anxious, because you have to have sources, and some people get snooty about what a source is. I could quickly see though, that you could bump into cousins on WikiTree in a more direct way than on other DNA platforms, and I liked that it was free to access and edit. This was in July of 2019. I started adding my family tree, and within a few weeks I'd bumped into two great-great grandfathers who were already on the tree. The adrenaline rush of making a connection in the sea of names and dates was addictive. It was worth the anxiety about whether my research was good enough. Gradually, my confidence grew.

By October of 2019 I had reached back to the early 1800's and late 1700's on some lines, hitting a few brick walls. I signed up for the "source-a-thon" and learned some basic formatting tips for sources that made my profiles look a bit better. 

After that, I stumbled across a book from the late 1800s about the Wagenseller family, which I'm descended from. I ended up creating a profile for all the Wagensellers or Wagonsellers in it who weren't already on the tree. And I was hooked after that.

I'll have more to say about the genealogy quest in future posts. I find it endlessly fascinating in the same way that putting together a quilt or a massive jigsaw puzzle is fascinating. 

1 comment:

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