The family will be gathering this week for a reunion out in Utah, a place where none of us grew up or lived but which we enjoy for vacations. Our family is small but we’ve never done this before, gathering from across the country to remember our past and share our present. We have a lot of catching up to do – I haven’t even seen my cousins in almost 20 years.
My big contribution through the years has been researching family history, something I started doing almost 35 years ago. Yikes, that’s a very long time – even before Roots aired! Things have changed a lot with more and more resources available online. A subscription to Ancestry.com gets me access to digitized census records from the US and England as well as other indexes and primary sources, and access to information submitted by other people working on their own family trees.
I use FamilyTreeMaker as my software package to manage it all, and over the last weeks leading up to the reunion, I’ve been busy scanning old photos into the software to make the records more complete. I’ve also been digging up military records from the National Archives such as the Civil War military records of my great-great-grandfather from Scotland who fought for the Union. He was 24 years old, 5’6″ tall with dark hair and dark eyes, a laborer who couldn’t read or write.
My other great-great-grandfather from North Carolina fought for the Confederacy until he was captured at Gettysburg, and he was a green eyed 6 foot blonde. Ten days after his capture he took the oath of allegiance to the United States and became a “galvanized Yankee”, serving as a prison guard until he went AWOL. He was captured and court-martialed, then given his old job back with his rank and back pay. When the war ended, he never told his family that he had been a UNION soldier, which makes a lot of sense for someone who had started out as a rebel soldier in a Confederate state. His court-martial papers gave me his description and information that I would never have found otherwise. My grandmother almost had apoplexy when she learned of his Yankee past but now everyone acts as though it’s always been known.
The genealogy has rested largely untouched for a while until this reunion popped up but I’ve gotten the bug again and am starting to reacquaint myself with what I’ve already done over the years and where I might focus now. There are great online resources available plus I might even hop in the car and go for a drive or take the train to NYC to investigate family history there. I’ve been looking at my mom’s family but I know my dad will want equal time on his side, and there are mysteries there, too. It feels good to have so much information already on which to build – and having a laptop to go with me for research is a huge improvement over the old days!