Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

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Knowing the Ancestors

Keel Sadie & Bill c1949

My great-grandparents, William Jesse Keel and Sarah Annis (Peal) Keel

My dad is 88 and has outlived everyone in his line, older than all of them except Aunt Maglene who died at 98. His memory is spotty and names are hard, but he has strong, clear memories of growing up in his small North Carolina town. I love knowing about the ancestors and being able to prompt questions and appreciate answers because I know who they are and how they fit.

I have an Ancestry app on my phone and can pull up the tree with its details and photo gallery at the drop of a hat. Want to know how much his mother earned in 1940? Who were the neighbors? What did (great grandmother) Mama Jane look like?  Did any of Dad’s grandparents die of cancer? With a few clicks, I can get an answer.

I’ve been researching the family tree since I was 16 and most of the time it just feels like I’m the only one who cares about the results. The exceptions are the drama-queen ancestors that are fun to talk about. But the everyday folks? I know or can piece together their stories. I’m especially glad now that I can share and appreciate those stories with my dad.


I am Many Things, But Graceful Isn’t One of Them

I sit here counting my sore places which are aching, tender, a little swollen, and starting to bruise.  And wishing I was less of a klutz.  Clearly the weight loss has not changed some basic movement competence.

Lunch was in the Dining Hall today because it was raining and I didn’t want to get wet.  I go there all the time and haven’t had a problem wending my way other than the hallways full of students too busy texting to pay attention to the people around them.  Today the area outside the Dining Hall had some weather mats on the floor to absorb some of the wet people were tracking in.

My foot caught on the mat and I could feel my body in the air on the way to fall (it’s happened before so I’m used to the sensation and try to avoid it all costs).  I grabbed the wooden door, slamming my right side against it as I scrambled to keep my balance.  My right forearm is bruised and scraped, the heel of my palm is swollen, tender, and still stings, and my knee was wrenched a bit in the process.  It wasn’t until I was on my way home that I realized that there’s a small bump on my forehead and now I have an achy headache.

I am grumpy.

On the other hand, I finished my big genealogy project and presentation last week.  Not only did I do a PowerPoint and write a script, I also did a handout and created a wiki to provide more information for my colleagues who wanted to know more or couldn’t remember what I’d said – or both.   Here’s the link:  Climbing Your Family Tree Wiki.  It’s still a work in progress but it’s a good start.

There’s been no time for blogging lately because my evening time has been spent looking up relatives of mine or one of my colleagues in census and immigration records, and lately in city directories.  I love puzzles and sorting out relatives is a great long-term activity.  It makes a great evening companion for me while watching TV, plus I love finding new little names, dates, and locations that fill out the picture.

In the meantime, the weight loss is creeping along, and I’m less than a pound away from a 100 lb loss.  I’m not worried about the speed because my body shape is changing most of the time.   I do have a fair amount of excess skin which is starting to drive me crazy.  It was stretched out for 30+ years, and while some of it may be elastic, I’m going to end up with more than I thought.  I’ve worked out something with my doctor to document the skin issues (mostly rashes in skin folds) so that in a few years I can take that to a plastic surgeon to show it’s a medical issue.  It won’t hurt to have documented whether I decided to have more surgery or not, and right now I’m not really inclined to.


Digging Up Roots

I see dead people.  Online in databases, documents, newspapers, city directories, and census, military and vital records –  and buried in cemeteries with headstones, sometimes surrounded by family.

Although I’ve been working on my family history off and on for 40 years, in the last months I’ve found myself helping coworkers dig a little into their histories.  Looking up new names, ethnicities, time periods, and geographic areas has been refreshing, rewarding and lots of fun.  My friends think I’m brilliant which is carrying it a bit too far, but this is definitely something I enjoy doing and I’m happy to share what information I have.

I’m also doing a presentation on getting started with genealogy later this month for the library staff.  We have these monthly “spotlight” presentations and I’ve been dreading having to dream up a work project to talk about.  This, however, will be fun to do if I can figure out how to rein myself in from talking for half a day.

One thing my colleagues and I discovered in the last weeks is how every new bit information (a name, event, location, occupation) will jog memories and bring out even more information.  We learn stories from our parents and grandparents when we are small but often have no reason to remember things like the place Uncle Joe worked during World War II, or the fact that Great Aunt Margaret collected antiques.

Those odd bits make the stories come to life.  Our families were more than just names on a census sheet, will, or tombstone.   And the things that make them real and interesting are the bits that don’t get written down unless we do it now, either in writing or in a video or audio interview with relatives asking simple questions about life when they were growing up – and to sit down ourselves with a bunch of those questions so the things that make us who we are aren’t forgotten.

Even if you’re not interested in digging up past generations, I encourage you to at least write down what you know and can find out from talking to living relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings).   Ancestry.com is a paid site with a limited free option for data access – but they do have some great free resources and tutorials on getting started.  Take a look at their Family Group  Sheets and Ancestral Charts.  They will give you a framework for writing down what you know.  You can then set it all aside for later, including a child’s request for information for a school project.

The other thing you can and should do is go through your pictures, especially older ones of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., and be sure you record who they are and when the pictures were taken, if you can figure it out.  You can’t actually write on digital pictures and scanned images but you can set them up in online folders labeled by person, and be sure to back them up regularly.

Want to know more?  Check out Cyndi’s List for links to a whole world of genealogical Internet resources.  It’s da bomb.