Many years ago, my good friend Anna got me into Family Tree Maker, a great piece of software for tracking your family tree. With this application, the help of chatty relatives, and the apps’ online search capability, I’ve managed to go from a tree that only extended through my great-grandparents to one that reaches back into the 1600’s.
The tree has reinforced some family information – like the stories chronicling our family members’ service in the various wars including the Civil War and the Revolution, but it’s made me question others – like our relation to Davy Crockett. Our family has always told with great pride the story about how Davy was our cousin. Now to me, you start bandying about “cousin” and I figure the guy is sending Christmas cards with raccoon fur to my great (x5) grandmother, Mary Crockett. Sure, he actually is a cousin, but if you look at how it’s explained on a particular family member’s hand drawn tree, there’s this odd little line that just says “Davy Crockett”, and that’s what I call cheating. With Mom’s help, we found the actual connection. Yes, we are cousins, but you have to work your way back to France when the Crockett’s were Crocketagne’s and you find yourself sitting square in the middle of the 1600’s, around eight or more generations back staring down a very French common ancestor. I’m sure with some work, we could just as easily find a relation to most early American families, too. Then there’s the bit about the Mayflower. Almost anyone with my last name will tell you that we descend from a particular miscreant on the Mayflower, the only trouble there is that you can only work his line down to a certain point and it stops or you can work our line back up to a certain point and it stops – there’s a missing link (not surprising, we’re talking about my family). So, there’s this gap that makes me say “I’m not 100% certain this story is true.” However, if you look at any family tree books for our family, they’ll all say “we’re descended from this here guy on the Mayflower… we can’t prove it, but trust us, we’re your family”. Mmm hmm. I don’t trust the family I know and you think I’m going to trust you because we share the same last name? (Kidding family! I trust you. I’d now like to send out a *wink**wink* to my friends… no reason.)
There still have been some great finds as I’ve found more relatives – finds like “John Wilkes Booth Swinson”. It’s amazing how family, despite 140 years, can still cause you great pain and embarrassment. I always thought this was a special gift only my closest living relatives possessed, but it turns out it’s some sort of genetic trait passed down through the many generations that my nearest/dearest have come by honestly. Of course Jay, being highly supportive as I ran around throwing a fit over a group of people I don’t know, politely inquired if we had any Lee Harvey Oswald Swinsons. Thankfully, God made Jay cute and fast.
I’ve enjoyed seeing my name as its been handed down through the generations and in some small way have felt connected to these strangers, these Elizabeth’s who lived through the nation’s growing pains. I’ve viewed old census records documenting my family and their occupations (farmer, farmer, farmer, blacksmith, physician, farmer). One that stuck out was the one where my my great grandmother is listed as only being 6 years old at the time. I have to admit, I grow a little whimsical looking at it and wondering what she was doing on that day when some man came to talk to her father to record their family’s information – when all the people who are so important to my family now were not a part of her reality in that moment – when someone held a conversation with my great-great grandfather on what maybe was an ordinary day, then recorded the information in their beautiful penmanship and I wish I could hold this piece of paper – that maybe it would allow me to reach back through time and touch these strangers, my relatives, in a moment – much like our old photographs.
If you have the time/inclination I highly recommend this latest version of the software which makes the search for family so easy. The only downside is you’ll find hours have slipped by as you chase down your distant relatives or pop open one more census record.
Before I completely wrap this up, I have one more thought…
…it’s about cousins, since I’m now an expert. Lots of people get the whole first, second, third cousin thing confused especially when you throw “removed” into the mix, so I wanted to try to help by using my cousin Tony (he won’t mind). Tony is my first cousin (son of my mother’s sister). Tony’s daughter is my first cousin once removed. If she were to have a child, they’d be my first cousin twice removed. Now if I had a child, my child would be Tony’s daughter’s second cousins. It’s all based on how it would look on a family tree. People on the same line as you are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. People who are above or below your line on a family tree are “removed”. Hopefully, that makes some sense. If not, I can whip up a clever little diagram and user a laser pointer to help explain.
(Photo above: John Whitman Cearley (great-grandfather) & Peleg Hollingshead (great-great grandfather)