Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tracing the family tree; who, what, how, and why?

When I first started seriously researching my family tree, it was many years ago, before, before, way before I lived in France, and all my family, and family history, was in England. I wrote letters and put them into paper envelopes with stamps on, and trusted them to the postal services. I tried to gather information from aunts and uncles, and I engaged the services of a nice gentleman in England who would nip off to the Registry Office to track down and purchase birth, marriage and death certificates.

As the internet started to grow, I found people through LISTSERVS and online forums who were chasing their own roots. When I moved to the USA, I discovered the amazing microfiche libraries maintained and shared by the Mormon church through their Family History Centers, and spent many a long our staring into a reader in a darkened room, trying to decipher handwriting on deteriorated paper which had been photographed in less-than optimum conditions.

Over time, the online repositories and search engines have blossomed into a wonderful store of knowledge. TV programs promote the myth that it's easy to trace your way back to a King or Queen. And DNA testing connects you with people whom share genes from a common ancestor, maybe five or six or more generations ago. My own DNA shows 83% "Great Britain" and most of the rest Scandinavian... so there's probably a Viking or two in there way back, but little or no French, Gypsy or Irish in the mix... much to the opposite of the stories about the Bonnetts!

One of the triggers to starting my research was the desire to find out more about my mother's maternal ancestry. As the youngest child of a large family, whose mother passed away just days after she was born, she knew very little about her mother's family--the Bonnetts--other than family rumours. The Bonnets' proved to be the most difficult of my grandparents' ancestry to trace, and yet one of the most fascinating. You'll see that name again, along with Toon, Carvell, Mountney, Riley, and many more. The Hughes family--the family of my daughters' father--is another fascinating branch, with many stories to tell.

While my "tree" is public on, under the username alisontoontree201009, this website will share the stories of some of the family, and some of my experience and learnings while researching.

I encourage everyone to find out more about their ancestry. Our forefathers have shaped us into who we are, for better and for worse. If you know where you've come from, you have a better chance of knowing where you're going.

I go from researching families with ten or fifteen children, living in small homes, starting work at 12 years old or worse, working in factories or as domestic servants or farmhands or down in the dark of a mine, to my other guilty secret--House Hunters on HGTV--and see spoiled people refusing a house because each child doesn't have their own bathroom... The family research helps keep me sane in this consume-all world.

What would my great-grandmother say to my kitchen and laundry room? All the bedrooms? All this space for so few people? Would she complain that she doesn't have two walk-in closets and a personal dressing room? Somehow, I don't think so.

It's all relative!!!

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