In my grandmother Grace's house there was a short hallway with a tall book shelf. On the two bottom shelves sat several old photo albums and a large bible. I would sit for hours in the hallway and flip through the pages.
As an 8-year-old girl, the pages of that bible were infinite, it was by far the biggest book I had ever encountered. Although its size was impressive, with its gold tipped pages and elegant silk book mark, what intrigued me most about it was the items gently tucked inside its pages. Remembrance cards, special Christmas cards, prayers to the saints, the occasional lock of hair, a few pressed flowers and even a monarch butterfly carefully pressed in plastic. This was my adventure during afternoons at grandmas.
The photo albums were full of black and white photos, of a large and loving family. Some of the pictures has names written on the front, some on the back, some were even from a professional photographer in Lonaconing, Maryland.
These items were the treasured property of my great-grandmother Daisy May Broadwater McConnell.
During the years growing up, I would find myself sitting in that hallway, reading and wondering. Sometimes my many questions would get answered, but often times not to my satisfaction. I wanted to reach into those items and listen to what they could tell me.
About my junior year in high school, I received a gift, from a friend of my mothers. She knew I was interested in genealogy and she enjoyed the hobby. My mom arrived home from work one day with a few blank family group sheets. I was told, start with what you know. She also recommended the Pennsylvania Room of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh as a great resource. I spent many long afternoons and evenings in that room, especially after I started college at the University of Pittsburgh. It was a short walk from my dorm. Of course, those afternoons, did little for my nursing degree that I was pursuing, but I was digging and discovering. I learned how to flip though the microfilm indexes of the federal census, only then to have to find the corresponding roll for the census itself. Turn pages upon pages of books, to find one morsel that was relevant to me. This was old school and it was amazing. I started to fill up my tons of notebooks and three ring binders. I do wish I was better versed on the importance of sourcing back then. A lesson that I am proud to say has been well learned.
Soon I discovered family tree maker, back when it was 3 floppy discs. I progressed though about 17 version of family tree maker and lost probably about 4 trees in computer crashes, thank goodness for my notebooks, and binders. I still cling to this program even now, despite that I primarily use reunion now. It’s like my old blanket, I can’t quite give up.
Back in the dark ages, it was harder for us fellow family tree cultivators to find each other, but even then, we had a network. I started to meet cousins, I never knew. With the help of my mother’s friend who gave me my coveted first family group sheet, we found my grandmothers long lost uncle and his entire family. One of whom was a pastor that gave the blessing at my wedding.
I also started to become the family confessor. They started to worry I was digging up stuff they had hide for years, and suddenly I would get told secret stories that no one had heard before. It was in one of these conversations I learned of the suicide of my 2x great grandfather.
My life has been amazing and full. I work fulltime as the associate director of a large oncology research program at a major university. I am the mother to five busy children, and two more furry ones. But, I always make time for the extended departed family.
I cannot imagine my life without my trips to the past. Now 25 years later, with over 15K people in my tree, I am constantly jumping down rabbit holes and discovering the stories beneath the surface. The understanding of my place in the larger world and the struggles and triumphs my forebears, has impacted me greatly.
As I have started to help others in seeking their roots, I find their stories excite me just as much as my own. We are all connected, to me it is vitally important to understand where you are rooted.
I like to believe that Daisy knew when she was placing those items in those pages that they were not only for her to remember. I like to think she imagined me discovering, and examining, looking for clues and looking for understanding. The photo above, is Daisy. I found it in one of her albums. It was probably taken about 1919. It took me a while to realize, she is standing in a cemetery, in Lonaconing, where she lived prior to moving to Pittsburgh. I have been to that cemetery, to take photos of the graves to try to find clues. I wonder if she like me, liked to walk in the cemeteries and think about the lives of the people now resting there. We never really realize just how much something is in our blood.
Daisy’s bible sits along with two other family bibles I have been blessed with over the years. I protect them as the precious items they are, for their original owners, for me and my descendants.
What was your catalyst to the past?