Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Reflections on Family Discoveries


When we begin our family history journey, we seldom expect to stumble upon deep, dark secrets—let alone unspeakable tragedy. But that doesn't guarantee we will never find it. The pathos of discovering the fate of distant Polish relative, Father Edward Gramlewicz, leaves me pondering the deeper, more meaningful moments in our ancestors' lives.

Finding such vignettes, of course, depends on such personal histories being there in the first place, but it also requires that we mount a search thorough enough to discover what was there to find. And such details will seldom be found, even by the most diligent researcher, unless someone has taken the time to record not only the passage of such events, but the thoughts our ancestors held of having experienced such situations.

For some of our ancestors, we owe a debt of gratitude for the newspapers which catalogued the events in our predecessors' lives—even if the reporters bumbled the spelling or other minor details. At least a record was left to be discovered by the curious among our ancestors' descendants.

For others in our family—usually the unobtrusive, the average, or the downright boring—such research clues may not even be there to be found. In other cases, significant flashes of generosity may only have been captured in history's footnotes—I think here about the footnote in a history journal which, found only by the grace of a search engine's thoroughness, gave me the slightest hint about the man I was researching (and will revisit again, soon), King Stockton.

Yet another set of the ancestors we seek may have been fortunate to have descendants diligent enough to preserve their writings—the letters, journals, diaries in which they recorded their feelings about passing through trying times in history. I think, in that case, of the various members linked to my Broyles line in South Carolina, for whom mentions in such preserved private communications, now shared publicly, enable me to better understand the difficult times in which they lived.

While seeking solid data on the full names, complete dates of significant life markers, or precise locations in which those events occurred may be part and parcel of the genealogical pursuit, I've always sought more. I want to learn what my ancestors were thinking while enduring the experiences in life which befell them. Yes, discovering that Father Edward Gramlewicz suffered an unjust end is a sobering revelation, but understanding what led to that final event grounds the micro-history of my personal family line in the macro-history of world events. That has always been what I've sought in researching family history.

In the coming days, I'll revisit this year's Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to reflect on research progress, and analyze what can be done differently for next year. Then, beginning the day following Christmas and continuing for twelve days, we'll start the whole process over again, selecting twelve new focal points for the upcoming year. I hope you'll consider joining me in the process.  


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