Friday, September 30, 2011
Over the summer, I decided I would undertake the project of computerizing everything I could from my file labeled “Family Heritage.” Over the past 35 years, I have thrown all sorts of pieces of history into this benign, manila folder. I added obituaries, hand-sketched family trees. I salvaged notes in my mother’s strong hand, reminiscing about her family life. I have a piece of paper from a yellow attorney’s pad that bears my father’s nearly illegible scrawl detailing advice about marriage and life on the Grand Scale of Time. He talks about a Higher Power. I have glanced through this file infrequently, so each time it seems fresh. However, I have always known precisely where I kept the file through four relocations and three children. I have been drawn to the notion of converging my husband’s family history with mine. I envision a neatly typed family tree that stretches back through centuries. Moreover, I feel an obligation to deliver unto my children a package that tells the story of their pasts. The complicated relationships and emotions that brought people together, tossed them apart, and caused them to cross an ocean to greater opportunity attracted me.
Since my mother’s death, I have collected even more scraps and pages from the past – the award my grandfather received for saving a drowning man, my great-grandfather’s death certificate and a photo of my grandmother’s home-sewn, award-winning travel suit. My decision to join Ancestry.com was first made as a kind of lark. What I never expected was the visceral thrill I experienced when I saw the passenger manifest of my grandmother’s trip to Europe when she was twenty. My husband’s history has been preserved in Volume II of the tome Our Portuguese Heritage. This book does not, under any circumstance, leave Martha’s Vineyard. I was thrilled to find valuable, original documents through the U.S. Census of 1910 documenting his grandmother’s arrival from the Azores. All the Agatha Christie and John Grisham novels are serving me well as I piece together the past. I feel the confidence borne of self-righteousness as I play detective. After all, I am preserving the past for my children and their children with each click and document link to our family tree.
As I have blogged previously, I am frugal. To cut costs on my search through history, I signed up for a two-week trial period as an Ancestry.com member. This allows me full access to international records dating back to the 1600’s. I have two weeks to search birth certificates and travel manifestos and death certificates from New York to Scotland to Germany to New Jersey. If I am unable to complete the work in a timely basis, then I may be forced to convert my membership to a permanent one at the cost of $189.95. I am left to wonder if this drain upon my checking account may well be worth the preservation of my family legacy for all perpetuity. I have another twelve days to decide!