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Manila envelope holds links to past

POSTED: May 2, 2010 5:30 a.m.

We were expecting out-of-town guests, so I thought I’d clean up a little-used area of the house and make room for the air mattress.

Next to a bookcase that holds as much random objects as it holds books, I picked up a plastic shopping bag. Inside was my high school diploma, a keepsake glass from my sister’s prom and two unopened manila envelopes addressed to my mother.

So, being the dutiful daughter I am, I opened them.

Inside were pages of photocopied information about my mother’s family — letters written by my great-great-grandfather looking for the whereabouts of his father, a newspaper photo of a cousin who is an artist in Western Massachusetts and pages of handwritten notes about family members I’d never heard of before.

What struck me about this information now in my lap was that just the day before, I was milling about at the Blackshear Place branch of the Hall County Library, asking people about their own genealogical research. Was this a sign of something? Were my grandparents, my great-grandfather or some other distant relative trying to reach out to me?

Well, probably not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in trying to figure out their stories anyway.

Luckily, my sister and an aunt on my father’s side also have dabbled in family history, so this topic isn’t too foreign to me. And I remember looking up family names on Ancestry.com years ago — easily, a decade ago, actually — but not coming up with much.

So, I decided, why not take this as an opportunity to try and find out my own family’s story — at least, a part of it that hasn’t been uncovered yet.

After talking with my mother, it seems she had an aunt who, as she grew older, became deeply involved in genealogy. She sewed quilts for her children as wedding presents, carefully tracing the lines back to a great-great-great grandfather buried on Staten Island after immigrating from Germany. This aunt is the person who compiled the contents of the manila envelopes.

But sometimes, as I’m finding now that I’m dipping my feet into the pool of family history, other family members who may hold the key to family history aren’t as cooperative as you may think. Or, they simply don’t know as much as you’d like them to.

Take my mother, for example. She doesn’t want to know about her father’s ancestors. And even though the contents of the manila envelopes are helpful, they represent only distant cousins, since my mother and this mysterious aunt only share a grandfather.

Or, take my father. Born 13 years after his oldest sister, he was too young to remember much of the daily drama that went on in his family, and many of his aunts and uncles were already old when he was growing up. Not to mention that his father — my Grandpap — never kept in touch with any of his siblings when he got older.

I had the chance to sit down with my dad and his two sisters to try to hash out as much as they could remember about their grandparents or great-grandparents, but unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot to go on.

Which means, I’m now at the beginning of this journey.

Luckily for my ancestors, my sister and I want to make that connection to the past. We’re curious what kind of produce our great-grandfather delivered to the Heinz factory by horse-drawn cart. We’re curious why another great-grandfather left his young wife and two young children early in their marriage.

And, we’re curious about how much or how little we’ll even find.

Who knows — I’ve barely scraped the surface of the records available at the library. But at least it’s a start.

Wish me luck.



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