Alone in the Roots

retro book on wooden table key

I’m finding that traipsing through my family tree is becoming more of a bittersweet and lonely experience for me. I’ve built this lovely rich, deep family tree filled with all these amazing people who overcame extreme hardships and tribulations and to know their blood flows through my veins is utterly amazing. However, my own immediate family has failed to understand why I find it so important to trace and document the past, particularly ours. They don’t even really attempt to feign interest or care to share in the excitement of my discoveries. It really hit me hard the other day while standing in the dilapidated old Woodhull cemetery when I was in near despair as a fallen tree menacingly loomed precariously close to taking out some of the stones below. For some weeks since, I’ve been melancholy as I realized there isn’t anyone in my real life to share these experiences and stories with really.  Sure, my husband will go scrub moldy old headstones with me and tolerates my excited ramblings when I discover something interesting but I know he has no real enthusiasm for genealogy or history.

A few nights ago, I was telling my daughter how overjoyed I was since I had volunteered my time to help identify the people/soldiers buried at the Fishkill Supply Depot and that I’d helped Fort Montgomery with a soldier’s identification, which I shared here a few days ago. My excitement fell on deaf ears and she was just so adamant that I should spent more time talking to the living, as opposed to proverbially digging through graves. I started to explain how all those people who are buried there contributed to our nation’s freedom and they deserve to be recognized for it and identified properly, as any soldier (or person, for that matter) does. How many families didn’t received notice of death? How many never made it home and are lying there with no stone, no identity, no nothing? My heartbreaking explanation didn’t seem to sway her one iota.

Even when my son was away in Georgia at basic training, when he was struggling and having a difficult time of it, I sent him a letter I thought would be motivational, telling him how he came from a long line of military men who found the fortitude to overcome some of the hardest, most hideous circumstances and that he could too if he’d just pull himself up the by the bootstraps (as my dad is fond of saying) and get focused on the task at hand. I described harrowing tales of our grandfather in the Civil War and even my father’s horrendous tours in Vietnam but those too, just seemed to fall short of being as inspirational as I’d hoped it would be for him. I just wanted him to find something of himself in the stories of our forefathers but my hopes were for naught.

For me, I get really excited when I  find discoveries in their lives that mirror my own.  As I was scrubbing some Woodhull headstones, I realized just how many of them were lawyers and/or judges during their lifetime. I just stood there and had to grin, remembering how for so long my dream was to go to law school, get a secondary in French and go work at the United Nations. Did that desire to go into law come from my Woodhull DNA?  Did my passionate zeal of arguing for the underdog come from them too?  I’d like to think so….

As I climb through these family roots, I wonder if other family researchers have similar feelings.  It’s a bit surreal to have all these people on my tree that I’ve never met and that lived in some cases 200+ years ago but yet, I feel closer to them than the majority of my own living relatives.  How can I find such strength and inspiration in them when I can’t find it in the present?  I just look at these people’s lives and I wonder how they did it – the mind boggles! I mean, we ask our son to take out the trash (which is right outside his bedroom door) and you’d think we were asking him to go on some epic journey akin to the Iliad. These people traversed over mountains and rivers in horse drawn carts, gave  birth to babies in fields and on trails to their new homes, men walked to the South and back during the war, plowed massive amounts of acres by hand sun up to sun down but taking out the garbage is much too much of a task for these younger generations.

Maybe it’s just that I can’t find anyone inspirational in the present. I am hard pressed to find someone I feel is worthy enough to look up to, admire or hope to emulate.  One look at my news feed confirms this thought.  For me, those who lie in their graves have far more character and moxie than a vapid celebrity. It seems anyone with a YouTube channel or Instagram account can be “famous” if you’re lucky enough (though not always for the right reasons). However, when I look at muster rolls and see men who were taken prisoner, stuffed into dank, diseased prison ships and somehow survived after multiple years of malnutrition and mistreatment, I am rightfully impressed.  I think about General Nathaniel Woodhull, bravely defying a British solider by refusing to say “God save the King!” even though he likely realized that he would perish for it… well, that to me is admirable by all accounts.  I think about the pioneers in my family who trekked across the country, leaving safety/security behind and forging into the West, the unknown be damned. I just don’t see that same fearless attitude in people today…

Where did it go?  Did it die out with technology and modernization?  Were all those strong characteristics and admirable traits bred out of us through the years and we’ve become “soft” as a whole? These are things that plague my thoughts as I climb through my tree.  As despaired and hopelessly alone as I feel sometimes as I work through my roots, I’ve come to realize that I’m not entirely bereft as I’ve feared.  If anything, it has made me appreciate that my ancestors have been and are with me still, now and always.

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Alone in the Roots

  1. ” Were all those strong characteristics and admirable traits bred out of us through the years and we’ve become “soft” as a whole?”
    The quick answer to your question is no. Since this post falls on the anniversary of 9/11 I will point out the firefighters who marched into the buildings even after so many had died. The passengers that brought down a the plane in a Pennsylvania field rather than being used as a weapon in Washington, D.C. certainly were not soft. Everyday teachers who have placed themselves between gunmen and their students are not soft.The examples are all around us. I know you have some in your home town.

    On your other subject I think it is more important for you to get enjoyment out of your genealogy and family history efforts, than say members of your family. You may be surprised who is quietly watching and in the future will be so thankful for what you have done. Remember to have fun in genealogy.

    Also this is something I have thought of many times is the question, would I like this ancestor if I had known him while they were alive. I think it is easy to like someone that we only know after their death. We all have family that we have some dislike of why should they be any different?

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    1. Interestingly, I wrote this long before 9/11 and it is no way a response or commentary about that day. I’m not diminishing those whose efforts were amazingly brave and heroic on that day at all. As a military spouse, I can agree that yes, there are still those who I consider “heroes” that go above and beyond the normal to defend us, save us and are extraordinarily caring human beings. However, I feel like those types of people are the exception and not the rule compared to generations beforehand.

      When I meant soft, think about all those children who worked during the Depression in the fields the ENTIRE day long and were up at dawn to do it again because it HAD to get done. My grandfather was raised poor in rural Kentucky and made his four sons go get jobs at age 8 working on people’s farms nearby if they wanted clothes for school. Eight! Can you imagine? My grandfather didn’t provide them with any like that because he worked so hard for what he had and wanted them to earn it as well so they’d appreciate it. Nothing except a roof, food and necessities – anything else was on them. My dad was bailing hay at age 8 and worked himself to the bone clear up until he retired a few years back. Now he doesn’t know what to do with himself because that mentality of having to “stay busy & productive” was just drilled into him at an early age. People just don’t seem to have that work ethic any longer. We make machines that make everything easier, quicker and cheaper… that’s what I’m talking about. I can’t get my kid to rinse off a plate; I can’t imagine if I said go bale hay.

      Oh, I have plenty of ancestors I don’t think I’d have liked in real life. Newspaper clippings give you great glimpses into their lives now and again to better define their character. I am struggling with this right now as I’m leaving for Ohio soon and I plan to visit the grave of my great grandfather who murdered my great grandmother. I’ve never been because I think somewhere in my mind, I blame him / hate him for robbing his children and grandchildren of her and for affecting so many generations with this “curse” of depression, drinking and suicide in the wake of that day. So while I do have a healthy veneration for many of my ancestors, I also hold some vehemence as well. It’s not all roses and rainbows in my tree.

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  2. Oh PJ, I could have written these lines about my own family!

    We aren’t alone (we can’t be!) in this sea of non-carers. How is it that no one in either of our immediate vicinities understands the importance of these stories we uncover?

    Like you I’m amazed at the interests and traits passed down through the generations. Often skipping a generation or two, suddenly a similar career path repeats itself in the same branch of my tree. That can’t be a coincidence! The only possible explanation is that it’s in our blood.

    I focus my genealogical efforts on my grandchildren’s grandchildren. Although today they are only figments of my imagination, I tell myself they will be the ones to pick up the torch. One can only hope.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Laura, I am just days away from becoming a grandmother and I, too, have this hope that one day she’ll pick up the mantle and find it interesting enough to pursue. If anything, I plan on telling her loads of stories from our family and making sure she knows who & where she comes from. Nobody did that for me because they didn’t really know or cared, I think. I’m also enrolling her into the CAR (the DAR’s children’s version) when I get a chance.

      I really do like finding shared interests in the tree. I have a very, very long generational line of potters and clay tile makers in my mom’s side and that’s really cute to me because that was the art class I positively loved and have thought about picking up again as a hobby. Shoemaker and banker were other ones in my family that everyone seemed to do too! I really do believe in that transfer in the DNA… so many articles floating around about that recently so maybe there is something to it. 🙂

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  3. The other family members might not care at first, or to the extent that you do, but they don’t have to. You gain the blessing of connection with your ancestors from the time you’ve spent learning their stories. There are still hardworking, caring people today. You just might not hear about them as often.

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  4. Oh sweet PJ….I feel your pain! Although a few of my family members have taken a small interest, most believe I have fallen off the deep end. Some think I am crazy, and do not believe my findings, although they will not even look at my research! One of my brothers has even mocked me and made fun of me to other family members. But chin up girl…there is a reason we don’t give up on our heritage. I have just decided to have fun.

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    1. Thank you! That means so much to me! I’m finding out there are MANY other genealogist and even historians in my circle that feel this same way. I guess we can’t all have the same passion and zeal but sometimes, you would like to share it with your family. I mean, it is THEIR family too! I’m sorry your brother did that to you. Some people just wanna poke at what they don’t understand or care about. And you’re positively right – deciding to have fun is the best course! ❤

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