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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What a year. As I start this blog, snow is heavy in the grey clouds hovering overhead. But the sun is sparkling in scattered patches of old snow. Ominous but beautiful at the same time. I guess that's a bit like this past year. So many problems and threats, with the economy staggering and people out of work, but glimmers of goodness in the lives of the people around me. And a better understanding of who I am.

For the past two years, I've worked on my family tree. This year, in particular, it has offered me a welcome escape from worries and problems. I began this tree as a way to identify the faces in hundreds of old photos. These are my family photos, some sienna tinted, others tintypes. Some came to me bound in a frayed maroon velvet album with German newsprint supporting its broken spine. Others came in a hinged box and were scratched from years of shuffling and rubbing together. Still others came in paper albums with sticky rectangles holding them in place.

I don't know how I ended up with all the family photographs. Maybe no one else was interested. But, as a history lover, I am fascinated by what I see when I look at them. In a few, the old photo studio scenes painted, no doubt, on canvas show a European setting, although this branch of my family has lived in the United States since the 18th century. So many of the faces are serious, as was the style in the 19th century. The dresses of the women hint at the year the photo was taken. There are lots of clues in a single tintype.

For many years, I had no idea who these people were. My immediate family was never very family-oriented, so I didn't know many family stories. Although the photos intrigued me, I felt no real connection to the people staring back at me.

I began my family tree as a way to understand who these people were and how they were related to me. Many had scribbles on the back, and as I began to build the tree, I also began to attach some of the photos to the people I found. As more people appeared, the tree became more interesting to me, and I continued back in time, before there were photographs. Now I wanted to know more about my family.

In the two years since I began this project, I have found almost two thousand people I am related to. I have made it back to the 17th century with three branches of my family. Now it's time for the next step. Gathering names and dates and small details about my ancestors has been interesting. But now I want to know more. What was it like for them during the time they were alive? Who were they, in the context of the history that surrounded them every day? Who did they know and associate with? I have a lot of questions, and in 2010 I am determined to get them answered.

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