My family history and genealogy has been an interest of mine since I was very little and my grandma would tell me that we were descended from the Aztecs.
When I was growing up, the only family history I knew were the stories told by my grandmothers and my mother and aunts and uncles. The history was rich and colorful and important to me, but it was also incomplete.
I found out when I was six that i was adopted by the man I knew as my father. My mother was my birth-mother, but my birth father was someone else. I knew him as a friend of the family, but I knew nothing about him. He lived 2,000 miles away and I did not talk to him or go visit him. Half of my life was now a mystery.
I also knew from the stories our family told that one of my mother’s grandmothers had been orphaned as a child when her parents died, and the other had been sent to an orphanage at the age of 14 when her father died and her mother could no longer care for her and her siblings. So another chunk of my family history was a mystery as well.
I started doing genealogical research to try to figure out what happened to the siblings of my great-grandmother after they were left in the orphanage. One of the first records I found was the census record for the whole family in 1900, with my great-grandmother, her parents, and most of her siblings. The immediate success I had brought with it a sense of connection to the past and of hope that I could someday connect the stories that I knew with a larger story that could be found through the documents and records. These pieces of the paper trail were becoming easier to access now that many were being digitized and those archives were available on the internet.
Over the years I have been able to uncover quite a bit of “lost” family history, and gain understanding even for things pertaining to our family today (like why my great uncle’s middle name is Grace).
The more I discover, though, the more mysteries remain. Sometimes I talk to my ancestors as I am going to sleep at night. Someday perhaps they might answer me.
Other people I know who are the genealogists in their family have similar stories of some kind of lost family history. I think many of us in the present day culture feel a disconnect from our history and our ancestors that earlier generations didn’t feel. When one looks at the history of the United States over the last two hundred years, there is so much upheaval. We are often taught that our ancestors stayed in one place and that people stayed married and that women didn’t work outside the home.
In my own research I have found that this expectation doesn’t match with the reality, and in fact: Many homesteaders of the early 1800’s stayed only long enough to get the land deed and sell the land before moving on; wars affected families in almost every generation, many heirs sold their parent’s land not long after inheriting it; spouses died, people divorced, and blended families were common throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s in America and elsewhere; having children out of wedlock may have been shameful but it happened *A Lot*. And I bet that anyone who dares to look into their family history will find that the truth doesn’t match the expectation.