How far can you go back?

How far back can you trace your family tree

Oh how I love folks who are trying to engage me in conversation. They overhear me talking about family history and are bursting to join in. They have been bitten by the bug and they think they’ve discovered a kindred spirit. They gush as they excitedly ask, “How far have you gotten back?”

Yep. That’s the first question out of their mouths.

That first question tells me nearly everything I need to know about the person and their passion in family history. Please forgive the judgement, but I have yet to be proven wrong in my analysis. The people who eagerly ask this question are name gatherers. The people who ask causally are trying to make polite conversation. Passionate family historians and genealogists ask a variety of other questions.

Then, the name gatherers display great disappointment when I say, “Oh, only about the 1850s in Ohio and a little further back in Canada.”

They sigh and say, “That’s too bad.” Then they rapidly launch into, “I have my lines back to the 1500s and into royalty.”

Yep. Name gatherers.

Bless their enthusiasm. We need people of all stripes in family history. I just wish I knew how to respond. I think that’s the reason I wrote this post. Not to pick on such people or the question. Rather, I don’t know how to handle this question.

Maybe next time I’ll say, “to a drunk, an immigrant, and a professor.”

What do you think?

Would it be funny?

Maybe not.

My Geiszler ancestors… simple folks living simple lives in Franklin County, Ohio.
People of little renown, but so important to me.

The thing that frustrates me is how closed off people become when I say only reach into the early 1800s. The pitying looks are so painful to use good graces through. Smile and nod. Smile and nod, I internally repeat.

Inside, I’m screaming, “It doesn’t matter how far I can go back!”

Does it really matter that Elvis Presley is my 11th cousin? He’s my 10th great grandmother’s 9th great grandson. Oh yeah. If Elvis were alive, we’d be tight!

Going back?

I used the same service that showed me how I related to various ‘famous’ folks and when I switched to my direct ancestors, I have absolutely no hits. No one of ‘importance’ appears on ANY one of my direct ancestors. In short, I’m a nobody who is carrying on the family tradition of being a nobody. Somebodys are on the cousin lines. Gee, thanks!

Truthfully, I don’t care about famous ancestors. I care about my ancestors regardless of their status on the world stage.

The ancestors that I have researched between me and the grandfathers and grandmothers in the 1850s are real to me. I have uncovered much of their stories. Certainly, there is still more to learn. Yet, if I were to go back in time to meet them, I would know where to find them and what they were doing. I would know how many people are in their homes and some of the years that were particularly happy or challenging.

This knowledge is so satisfying yet keeps me hungry to learn more. To find one more record about anyone that I know and anyone that I discover along the way.

Emma Virginia Townsend Brown… a woman who left little impact on
the world, but who I would rather meet than Elivs or a distant German king.

I love my ancestors who were of little to no renown. I dream of time traveling back to see their lives and finding the answers to the question I have. I love the home makers, the immigrants, and the day laborers. And it’s okay that I haven’t found royalty. I also haven’t found murders or too many unsavory folks either, so it’s a win-win. Don’t you think?

Long ago, I laid aside frustration with name collecting genealogists. They are what they are and it excites them. Sometimes, I just wish I could help them see what I feel when I do family history. I just wish I knew how to answer the question, “How far can you go back?”

BTW For those very astute individuals wondering why I’m not claiming my family goes further back than the 1850s (the folks who link me to Elvis), here’s why I can’t claim that. Many of the lines that connect me to ‘famous’ relatives have flaws that I know are there but do not have the skill set to solve at this time. 

2 thoughts on “How far can you go back?

  1. I do family history because I am interested in how my ancestors lived and what stuff they were made of. I find hearing people in their own voices, especially women, who are so underrepresented in history, to be most moving. Newspapers are good for this. My great-great-grandmother said on her 50th wedding anniversary, "Before I was married it was honey, rhubarb and pie but afterwards it was root hog, or die." Oho! She had a sense of humor — priceless to have ancestors who could laugh at themselves.

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