Friday, March 23, 2007

The Family Tree

Earlier this month Jay at Only Wonder wrote about a site called Geni.com that helps you make your family tree online. It is also somewhat of a social networking site, because as you add member to your family tree, you can insert their email addresses and invite them to see your tree, and on and on, with the idea that eventually you could see how you were related to people you never realize you were related to. Their tag line: "Everyone's related." They are still in 'beta' and have some features yet to be added that I hope they get soon. But Jay's post inspired me to check out Geni and get back to an interest I haven't spent time with in a long time - genealogy.

Genealogy, quite appropriately, is an interest that runs in the family. I was pretty passionate about genealogy around sixth and seventh grade. Then, my interest (and ability) consisted more in copying down available information that other family members could give me. My paternal grandmother was an avid genealogist - she traveled a few times to Europe to research our ancestors, and uncovered a lot of information. My great-great aunt also shared many of her family memories before she died, and I had copies of her notebooks. And we've had family legends that we all know: we're related to the famed 'Loomis Gang', a Peabody from the Mayflower, and, I kid you not, someone called "Tom Quick the Indian Slayer," who is from the same side of the family as are our Cherokee ancestors.

Now, I've been inspired to take up the project again, and research is much easier thanks to the internet. If you can trace your family tree back a few generations at least, it is easy to find someone else who has significant research posted online with a common ancestor. Thanks to the hard work of others, I have been able to trace some parts of my tree back to the 12th century! I've also been enjoying running into research and posts online from my cousin and her mother, my Aunt Nan, who passed away a few years ago. I keep running into forums that she had posted in, or encouragement she was giving to others as they were doing their research, and it makes me feel connected to her too.

Family trees are funny things. My family has always been proud to lay claim to our Cherokee ancestry on the Quick side. I'm only something like 1/128th Cherokee, but it is something that we've always talked about in our family as a point of pride. Apparently, this woman, Nanyehe Ghigau, is my ancestor, and she was a strong and courageous Cherokee woman. Our Cherokee roots may be generations ago, but the physical features of our Cherokee ancestry are still apparent in my family today. The men in particular in the Quick family, but also my cousin and I, have physical features and coloring that I can only imagine are directly a result of our Cherokee heritage. So tracing this history provides a sense of connection.

On the other hand, family trees can also reveal or remind of painful things. Nanyehe Ghigau, for example, was a slave-owner. She was the first Cherokee woman known to own a slave, I read. My family mostly settled in the Northeast when they arrived from Germany, England, Sweden, Scotland, the Netherlands, and so I thought maybe we didn't have any slave owners in my family tree. But surprise - now I know otherwise. There are also complications closer to home. What about previous marriages that cause enough pain in real life without showing up on a 'proper' family tree? Or adoptions that have whole loving stories to them that could never be told on a simple pedigree chart on paper? Families - today's families and families from biblical times and before - have never been neat and simple things that could fit into boxes on a chart. Families, how they got to be the shape that they are, these are stories that have to be told with love and carefulness.

So, I am enjoying my look into my own history, my own roots. I'm finding out things like (eek!) that the surname 'Cheney' appears in my history, or that I actually did have some relatives that settled in Kentucky and Tennessee - who knew? What will I do with all this information? I'm not sure. Pass it on, I guess, to the generations after me. But also, I hope, learn more about the people on my charts than when they were born and when they died.
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