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The meaning of roots

I’ve been doing a lot work on my family tree this week. I found a few new possible branches, but mostly I’ve been cleaning up, and there’s a lot of it left to do.

I do most of my research online, and one set of data lives there. Another set, my master copy, lives on my hard drive, mirrored on a second, AND backed up to a remote server.

Yes, I’m that paranoid.

You may see my problem already, but if not I’ll explain. By keeping two separate databases (one online and another on my hard drive), I sometimes update one but not the other. Usually it’s the online database that’s neglected, but not always. You may ask why it’s necessary to keep a copy online at all, but it has it’s advantages. By sharing my info I help other folks, and occasionally I get a message from a distant cousin I never knew existed, offering pictures, stories, and information I didn’t have. I wouldn’t make any of those connections without belonging to the online community.

So why have the database on my hard drive then? Simple. Trust. I trust me. I trust my backup scheme. I don’t trust a for-profit company with years of research. So I’m cleaning up this week, looking for data missing from either and resolving conflicts. It’s tedious work, but it’s a labor of love.

But some ask why. I ask myself too. Why? I thought about it a lot today, often when I should’ve been doing something else. My mind is like that. There’s just no stopping it when it sets it’s mind to something. There are the obvious reasons: fascination with the history, interest in where I come from, and the occasional surprise (though sometimes I could do without… like finding out I may be a 10th cousin of the Bush twins – though at least it’s through Barbara’s family, so that’s at least something). It also fills a void created by living in a migratory society. I never lived near my grandparents or their siblings. My grandparents died when I was young and we rarely (if ever) visited the others. Maybe the world of the last century is one that exists only in my mind, but I envision neighborhoods filled with extended family. I see folks gathering for big holiday celebrations, sharing stories and their shared history.

Living today, in Florida, severed from my roots in the northeast, I missed that sharing. I’ve tried to make up for it in the last few years, reaching out to family I’ve never met, or haven’t seen in thirty plus years. Mind you, I’m only thirty eight. Some haven’t returned my letters. Others reply but either don’t remember much due to age and disease, or are in the same boat I am. Some have been extremely helpful, but they’ve been rare.

More than anything though, I think I’m still trying to find out who I am.

And this is where I become a cliche: poor, middle class white man suffers identity crisis. Oh yeah, I can feel the pity flowing in.

Maybe it’s cliche for good reason. Maybe you feel the same way at times. I often feel surprised to find myself where I am today. A piece of me still feels weird to be married with two kids. It seems so unlikely. I still feel like that shy kid in school who didn’t have any friends, let alone GIRL friends. Anther piece feels weird to be working a full time job, paying bills… being (relatively) responsible. The summer between six and seventh grade I drove with my father to Pennsylvania to visit his parents. It gave us a lot of time to talk, and I wanted to talk about responsibilities. I wanted to know why he didn’t feel overwhelmed by them all. I’m sure he had a great answer, and I didn’t hear any of it. I was too busy being a sixth grader, having a panic attack about the responsibilities I’d face as an adult. I have no idea how I got here from there.

So I think (at least in part) I’ve been looking to my ancestors for my identity. But it occurs to me genealogy is good for many things, but not this. I am not my great-great grandfather. And let me get something straight right now: I’m definitely NOT my ninth cousin, once removed (dubya).

No one is me but me. I’ve have to decide who I am on my own.

Good God, I can’t believe it’s after 3am already. I hope sleep claims me soon. I wonder if I’m the only person in the world who’s immune to the effects of prescription sleep aids. Damn you Ambien! You too Lunesta! I’m not one to call people out in (semi) public, but YOU two are worthless. You hear ME? WORTHLESS!

1 Comment

  1. Hi John:
    Well . . . I know how I got where I am. Poor family planning! I have one adult child in conservatory/college, one in high school, one in middle school, and a pre-schooler/Demon Baby. Nearly EVERY day I wake up, and like the ol’ Talking Heads song, wonder “How did I get here?”

    Funny . . . but my younger daughter (age 11) has decided she very much wants a Quinceanera when she turs 15 (if you knew my kid, the fact that she is thinking 4 years ahead would not shock you). She very much likes being in touch with her Mexican-American identity. All my kids do, I think, but her especially. And so I try to learn all I can (since I am not Mexican) . . . and then I look at my Russian roots and I feel like SO much about the personalities on that side now make sense. So yeah . . . I wonder . . . How did I get here? And yet in some ways, I feel like I know.

Give the gift of words.