Back in 1977 when the mini series Roots was on TV it unleashed my family documenting our family’s genealogy. About 15 years ago I purchased a family tree software program and started entering all the data I could find on my relatives and ancestors. I wasn’t very diligent about keeping the information current but it was a come and go thing at that time in my life. But a couple of years ago I signed onto Ancestry.com. I started building my family tree. Ancestry.com gave me more and more helpful hints helping me fill in missing information on my family tree. One day I finally purchased a 6 month subscription to their site and continued adding even more details to my family. Today I have over 930 people on my tree and now I am going back and checking the data for accuracy. The discoveries I have made on my family has lead me to a question about life.
I was thinking of a question that is asked every so often. “What famous person of history would you like to meet?” All the names of famous people of all time come to the forefront. And for me, I don’t need to meet them. The people I want to meet are only important to me and no one else. The people I want to meet are my ancestors. The ones who packed their lives in a small suitcase and walked aboard a ship and sailed to the New World. The big question, “Why did they make that decision?” What was happening in their lives that made them make that decision. Was it personal termoil, family problems or community policies. Those are the stories that are lost for all time. As I look around my house, I see all kinds of treasures, family heirlooms and just plain stuff. More than enough stuff to fill a 18-wheel semi! But if I could only take a pilots suitcase of treasures, now that would be difficult. And that is the very choice my ancestors had to make when they left the Old World.
I don’t know if asking the modern immigrant if they could shed any light on my ancestors thoughts and feelings. Times are different than they were in the last half of the 19th century.
When we were in Ireland in 2009 we took a tour of the Dunbrody. The Dunbrody is moored in New Ross and a museum to the Irish emigrants that sailed from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. They talked about the Dunbrody being a good ship and not a coffin ship. Coffin ships would have death rates over 50 percent. If you were poor and could only afford to travel on a coffin ship, what a gamble of your life! You had a 50% chance of survival to see the new world or greater odds of dying in your homeland. What a choice in life!
But what about the rest of Europe, this is were my ancestors were from. What made them leave their homeland? Lack of land? Warring empires? Hunger or restless hearts? Those are stories that are lost forever and that is why I would like to meet those people. They are the famous ones that planned the new seed in the New World and I would like to meet them.