I have been doing Genealogy research on Mark's Ellam side of the family since Ben was in 1st grade. So I guess I've been at it for about 12 years or so. It was his great-grandparents that immigrated from England around 1911 leaving the bulk of the Ellam family behind. I, however, have been able to trace the family back to the 1700's and Mark's 5th great grandfather.
And I've never take a trip across the pond to do the research.
The internet is a wonderful source of information as are sites like Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com. But, it's the wonderful volunteers on internet boards who have been my biggest help. And, 99% of the time, at no cost to me. I felt compelled to give back but wasn't sure how.
A couple of years ago I ran across the site RAOGK (Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness). Volunteers from around the country and even from around the world sign up and offer to do research in their home counties for those who can't make the trip themselves. I immediately "heard" my calling and asked mom to join me. We've been volunteers for a year now for St. Joseph County and are currently the only volunteers for this county. In other words, we stay busy! But we LOVE it. We've had some of the most amazing experiences and learned so much about the history of South Bend by digging into the archives.
Sometimes the requests lead us to strange places like this past week's trip to Walkerton to take a grave stone photo request. The records for this particular cemetery were gathering dust in someone's basement. And that someone invited us into her home to take a peek. Sometimes the requests touch our hearts. Like being asked to please visit a someone's grave by a relative who can't make the trip and to "please tell the deceased that they are loved". We do it all. And it pays off for us in terms of the help we receive in our own research. What comes around goes around so they say.
There are those people in my life that don't understand my interest in genealogy or why I love old cemeteries and they all ask the same question.
I've never been able to really put that answer into words but this morning I ran across a piece of paper I copied from somewhere that answers it perfectly. Sadly, the author is unknown. But it describes perfectly why I keep looking for "dead relatives". They aren't really dead to me. They all have stories to tell and I'm anxious to hear them all.
THE STORY TELLERS
We are the chosen.
My feeling are in each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.
To me, doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called as it were by our genes.
Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story. So, we do.
In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How any graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors you have a wonderful family you would be proud of us? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.
It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do.
It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can't let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it.
It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today.
It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family.
It goes to deep pride that they fought to make and keep us a Nation. It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do.
With live and caring and scribing each facts of their existence, because we are them and they are us.
So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take their place in the long line of family storytellers.
That, is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and put flesh on the bones.