When I Grow Up

Family Historian

This is a role I have taken on in our family. It can be an overwhelming task, but is one I greatly enjoy. I have the family tree records and have been the happy recipient of various documents, photos and mementos.

This is a natural progression for me. My calendar has always been full and has been a resource to go back to when trying to decipher where and when things may have occurred. I have thousands of family photos (only counting the ones taken by me) and am usually the one people go to when they need a person, date or event identified. Birthdays and other significant dates stick in my head (again, I am the phone-a-friend when that information is required).

My dad’s family does not have much history here in the US. His father came to America as a child and his mother died young, so I have had little to go on in the way of family lore. Since I am a little intimidated by researching in Italy, and my mom’s (very colorful) family has provided a vast amount of lore, I have focused mainly on her branch.

My mom’s family of course, has to be difficult. Besides the fact that they were very big on nicknames (my dad thought she had about a dozen uncles instead of three), I have gone back a few generations and have not found an uncommon name anywhere! This is the family of Hopkins, Thomas, Robinson, Hall and (heaven help me) Smith! Now many of these names have a certain prestige and go way, way, way back in US history, but are those people, MY people? I recently came across a Facebook page that gave me some valuable information. As it turns out, the PA death certificates just went live online last month. AND, they are free to access for PA residents. This of course meant that I got lost in history, and managed to find quite a few death certificates for my family members, enabling me to fill in many dates and names in the tree.

Then there is the mystery of my great grandmother, who was born in Indian Territory, Oklahoma. I recently got a few leads to follow, but it looks like the circumstances of her birth are going to stay a mystery for now. On another line, I may have found roots going back to 1850, though I need to find a 1939 obituary to prove that I have the right family. (The common names make this part difficult.) Unless one of my new Facebook acquaintances is able to help, I think this will have to wait until I can make a trip to those local offices and/or cemetery to find out more.

It has actually been several years since I have actively been researching the family tree. In that time, much more has become available online, but there is still much that requires a trip to a town or county office, a library or historical society. For the most part, family groups tended to stay in the same area, so one trip has the potential to accomplish a lot. Then you have the traveler, like my elusive ancestor whose obituary I am now seeking. He was born in NJ, moved to Scranton, back to NJ, to areas northwest of Scranton. He held a variety of jobs: laborer, miner, fireman, silk worker. What took him to these places? I keep asking the same question of the ancestors who traveled to Oklahoma.

For some people, a list of names and dates is enough. Me, I want their stories too. Piecing them together is a challenge, but also a lot of fun. I am learning about history, not just my family’s but also that of the towns they lived in. I had no idea that the Choctaw’s leased land for mining, or even that Oklahoma had coal mines. I am learning more about coal mining in general, it being a rather popular occupation among my ancestors. All of my answers lead to more questions. I may sound like a small child, but why? How? Why did they move there? Why did they move back? How did they travel? What were their everyday lives like? I can get some of these answers, but for most I’ll have to speculate. Since I keep getting sidetracked by these questions, this is one task I expect to never fully complete, but that’s okay, the fun is in the hunt.

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