Saturday, February 13, 2016

Maybe It Is Just My Age

I think I am getting old.  I don't mean chronologically old -- that is a given and I am thankful for the opportunity considering the alternative.  I mean emotionally old.  I have always felt young -ish -- settling somewhere on 19 years old.  I didn't look past too much and didn't look forward too much, I just sort of basked in the glory of 19 and that is my paradigm.

Fast forward a few decades and my interest in genealogy was sparked.  It was always there, somehow smoldering in the recesses of my mind but then it ignited and became a burning desire to know from whence I came.

I went through the motions as outlined in the genealogy how-to manuals.  Start with yourself and work backward.  Write down all you know.  What you don't know, find out and, if at all possible, obtain documentation.

I remember the first piece of real documentation I received.  My great-grandmother's death certificate.  Yes, it was a death certificate, the woman was dead, in 1937, 13 years prior to my birth -- most decidedly dead but that piece of paper brought her to life for me.  I was thrilled.  My mother thought it odd.  She held that piece of paper as if somebody had just dug it out of Great-grandmother Davis's coffin. It came from the Scranton Health Department, not some dark corner somewhere.

This process occurred time and time again and each time I marvelled that the person in question, that I most likely had never known, had a back history other than just a name I had heard.  Several times I learned that what we KNEW absolutely without a doubt about a person was WRONG.  Yep, wrong.

So, anyway, I digress.  The thing is this is all just factual stuff.  It never gives you an insight into what the person was like, their hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, etc.  But what it does give you is a timeline.  That, coupled with some photos if you are very, very lucky, will give you references to time.

Time is what I have been thinking about lately.  I have been going through some old photos -- well, actually, trying to tidy up the photos that fell out of the photo box and needed picking up.  Suddenly I was so aware of the photo subjects ages.

There is one that particularly strikes me -- my 2nd birthday party.  I am with my grandmother.  She appears to be an old lady.  The reality is she is 50 -- 15 years younger than I am right now.  I don't feel like I look as old now as she did then.  Then I look at my wedding photos in 1972 -- she doesn't look any different than she did at 50!  Well, maybe a little different but not much.

I am watching my daughter be a girl scout leader and thinking about my own mother.  I was seven when my mother had our troop -- she was 34 at the time.  My daughter is now 36 and doesn't look any different than she did in high school.  Was my mother ever 34?  Why didn't my mother seem young?  Did my mother look like she did in high school?  I have photos and I have to say no. 

I think about my teachers in school who all seemed like ancient crones to me.  Since I have access to Ancestry.com it is very easy to research some of these teachers.  Oh my goodness -- they weren't ancient -- some of them weren't even 40! And, the odd thing is, my mother and I attended the same junior high school and had some of the same teachers -- Mrs. Chappell comes to mind.  My mother talked about them being old and then I had them twenty years later and they still weren't old so how old were they when my mother was in their classes.

I find age to be fascinating and disturbing all at the same time.  What makes somebody old?  Not old?  Attitude?  Good face cream?  Good genes?  It is amazing to me when I look at family history and see that those "ancestors" who seem so far flung weren't all that long ago.

Another thing that is amazing to me is familial appearance.  I have met a cousin from England named Sharon.  She is a true cousin -- my great-grandmother and her great-great-grandfather were brother and sister. She still lives in England although she has lived in Texas as well (small world).  When she looked at my photo she told me that I looked just like her mother at the same age.  How could I look like somebody I had never known?  Then, once while visiting Fredericksburg, Texas, I was in a gift shop looking at a historical book of the families in the area and a sales person asked about my interest and I told her -- I turned around full face to her and she went white and told me I looked just like some lady who had just been in the store.  She knew the woman and knew that she was kin to my family and I LOOKED JUST LIKE HER!  I never saw the woman so I don't know but the lady in the shop looked like she had seen a ghost.

Then, as I walked out of the shop I struck up a conversation with a lady who was a local and I told her I was interested in researching the name "Banta" because my grandmother was a Banta.  She looked at me and asked about my line and I told her I didn't know, I hadn't gotten that far.  She gave me her card and said to contact her because she was a Banta and we were surely cousins.  Now, years later, I am sure we are but I lost her card.

My Banta lineage has always been a mystery because of a series of unfortunate events.  I cannot prove, through documentation, that I am a part of it but the Ancestry.com DNA test connects me to the Banta line without doubt.  Will that work for membership in the Mayflower Society for which there is a connection?  Not yet but at some point they are going to have to accept DNA testing as conclusive evidence.  It doesn't work for DAR either and I can't become part of a Native American tribe either but it answers my questions.  Seems my undocumentable family line is the most interesting of all because it takes me to Native American lineage, Mayflower lineage, even British Royal lineage.  All unproveable but there nonetheless.

So, what is the purpose of this little rant?  None except that I have been having this surreal look at time and place and realize it means very little.  What seems so long ago really isn't, what seems far away isn't, what seems old really isn't, what seems like it ends doesn't but actually comes full circle. My friend Mary, in England, wrote on her blog that America seemed like a land as far away as the moon to her five year old self.  I would have to agree that England was just someplace far, far away that I knew my family came from long, long ago -- a place only to be imagined and never to be seen.  Now, sixty years later England isn't very far away, it wasn't that long ago that my family came from Wales to the US, those "old" people who got on that boat and sailed to America back at the turn of the century were just young people looking for opportunity.  Somehow those numbers just don't have any meaning anymore. Did they ever?  Maybe we just viewed things differently.

A lot to ponder.  I feel like I have somehow been channelling my father because he used to think about things like this.  Now I think my brain is tired so I am off to help sell Girl Scout cookies.