Tracing my family's roots

Published: Thursday, Nov. 17 2011 7:56 p.m. MST

Deseret News writer Jasen Lee listens to Heather Erickson, director of corporate communications at Ancestry.com Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 as she shows him some of his family records. The company is celebrating its 15th year in business.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — I'm not that big into genealogy, but it would be cool to learn if you had some famous — or for that matter infamous — person in your family lineage. It would be like finding a family heirloom in your dusty attic, as well as offer something even more tangible about who I am and where I came from.

That's why, when I woke up Thursday, I was hoping that the day would yield some exciting genealogical news. A few weeks ago I had submitted some information to Ancestry.com on my family history for a story I was to write on the company's 15th anniversary.

Also, my mother is quite the family history buff, so any interesting tidbits my assignment would reveal would be really thrilling for her.

However, realistically speaking, being the long-lost relative of an African King or a serial killer is pretty unlikely, and — as I found out — was not in the Lee family heritage. But there were some interesting — albeit decidedly less glamorous — findings in my family background.

In order to get the process started, I filled out a form that asked for names, birthdates and birthplaces of all the family I was already aware of. As I stated earlier, my mom is enthralled with this stuff and basically helped me fill-in information on three generations of my family — on both sides! The folks at Ancestry.com were quite impressed.

So when it came time to find out what new data Ancestry.com had come up with, I had a notion that it might not be mind-blowing. Turns out my instincts were mostly correct.

While there was no royalty or criminals uncovered, I did find out that I come from hearty, hardworking stock. My paternal great-grandfather was a machinist in Alabama who raised eight children by himself after his wife died giving birth to my grandmother.

Also, my maternal great-great grandfather was on the only person on his street to own his home. Not bad for a "colored" fellow living in Mississippi in the 1930s.

Something else that has piqued my interest is learning more about my father's side of the family.

Dad, who turned 76 last month, is one of 13 children raised in the northwest Indiana steel town of Gary. He didn't know many of his relatives growing up.

Meanwhile, I have been lucky enough to know many relatives in my lifetime. Hearing stories of their lives offers some good perspective of how my life was eventually shaped.

I guess that is why so many people engage in genealogy searches — to find out more about themselves through the lives of those who came before them.

When I told my mother I was writing this story, she told me that she was glad and that it would force her to resume her family history research.

"I often wish I'd asked more questions or written down something when talking with (my grandfather)," she told me. "I didn't, so I feel I need to at least try to tell what I know so it is there for future generations."

Considering how much time she spent at the LDS Family History Library during visits to Utah, when my wife and I first moved to from our native Chicago, she has unearthed more information about her family than most.

I imagine she will have a great time sharing all the new information she finds at next summer's family reunion. I'm grateful that I could help.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS