In a recent article and book written by Mark Whitaker, CNN’s managing editor, he covers about his own search for his family’s history. He compared his family members, like all other individuals from anyone’s family, as ‘characters in a drama.’ Learning there is truly a distinctive element in every family story; Mark stated that all people are “shaped by historical time and geographical places.” (source: CNN OPINION, Oct. 17, 2011)
Those are very important concepts to remember and provide substantial reason for pursuing one’s family’s heritage. Yes, there can be some unusual human events (suicides, divorces, military service, immigration, occupations, etc) that may have occurred, but each and every one helped shape the present and future generations.
Two examples of actual events in my family that were only learned in the last ten years, was first that my father was actually born in Manchester, England and immigrated to Haverhill, Massachusetts with his parents and siblings at the age of nine. He had always said he was born in Haverhill and that his parents came to America in 1905, before he was born. Even all the official documents; Social Security, military enlistments, voting records, etc. had that he was born in Haverhill. Once I located the ship manifests of 1914 when he came over to Massachusetts and the birth registration from Manchester, Lancashire County, England, there was no doubt he was born in England. There were also no naturalization papers filed by him to become a citizen. Why was this done? The answer will never be learned since he passed away more than 20 years earlier.
The second discovery related to my first cousin. In doing the family research I came across a first, very brief marriage that my cousin’s father had before marrying his second wife (who was my cousin’s mother). My cousin had no clue his father had been married before, even if that marriage had only lasted about 56 days. There was a divorce and those papers helped better explain what happened to dissolve the marriage.
So looking for any documents are essential in researching all family members, everyone has some ‘paper trail’. Checking with family members is a good start. They might have copies of certificates, obituaries, licenses, memberships in organizations, military documents, court or legal proceedings. There might a diary, journal or scrapbook that was kept, all which can provide some wonderful insight to individuals. Look at photos for any information, dates or names written on the front or back of them.
Everyone, no matter who they were, where they lived, what they did; they all have a story that needs to be remembered and preserved. For all our ancestors were truly ‘characters in a drama‘.