How I got addicted


I have always looked at the world through my grandmas’ eyes. I’m the only blue-eyed child of my brown-eyed parents. But my grandmas all had blue eyes.

You can’t tell that any of us are blue-eyed in these black-and-white photos, but trust me – our eyes are all blue.

With My Grandmas EyesWhen I was in high school or college I remember my dad showing me The Wenger Book. “My dad’s in here, but I’m not,” he told me. That was my first sip, and just goes to show you that like alcoholism, genealogy addiction is a genetic predisposition. My Mennonite ancestors have been recording every marriage, every birth, every death, every departure from the faith, since 1727.

But that first taste of pure genealogy didn’t hook me. Oh no. Even though my own father tried to tempt me, through the years, with stories about Grandma Hammond’s farm, I stayed in my own century.

Daddy knew, though. He recalled that when I was very, very young, he drove me past Grandma Hammond’s old place and I looked at him and said, “I think I was born in the wrong century.”

“Flossie’s got the Wenger Book,” Dad would remind me from time-to-time. “She keeps the genealogy for our line.” I would ask him again who Flossie is, and how she’s related to me, but I never tried to contact her.

In 1977, ABC aired the miniseries, Roots. I’m not generally one to watch much TV, but I watched every second of that show!

After the final episode, I called each of my oldest living relatives and asked for the names of their parents. I drew out a family tree with the info that they gave me. The original copy that I wrote that day got lost, but it looked something like this:

Family Tree

Well, now, that was intoxicating! Aunt Sissy told me that her grandpa was a son of Kaisar Wilhelm! She claimed to have seen a picture of him “on a high horse.” She said he married a commoner and was disowned. So he came to America.

When I quizzed the rest of my great-aunts, they all said, “Oh, Sis tells that to everybody.” When I asked my mom, she said she had never heard such a thing. (Mom was lying. Wait till you get to the end of the story ;-))

So, my husband went around telling people that I descended from Royalty, and I followed behind denying it; and I tucked the original Family Tree into a book or something, and I don’t know where it is anymore.

Then, on July 28, 2003, I was using AOL to check my emails, and they put up a banner ad that said, “Where were your ancestors in 1930? Free look at the 1930 U.S. Census.”

I had never followed a link before, but I typed in the name of my great-grandma, and up popped a Census page!

1930

My great-grandma was already a widow, and taking in Lodgers. My grandma Wilma was 18 years old and still living at home. And the man she would eventually marry was one of the Lodgers!

I used this census image to start a little family tree on ancestry.com, filling in the names of all the people that I knew.

And then I called my mom, to ask her, “Did you know that your mother and dad lived together before they were married?”

I was intoxicated again, but I still wasn’t hooked. I may have been genetically pre-disposed to genealogy addiction, but it was a stranger who entered my life a few days later that pushed me over the abyss.

I signed on to AOL, and heard the familiar, “You’ve got mail!”

Somebody named Adrienne said she had found my little “Hortense Mae White” tree on the internet. Adrienne claimed that Hortense Mae White was her aunt. She said she was very excited to find me, and would I please write her back.

She said her grandfather, Jacob White, was Hortense’s brother.

She said she had already found one of my cousins – Rob – on Cousin Connect.

I called my mom. I had never known anybody to call my cousin Bob by the name of “Rob”, so I thought there was something fishy about this Adrienne.

Mom told me, “Bob is Roy’s son. But Rob is Carl’s son. You don’t know him. He moved back East. And yes, grandma did have a brother Jake.”

So I wrote Adrienne back. Apparently she was hovering over her keyboard waiting for me to respond. (Adrienne is SO intense!)

She immediately rapid-fired a succession of emails with picture attachments.

I had never opened an email attachment in my life! I was so scared my computer would catch a virus, and yet I was terribly curious what this Adrienne character was sending me.

So I held my breath. And clicked.

Slowly this image appeared:

Albert

It was a photo identical to one my grandpa had given me when my grandma Wilma died. On the back of my copy of the photo, my grandpa had written, “Wilma’s uncle Albert.”

So then I knew that Adrienne really was my cousin.

Adrienne put me in touch with cousin Rob.

Rob told me that Aunt Sissy had given him all the details on the Woodrick side back in the 1960s.

Since Rob was much older than I, Aunt Sissy had not found it necessary to sanitize the Kaisar Wilhelm connection.

Turns out great-great-great grandpa was the illegitimate son of Kaisar Wilhelm.

I called my mom.

“Oh, I knew that,” she said.

Adrienne and I are now the best of friends, and we have had many adventures together in the past decade. My mother (grr) is not particularly helpful. She feigns disinterest. When I ask her things, she says, “Oh. I don’t know.” When I find the answers on my own, Mom says, “Oh. I knew that.” Sometimes, some times, at that point she will begin to tell me stories …

“Why would you want to know that?” is her usual response, though. She’s a dear woman. I love her with all my heart.

“Oh those Mennonites of your dad’s. They HAD to keep track of their genealogy you know. And I know why! To keep from marrying their first cousins!”

… Oh, Mom. If you only knew what I know now in YOUR tree …

to be continued

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23 Responses to How I got addicted

  1. alesiablogs says:

    This is all so fascinating. I was working on some genealogy for a friend and he was related to Mad King Ludwig from the Neuschwanstein Castle~!!

  2. J9 says:

    Rani, your mom made me laugh out loud. I ran into similar things when I started looking up my family tree. (I’m not as dedicated as you are, because it makes my eyes cross after a while.) I was lured in by a free trial membership to Ancestry.com for Black History Month. Since my kids are biracial, I thought it would be neat to trace their dad’s family as far as I could. Turns out I didn’t find much that their grandmother didn’t already know. Grr. I also wanted to trace my McCarthy ancestors back to Ireland. I only got as far as Brooklyn, New York. One particular couple gave different parental information on every census they appear in. I have a sneaking suspicion they came from Ireland by way of Canada, but I can’t prove it. Same thing, though: as soon as I found something interesting, someone always said, “Oh yeah, I knew that.”

    • Rani Kaye says:

      ancestry.com is worth a re-visit at least every six months or so. For one thing, they are constantly adding new records. For another, as we connect those records to our family members, we are making the “hints” more accurate for all of us.

      Back when I first started genealogy research, they were trying to do a thing called One World Tree. It was VERY inaccurate. But now that so many records have been connected to so many people’s trees, a picture is really beginning to emerge of all of our relationships to each other.

      Most genealogists research in other ways, too (not just ancestry.com), and a lot of us attach those finds to our online trees. The “Member Connect” feature on ancestry.com allows us to share our finds with each other.

      I do genealogy research in spurts. I am so very focused when I’m researching, that I need to take breaks for months at a time in between.

      I’m kind of “on break” right now. Some of my blogging friends have inspired me to blog about my genealogy research. So that’s what I’m just beginning to do. I can see that words and pictures are much better ways to share with our non-genealogist friends and family.

      Thanks for reading my blog, Janine! :-) Rani

  3. Mustang.Koji says:

    Genealogy… Another word for “addicting”! Or possibly, aggravation! LOL “You knew that? Why didn’t you tell me?!”

    • Rani Kaye says:

      LOL – I guess you would know about this aggravating addiction! You are one of my inspirations to resolve to do more genealogy blogging!

      I’m glad to hear, from the comments, that my mom is not the only person with the “Oh, I knew that,” attitude. THAT attitude, I suspect, may be why we have “brick walls” to begin with.

      (Note to non-genealogist readers: A “brick wall” is an ancestor who will not tell you who his or her parents were. Okay … I don’t really mean won’t tell you, I mean WON’T TELL YOU! They say on their marriage license they were born in PA, they tell a census taker they were born in MA, when their first child is born, they say they themselves were born in MI, when their child gets married, he says Mom & Dad were born in Ohio, when they die and the undertaker asks for the parent’s names of the deceased, nobody knows. :-( Yeah, that’s a brick wall.)

  4. Alice says:

    I can sure see the family resemblances.

    • Rani Kaye says:

      Yup, me too. I always knew my baby pictures looked like grandma Wilma. My mom’s baby pictures look like us too (even though she had brown eyes. The expression and the hair are the same).

      But grandma Lura died before I was born, and I had never seen pictures until I connected with my dad’s cousins thru genealogy research. I was really surprised to find how much I look like her.

      Thanks for reading my blog, Alice! :-) Rani

  5. That’s awesome! And very funny! I have a similar royalty story in my husband’s family. Not illegitimate but he married a commoner and was disowned. Don’t really know if that one is true yet…
    Part of my dad’s family is descended from the Schwenkfelders, a sect that is similar to the Mennonites. They fled Silesia and settled in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1720s.

  6. dayphoto says:

    I’ve been hooked for over 43 years. I sure understand.

    Linda

    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  7. Pingback: Happy Hour in Michigan | Lura's Grandchild

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