By Ann Minnett
I just returned from a visit with family to celebrate my mother’s 89th birthday and spend a week with my kids and two grandsons. One of Mom’s interests is internet sleuthing. She mentioned a Civil War great great grandfather on my father’s side named Miles, coincidentally the name of my older grandson. She showed me some of her research, handwritten names and significant dates scrawled in the margins of her address book. Some of the names were new to me.
I’ve been home two days now and can’t pull away from the computer as each new generation of ancestors is revealed. So far the information consists of simple birth, death, marriage, and location records. My lines show migration from Europe to points along the east coast—mostly southern—and all converge in Oklahoma about the time of the land rushes in Indian Territory and later in No Man’s Land at the end of the 19th century. I’m fascinated by my ancestors’ migration, their expansive stories of moving toward new lives or fleeing old ones.
More compelling to the psychologist and writer in me are the details, which I’ve barely uncovered. Of course, I will write about him, her, or them.
For example, my fifth great grandmother had 17 children. Seventeen. The first died in infancy, and the last was born when she was 46 years old, if the dates are correct. I cannot imagine her life as a Georgia farm wife—back-breaking work, constant pregnancy, and (I’m guessing) poverty. No surprise that the 1830 census lists a couple of teenaged sons as “farm laborers.”
With my bare bones family tree in hand, the migrations and generations overwhelm me. I have no interest in writing a saga. No, I must zoom in and write a small story about small moments. Which reminds me of the week with my grandsons–Keaton is two years younger than Miles. They have their own language of dinosaur growls, revving engines and physically hurtling through space. I watched them share, steal, hoard, and throw toys as they learned how to negotiate their worlds. They vied for attention. Both dug in their heels when not getting their way. The dance of their intimate relationship shapes who they are and who they will become.
My grandsons appear on our family tree as mere names and birth dates, yet they are so much more. Just as each ancestor was so much more.