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The Low-Hanging Fruit Has Been Canned

By Emily Milner

Nothing makes me wish I were a convert to the Church more than doing family history. Kacy posted a couple of weeks ago on good pioneer stock, and she asked the question, “what does it mean to come from good pioneer stock?” Sitting in front of my laptop, staring at my impossible PAF file, I’ll tell you what it means: it means I’ve got three thousand plus names all branching out behind me. It means that the low-hanging fruit on the branches of my family history tree has been picked, blanched, peeled, cored, and canned. It means that, while I may have various inspiring pioneer stories to learn about, I have to dig deep and spend many hours figuring out what in the heck has already been done before I have a prayer of finding a new ordinance that needs to be performed. I thought I had one in my grandmother’s younger sister, who died in childhood, but it turns out we don’t baptize underage children posthumously either. Dang.

I’ve been inspired to approach the behemoth of my family history by our stake’s challenge this year: Redeem a Stake in 2008. I’ve been working on it sporadically since January, here a little and there a little. I found a cool program called PAF Insight that will check my monster file against the IGI, to see what’s already been done, and I’m working my way through that. Now in the 200 RIN numbers, thank you very much. 2800 left to go. But my problem is, I get distracted easily. I find the end of one line, and I google the name for fun, to find out something about the person. And then I find just enough information to keep me clicking on links, thinking that one after the other might have the information I’m looking for, the place where me and the spirits beyond the veil connect. Staring up at me will be the vital information of some name hitherto unknown on my family tree, and I’ll prepare the file and take it, dancing, to the temple.

So far, I’ve found nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been done, as I work my way through the scrolling names. I have, however, met some people I did not know before. This morning I met Joseph Wright, my great-great-great-etc. uncle, who painted portraits of Erasmus Darwin (father of Charles) and James Watt (steam engine inventor). I read about him while searching for a correct wedding date for his parents, John Wright and Hannah Brookes. The date in my files was listed as sixty years after their death, and looked wrong even to my untrained eyes. Also, I was secretly hoping that Hannah Brookes’ family would pop up on the screen before me, in someone’s transcript of a parish record someplace.

I’m still looking for the wedding date. And I still want to contribute a name, just one name, towards my stake’s “Redeem a Stake” goal. But I am also enjoying the discovery of stories I find online, stories of names webbed and threaded to my own, bound with the solid light of these ordinances, that have (sigh?) already been done.

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About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

9 thoughts on “The Low-Hanging Fruit Has Been Canned”

  1. Beautiful post Emily. I feel the same way about my family tree. But I truly believe there is something to be said for you–in spite of the fact the work (so far) has been done–discovering, knowing and passing on their stories. The stories connect us in ways we can't always imagine or explain. Just knowing their names…

    I may have already shared the story of when, during RS the very first year we moved into our ward, we spent the meeting listening to pioneer stories. One sister I'd never met started telling the story of Henry Chariton Jacobs being born on the Chariton River. Halfway into the story I realized the fact that someone else was telling it as her ancestor's story meant we were related. And I found a cousin.

    Just recently on Segullah I wrote about going to Randolph every summer as a kid to help on my grandpa's ranch. themotherboard left a comment and we started making connections and realized that we are related.

    Also, so many people like me put off getting involved in genealogy and family history thinking we'll do it when we're older. Good for you for working on it now–even while you are busy with your young family.

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  2. I have put off doing my genealogy for years… mostly because I have figured it was already done. I come from a long line of pioneer stock– I mean I am related to Dalene! :>) I knew my husbands side had nothing done, but had run into so many stumbling blocks that I am embarrassed to say, I gave up. His side of the family did not want to share any information, because they didn't want me doing "that weird Mormon temple stuff" to their relatives.

    However, my 13 year old daughter has suddenly taken a huge interest in family history. There is a Personal Progress goal that encourages the girls to talk with their family members, gather information, and then do a family history sheet. She has taken this simple goal to the Umpth degree– and is going above and beyond. She met with my parents and got list after list after list of relatives– and put them all into the computer. She listened to the stories, recorded the stories. It was wondeful for her. We took her to see the house where Her Grandmother (my mom) was raised– and she took pictures for her scrapbook.

    She then had her Dad contact an Uncle and explain she was working on a project to figure out who she was related to. Would he please share his information with our daughter so that she could finish this project? (they are all non-members and wary of us crazy mormons, so they don't want to share any of their information!)

    She has been able to get information out of my husbands side of the family that we could not get. It has really been our own little miracle.

    I see the spirit of Elijah coming alive in my daughter… thus igniting it in me. This was a beautiful post.

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  3. I am from a convert family, and there is lots and lots of family history to be done. But it feels completely impossible to do. I go back only one generation (my parents) before I've got to get on an airplane and unlock the iron curtain to find any names. Rifling though Lithuanian church records in Lithuania isn't something I can exactly do at this point in my life.

    Someday…

    The stories are what I want more than anything. Maybe you could work to compile some of your family stories into a collection? That would be really cool.

    Doesn't the church suggest looking at secondary lines (or lines from brothers and sisters or something like that?)

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  4. I took a family history class at BYU, and I was so excited to find so many new names– until I ran into the same problem you have. It seems that every name that can be found has already been found. It's also discouraging to find out the mistakes that have been made. One of my ancestors has been baptized seven times.
    One thing I did learn is that part of family history work is getting to know your ancestors through stories and making connections through dates, places, etc. I think that's the only way I will ever be able to participate in the work.

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  5. Dalene, how neat to find cousins that way, people who share your stories. We find distant relatives of my husband all the time, and I suspect if I knew my own stories better I would find even more.

    Motherboard, what a wonderful story. I would love to have my kids get excited about family history like that. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Justine, wow. I see I have (flippantly and in good humor, I hope) underestimated the difficulty of finding convert records as well. I love the story idea–that has been fun for me, to discover stories I've never heard. I need to compile them in a format my kids can appreciate.

    Courtney, that's where I'm at right now too, making connections through dates and places. But I still hold out hope for finding someone new–a collateral line, like Justine suggested, maybe, or perhaps records opening up that weren't there before. I've been amazed at the amount of stuff available online–I found the parish records someone had transcribed that showed wedding dates for a set of my ancestors, for instance. I think we who struggle with this can still hold out hope of new ordinances if we keep plugging away.

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  6. I am in the same family history boat. Some family lines have been traced back into the middle ages, and the temple work has all been done. So several years ago I started doing research into the stories behind the dates, and I am now writing about the lives of twelve of my female ancestors. This has been an amazing experience as I have come to know these many mothers of mine.

    In the process of my research, I have come across several women whom I have started calling my lost sisters. These are women who are related to my ancestors, mostly through marriage, but who had no children, or at least none who survived to adulthood. Some of these women were widowed young and never remarried. Because they have to descendents, no one has passed on their stories. Also, no one has done their genealogy.

    So far my list of "lost sisters" has only four names, but I will probably find more as I continue my research. Now that I have found them, I am determined to find their stories and their ancestors as well.

    I have a daughter who was very adventurous as a child and learned to climb trees when only three years old. She was so tiny and light weight that she could climb to the very top branches of our big apple tree, where her older siblings couldn't reach her. From there she would call to me, in her faint little-girl voice, to come see her. That's how these lost sisters are calling to me now, in their faint sweet voices, from the tender top branches of my family tree.

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  7. My mom did as much of her lines as she could a long time ago, and since retiring, has gone full throttle with updating, eliminating duplications, etc. It's exciting to hear about . . . and someday I'll take my turn at it . . . I hope my "time and season attitude" isn't an excuse to procrastinate! I have been more of a story collecter, too. I need to compile them, write them up, etc. I love reading about my ancestor's lives.

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  8. I just have to say I am really enjoying this thread.

    I will also add what has been fun for us. I, too, have the many-lines-back-done family tree. I have a goal to read more of the stories to my kids. I also took our picture pedigree and made it into a family history wall. It's fun to see the faces of these people I want to learn more about every day. It helps to have that visual reminder of those who have gone before…and of my responsibility to connect with them and be true to the legacy they left.

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  9. Thanks for all the great info on this thread. In my "pioneer heritage" family we have a family historian who has compiled much of the available research. My parents have been working on finding ancestors who have been missed. After lots of work, they have found one or two. So my attitude has been that it's all done and I just have to read the stories. But I haven't done much of that either. I realize after reading this, that my kids don't know the stories that I do have in compilations up in my attic. And my husband's line has lots of work to do. I need to follow your examples and make this a priority.

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