Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lost and Found in Family History

Today was a good day in my Family History adventures.

I love Family History.
I have always been drawn to it, I've always wanted to hear the stories and see the faces of those who reside on different branches of the family tree, but I never really knew where to begin or what it meant to 'work on' Family History.
I've taken the Family History Sunday School class at least 4 times and still- I wasn't sure what to actually DO.
My mother in law changed that for me.
She patiently sat with me and logged on to and asked me to give her the name of the ancestor that was as far back as I could remember.
I quickly told her that all of those ancestors had already been 'taken care of,' and much further down the line so that couldn't possibly be a good use of time. I could only remember back as far as my grandparents on one side and great grandparents on the other. 
Worthless information.
She smiled and asked their names and typed them in. 
Up popped a family tree that went back a very long way.
"See, I told you, it's all been done!"
She smiled again, nodded and said "Tell me what you know about your grandma's mom."
I knew nothing. 
Absolutely nothing.
Family Search gave me a name, dates and where she was born, married and died. 
It gave me the names of her children. 
It gave me the name of her husband and I told Mom Olson "Ah, that was her husband, he was a bad guy. He left her and her kids because she joined the church- that's what I was told."
She would ask me the next logical question as I opened up the file with Bad Great Grandpa's name in it. Where did he live? What work did he do? Did he ever move? Why did he move? When did he leave the place of his birth? Did his parents die in the place he was born?
Did he have brothers and sisters? Did he remarry? Did he have more children with another wife?

As I looked to answer some of the basic questions, I saw that Bad Grandpa had actually married my Great Grandmother in the Salt Lake Temple- before they had any kids. He later married a second wife, after his divorce, in the temple as well. 
This was not a man who left his wife because she joined the church.
he was, in fact, born in the covenant and was third,generation Latter day Saint. His father had come to Utah after having been a life long member of the church. That meant his family (my family) were some of the very first people to join the church in England. 
He was an active member all of his life and his second wife was a direct ancestor of one of my dearest friends from high school, Julie Arave-Olsen.

(Mother Arave/Blackburn really loved that hairstyle.)

Julie had always- ALWAYS felt oddly familiar, like a cousin to me, I never payed much attention to it, but I noticed that I felt a different connection with her than I did any friend I'd ever had. I could not explain it, but Julie had always felt like ...kin.

That was it-- the old Spirit of Elijah had me.

I didn't learn all of these things that day Mom Olson and I sat at her computer, but I did learn what to do next- to lay out the 'tree' and look at each of the branches. To see if people had spouses, children, siblings and parents- to try and give each person on my tree- a complete tree of their own. Those branches don't ever end or stop sprouting outward on each level.  Children have children who have children who have cousins who have cousins who have spouses who have siblings and cousins....yu can go as far down those side branches as you have the time for. 
When you make a complete 'tree' so to speak for a person- you have the outline of a story.
You gather all of the details about that person that you can inorder to tell a more vivid story.
As you learn the stories and find the history- those people become so very real to you.
They become your family and you see where you fit in and where they fit- in that enormous family tree you are a part of.

I found that, in both my mother's and my father's family there were a lot of divorces and remarriages. In my mother's family, the exes seemed to vanish from the history. Marriages ended and all proof of an ex- typically the father- was scrubbed clean fro the records. Stories that were passed down were typically fatherless stories and names were changed in order to create even more distance between the woman who was angry, but who passed on the history and the man who did her wrong. The fathers were cut out of the lives of the children and over time, forgotten or given a short but nasty label and it was clear that all he ever did was cause hurt.
Maybe that was true, maybe the women just held onto anger like a treasure, as the living family members do now. If they forgive the bad men from the generation before, it might mean those who hurt the living generation are worthy of forgiveness and they have to find a way to forgive that still honors necessary boundaries. 
I don't know- I have my own issues and crap to work out there. 
I just know that my mother's side is awfully absent of fathers- and the fathers did not die. 
My father's side is an almost mirror image when it comes to family history. Yes, they all had multiple divorces, but as I look at the records, I see the numbers of children grow, as the men adopted or cared for the children of their later wives, as well as the children that had with their first wives. I see step children added with as much love and acceptance as biological children, I see them given a place in line right along side the bloodline. I see the fathers who had families that were huge because they were stepfathers who treated all of the kids as his own. I see an effort made to keep track of the mothers who left, and records of mothers who didn't leave, but remarried- and how their families grew as well. 
But they have a lot more divorces, and it's interesting that there are family names that get passed down, but rarely from father to son. Usually you find a nephew named for an uncle. That gets pretty confusing sometimes because some of the ages aren't that far apart with the uncles and nephews, and some of the records were incorrectly  merged to make them the same person.

I see these giant broken and blended families and I have to just smile and shake my head. These are certainly my people. 
Which path do I choose? 
What will my history tell? 

I'm still figuring that out, and while I do I try to make sure that the stories that are being passed on about my ancestors are true stories. I don't know the reasons and the circumstances for the bad things that happened, but I know that some of the stories are made up and I have proof of such. I don't need to contact family and correct anyone, I just need to make sure my records only tell the stories I know to be true based on the first person accounts and the facts I find. I need to make sure that if anyone comes to me for information, if I put it out there- that I can back up those facts and that I have proof that some of the tired old stories are made up. Not everyone wants to hear that, so I keep it to myself, willing to share if anyone wants to know. I have no doubt my own name has been hacked from a  few family tree branches as well, and that's just how things always have been dealt with, I don't expect more from those who never realized it was the wrong way to handle family issues and estrangements. 
I will write the names, all of the names- of even the jackasses. I will add the stories that have facts to go with them and try to make sure my own feelings aren't clouding the facts.

So why was today a good Family History day for me?
I got a book I have been wanting for years. 
I came across it shorty after I started doing Family History, but it was not in print and the only three copies I could find were 1. At the Family History Library in Salt Lake, 2. at the New York Public Library (for reference only, not to check out) and 3. for sale from a private seller for $350.00.

I always meant to go to Salt Lake and look through the book, but I also figured I had plenty of time to do that until one day we found ourselves in New Jersey, far away from everything Utah.
I planned to go look up the book in NYC, but I knew that was going to be a huge pain in the rear and that library intimidates the heck out of me. I have also been putting it off.
When we went to Utah in November. we stayed right next door to the family history library and I had one goal-- to see that book.
I went with Mom Olson and we looked it up and found that it was online!
It had been digitized years ago (why hadn't I seen that?) and I could access it online..
I spent my time at the Family History Library doing other research and as soon as I got home, I logged on to read that book.
But, it was not to be.
The book was available digitally, but you had to be at an LDS family History Library to access it, as it was still under copyright. 
I was so annoyed. 
I was so annoyed that I decided I was actually going to get ff my butt and got to NYC and get ahold of that darn book.
Thankfully, Matt's cousin Kalynn told me I should be able to access it at out Stake Family History Center. 
I was at the Stake Center today, doing Primary stuff and I remembered that i wanted to check.
I logged on and...there it stinkin' book!
I finished up the Primary work I was doing and sat down in the Family History Center to devour the book. While I was there, someone joined me and asked what I was doing. She suggested I just print the book and replace the paper I was going to use, it wasn't that big of a book and I could get a lot more done at home that if I had to view it at the church building every time. 

She didn't have to suggest it twice and now-- moved to the top of my winter reading, I now have a complete copy of the Stribling book I have been trying to read for about 4 years.
I'm nerd-level excited about this and even if it doesn't give me any new information- it's information I have access to- accurate information about my kin. 
I believe though, that there will be new information and that some undiscovered limbs and branches- or at least leaves are going to be found on the family tree. I feel that is true. 

It's been a good year for me in my Family History Quest. I found the parents of the baby I had felt connected to- the right parents. I found I was related to my friend, I learned so much history about my ancestors that came here from England, including the fact that on one of my ancestors return trips from his church mission in England, he arrived with the first ancestor to be a member of the church of our current Stake President. 

I no longer feel like I'm just another link in a chain of unhappy people, I can see that I'm part of a family that did great things- they had incredible lives and they lived and loved and hurt and hurt others in return- just as we all do, but I can keep the good things that have always been in my family and I can help let go of the bad things that the generations before just couldn't shake, that they never wanted to keep being passed on. 

( Charles France and Evie Frances- from my father's side)
Thanks Aunt Sheila for pointing out that I had my Evie's mixed up :)

It heals me. I cannot explain exactly how, but Family History heals me.
Maybe it's because the dead can't hurt me. Dead family cannot tell you that you're stupid or that they are cutting you out of the family or that you're a not a 'real' family member. The dead don't squabble over imaginary birthrights and favorite children. 
We living don't seem to be able to move past some of those things sometimes.
When I do family history work, I feel as thought I am not only doing something important, but I feel as though what I am doing is wanted. The ancestors want to be remembered. They want to be a part of my story and my life. 
Doing Family History work does that for me. I know who I am and that I am loved by family that I will never meet on this Earth, but they know me and see me as one of their own.

(The Rouse Women- a family line through my father's side that I have only scratched the surface on)

(My Grandma Clarissa- who I was named after. She is still alive, but has dementia.)

                                                  (That's my cute dad, on the far right)

If you want to start working on family history and don't know where to begin, I encourage you to keep trying. Reach out to others and start asking questions.
Do as Mom Olson had me do and think back to the oldest name you remember and ask what you remember about that person- ask who they loved and were close to, what was going on in the town they lived in- start to build their trees and tell their story.
Thank you, Mom O for teaching me how to work on Family History, for teaching me how to ask the questions that lead to amazing discoveries and a new knowledge of my own life and story. A story that begins so long ago that nobody remembers, but when I hear it, my soul does. 


  1. I love you, Clarissa! I love that you love your family, and I love that I am part of that family.

    This is beautifully written, by the way!

  2. What fun! I love Family History too. I just haven't done much with it since I started raising all these boys. Recently I've had a couple of chats with my dad and his brother to gather family stories so I could share them with my own children. I find it's been an enriching activity for all three generations. It's fun to learn about the pillagers and plunders as well as the more moral folk and it draws us closer together.