As I write this, it’s Sunday night. The last time I got up from the couch it was daylight out, but I’m reasonably sure that I was navigating with yesterday’s daylight.
This is a problem. I have things to do. Meals to plan, groceries to buy, dog to walk. Important things. But I can’t move, because I have a monkey on my back. A monkey named Genealogy and he’s perched in my family tree taunting me with ships’ manifests and phone directories and 100-year-old obituaries.
It’s a curse: I’m researching and I can’t get up!
Like most good habits, it begins so innocently: You start by filling in your name, because you know that! That’s easy. And then your parents’ names, and your siblings, and your children and your grandparents’ names because that’s easy too and then these little hints start popping up, which means a name you’ve typed in jives with something in their database, a database that would put the NSA to shame if anyone gave a whoop about people from 60 years ago.
You click on the little hint and then you find your grandfather’s enlistment form from World War I and you see his signature that looks just like your dad’s and something clicks all right: You realize that a century ago a 21-year-old man from Omaha, little more than a kid really, was standing in an Army office bravely holding that card and hoping he wouldn’t get sent home and hoping and worrying that he’d get sent to France and then, my friend, you’re hooked.
Just hand the nice people your credit card and keep typing, because you aren’t getting away from that computer any time soon, at least not until you figure out where your husband’s great aunt’s once removed mother is buried. Each time you learn a fact or verify a birthday or find the photo of that grave you were looking for two more hints pop up for two more people, because this stuff is just getting out of control.
Things have de-evolved to the point where I’m now conducting DNA experiments with my father to find out if he inadvertently married his cousin when he married Mom. Seems his grandmother’s parents died crossing the plains in a covered wagon and she was adopted by people with Mom’s last name. We’re reasonably sure they’re not related, but frankly, if they are that would explain a lot.
My husband has turned into an Ancestry.com widower, which is a difficult entry to make in the family tree, by the way. It’s gotten so bad, I dreamed up the idea of doing the column about this so I could excuse a few more hours on the site as research.
Yeah, research. That’s what it is! But now I know where to go if I’d like to see the place where my great great great great great great great great great grandfather built his house in 1635 when he became a free man in Cambridge, Mass.
And years from now, my own descendants will be able to see the couch butt print from the weekend when I figured it all out.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.