Now, before you think my trip to Rome was an exotic vacation, let me say that it was actually an opportunity to learn more about my family history.
Over the years, I have sought the available records that would tell the stories of those from whom I descend. All of us do that in genealogy with the hope that we might add knowledge of a branch or branches on the family tree. Every document is sourced, and our knowledge of recorded facts paints a picture of life in the past. Yet, the time comes when the past meets the present. Although your ancestors may not be from Rome, these general principles can be applied anywhere in the world.
- In Seeking the Past, Be Present.
When in your ancestral location, do ordinary things. Go to a park, and get to know the people. Watch how the children play and how people interact. Just think, if your ancestor had stayed in this area rather than emigrating from it, that child could be you, your child, or your grandchild. Get to know the people. The ones I met are wonderful!
- Get Lost.
I get lost in Rome. All roads may lead to Rome, but once I’m in the city, I get lost, even with a map. Nevertheless, I find what I’ve been looking for every time. I relish in these moments of serendipity. The same is true in seeking genealogical information. You may be in the right archive, with a plan, but get lost, at least once, in the archives and the records it holds. In this way, I came across what to me is a priceless document. This source listed valuable testimony from previously unknown witnesses. I did not know its full meaning the day I found it, but further review revealed relationships and other relevant facts.
- If you think you are going in circles, you probably are.
Anyone who knows Rome knows the circle. Although the sites are beautiful, one can travel forever and go absolutely nowhere. Landmarks and signage help establish the way to the more popular attractions, yet I was recommended to a pretty obscure place for gelato. It was in this context I had my circle experience. When it comes to gelato, I have my favorite shops, but I am always open to other recommendations. In this case, I was given an address. I walked the street, or so I thought. I walked the street again. I saw people eating gelato. I would look around and find other gelato shops in the area. I walked the streets again. Finally, I stopped and asked a policeman. He said quite frankly and with a smile, “It’s right there.” I couldn’t see it, but trusting that he knew the street better than I did, I looked in every nook and cranny. Sure enough, a sign that was no bigger than a letter-sized piece of paper announced its presence. Unpretentious in its presentation and without my favorite flavor that day, this gelato was delectable.
The same is true in our research. An obscure source may be recommended, but one just can’t find it in a particular archive. Something just doesn’t make sense. At times like these, it’s a good idea to ask someone who is more familiar with the archive or library. Be polite, be concise, and be considerate, but ask. The advice you get may place you back on the path so that you reach your research destination. In our lifetime, we may live in many different places, but for all of us, there are places we call home. Many times, these locations are our ancestral communities. May we find these places and learn the history that is there.
Lynn Broderick (https://thesingleleaf.wordpress.com/) is a writer by birth, a teacher by profession, and a researcher by passion. She enjoys researching individuals of the past in the context of family, community, and social history. Known as the Single Leaf, she combined her childhood memories of football and genealogy to create genealogy football and works with her team to win their family history bowl each year. She loves to coach people on how to enjoy pursuing their family history and has done so for over 25 years.