Funny how all it takes is one little query to get my genealogy-itch going again.

I recently got an e-mail from a previously-unknown cousin on my Memaw’s side of the family — my second cousin once removed, actually — giving me a piece of the Mickler family puzzle I hadn’t known before. This bit of information (that my great-grandfather was murdered, and that my Granny was a widow) spurred a week-long flurry of genealogical research on my part, culminating with my splurging on a month of access.

I need to beware of losing focus, though: I have a tendency to just go searching online willy-nilly, instead of looking for a particular event or answering a particular question about a person or family. That’s when I burn out quickly, instead of maintaining my interest.

Another genealogy cousin of mine once said, back when I was in college and just getting into genealogy on my own, that I would understand in time how people get into and out of doing genealogy, and how the interest can ebb and flow. I do understand now, completely, and I’m taking full advantage of the genealogy bug having bitten for the moment.

Who Do You Think You Are?

The genealogical research show “Who Do You Think You Are?” premiered tonight at 8pm on NBC. I was tipped off about its existence not only by marketing e-mails from, but also by the author of the companion book, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, via Twitter.

On Megan’s Facebook fan page, she posted a poll: “Grade the opening episode of ‘Who Do you Think You Are?'” I rated it a B, and left the following comment:

There were very few things that rubbed me the wrong way about this episode; mostly, I enjoyed it.

First: I was always taught that the family name or surname is capitalized, not the given name. If the show is trying to encourage non-genealogists to start researching, the graphics should have reflected standard notation. (Unless I learned wrong.)

Second: I’m wondering if the entire series will be focused on finding “famous” or “influential” people in the subjects’ lineages. As a standard Heinz 57 American myself, I have no such expectation, and have only ever found one mildly notable person in my line. Of course, if they didn’t find someone interesting, and only found Average Joe Farmer back for generations, I suppose that wouldn’t make good television.

Third: Would a library really permit a patron to view an original document without gloves, and to point to it with a pencil tip while reading?

Apart from these small issues, I LOVED the show. I live in Ohio, and much of my family is from the Cincinnati area, so that was a pleasant surprise. I also appreciated the personal nature of the research, really getting into who these people were. It’s so easy sometimes to define our ancestors by their dates (hatched, matched, and dispatched), and the suspense of what happened to each ancestor, while sometimes excessive, was good television.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the upcoming episodes! My own research has been sitting dormant for years; I expect that this will help rekindle my interest.

That said, I’ve already set my What’s On TV? iPhone app to remind me of next Friday’s episode. I’m also seriously considering making Friday night genealogy night.

Making Connections

Piecing together the lives of my ancestors is a big part of the joy I find in genealogy. I request death certificates, look at census records, find whatever data I can, and try to interpolate the details that would make these people real. Look at the dates, the events, the people who are suddenly conspicuously absent, and try to imagine what their lives were like, how they interacted with one another, how their lives were so different from ours.

But sometimes, in my zeal to track my lineage to the Old World, to piece together lives lived centuries ago, I skip past the more recent history.

Ordering a death certificate for a family member who has recently died… it’s an awkward and melancholy situation for me. It seems almost the opposite of what I’ve been trying to accomplish with my more distant ancestors; seeing someone you knew, someone you loved, summarized in dates and places and a cause of death — it’s rough. I’ve done it for my Memaw and my Granny, and it was strange and sad, but now I’m feeling even more awkward about doing it for Aaron’s family. Specifically, his Grammie (d. 2008) and his mother (d. 1992).

I feel like it’s important to have the documentation, even though it won’t tell me anything I don’t already know (or so I assume). Still, though, to see two very real lives boiled down to their endgame data — the thought of opening that envelope from the Ohio Department of Health is suddenly more sad, awkward, and uncomfortable than I’ve ever considered it before.

Postscript – As I was editing this entry, the song 100 Years by Five For Fighting shuffled up on my iTunes.

“Halftime goes by / Suddenly you’re wise / Another blink of an eye / 67 is gone / The sun is getting high / We’re moving on… “