I’ve been muddling around on Ancestry.com for the past few weeks and I’m discovering some really fascinating stories.
Like my 2nd great-grandfather Fenton St. Clair Butterfield (isn’t that a grand name? It begs to be said with a Lindsey Graham accent), a Civil War veteran who left his wife and three children and married the woman who is my 2nd great-grandmother, Amy. Can’t find a divorce record at all, but I did find a contestation of veteran pension benefits filed by Amy, so I’m guessing there wasn’t an official end to Fenton’s first marriage.
Or my 1st cousin, twice removed, who was romantically involved with Robert Oppenheimer. Yes, THAT Oppenheimer. And she died at 29 of an apparent suicide, but since she was a Communist and involved with Oppenheimer, her brother was unconvinced it was a suicide.
Her father, by the way, was a professor of literature at Stanford and wrote books about Chaucer and her mother traveled to France.
Then there’s the multiple veterans on my mom’s side of the family who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. That’s kind of a big deal.
Sifting through census records and military draft registrations and obituaries and city directories–it’s tedious work but at the same time, I’m piecing together bits of the roots and branches that feed into the life I’ve built for myself.
I know genetics are technically biological markers of a person’s tendencies: hair and eye color, weight and height, diseases and conditions. But as I continue to connect the dots of my past, I am convinced that genetics also fed into my talents and interests and politics and general approaches to life.
Yes, I’m an individual, but the sum of my individuality includes particles of hundreds. And that makes me feel much less alone, and not nearly as crazy.