Digging deep for those roots

robyn austinWith the late arrival of spring in Wisconsin, landscapers and gardeners are hoping for pleasant weather this Memorial Day weekend to get some behind-schedule yard work completed. I’ll be digging up some roots myself. But for this project, the hoe and trowel will stay put in the garage. I’ll just need a notebook and camera. We’re talking about ancestral roots here.

I regret that my interest in genealogy did not bud until just this past decade when, as timing would have it, I had no living grandparents remaining to serve as sources of names, dates and places. I am fortunate I have had some wonderful resources along the way: my husband, who has been climbing and dissecting “branches” since high school, and helpful guides like our sister publication at F+W, Family Tree Magazine (visit www.familytreemagazine.com).

Despite being a late bloomer, the one bright spot for all genealogists today is the Internet. Although I still have plenty of mysteries to solve, thanks to the Web, my search for roots has been quick and mostly painless. Even so, there has been a lot of hands-on “digging” (that’s the fun part) with trips to courthouses, searches through microfilm at the library, and grave hunting in more cemeteries in northwest Wisconsin than I care to count.

The shuttered old church at one of those cemeteries, officially located in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., has a picnic every Memorial Day weekend for descendants of the 85 people buried there – including my grandparents and great-grandparents on my father’s side. My plan is to chauffeur my parents to the picnic on Sunday to see if there are any guests with a story to tell.

On Saturday, I will be doing the same thing with Mom and Dad – one-on-one interviews with each of them to learn anything and everything about their histories… which ultimately become my history. To preserve this, I will be using my new video camera that I have yet to learn to operate, but will by the weekend! Hearing them tell their stories in their words will be a treasure those who come after me will appreciate, too.

I’m convinced that’s why we love antiques, isn’t it – for the history? The story? Sure, a vase can be pretty or a piece of furniture can be attractive, but we treasure it all the more when we learn a president slept in this bed or a mother sewed that quilt while waiting for her son to come home from the Civil War. Stories and memories bring the treasures – or in my case, names and dates – to life.

Do you have stories you have yet to tell your family about yourself or one of your antique treasures? In my mother’s china cabinet she has little slips of paper inside her glasses and dishes with provenance in her own handwriting (“wedding gift from so and so” or “from my parents’ farm”). What are you doing to pass on this history? Share your tips with other Antique Trader readers by emailing me at robyn.austin@fwpubs.com.

Robyn Austin
Editorial Director