When I was in college (oh, so long ago) one of my assignments for an Honors class was to trace my family history back. The teachers assumed there would be many first- and second-generation immigrants and thus would be easy to trace, interview, and report back on experiences. I think they were hoping for some meaty Ellis Island stories. Considering we were in Westchester County, NY, that wasn't an unreasonable assumption.
For about half of my classmates, that was indeed the case. The other half of us, well. We were throwing dates out like 1640, 1792, and I think one even confirmed coming over with the original pilgrim set.
My mother kept all of the work I did for this. This was pre-internet (yes, that existed and yes, I am dating myself), so these written histories were precious. They required effort, including visiting cemeteries and digging through old family bibles and hoping someone kept track. I wrote to relatives and some of my relatives wrote to relatives, and everyone was very happy to share.
It turned out to be an unruly mess of names, dates, and subjecture. I might possibly be related (distantly) to Emily Dickinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. There are stories of ancestors being condemned as witches (not in Salem) and babies savings an entire family during an Indian raid simply by smiling at one of the attackers.
Any of it true? Pfffft. A moot point. Although judging from the list of names on some of these papers I am at least remotely related to virtually everyone in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
In college, I focused more on my Mother's Mother's side of things, as it had all the glitzy stuff like the witch and Indian stories, and names like "Emerson," "Dickenson" and "William Wallace" floating around. These names and stories (true or not) were impressive to my WASPy professors and their private women's college notions of class. Ellis Island be damned.
This time around, I'm focusing on my Father's side of things. There are no lofty names here, no pretentions to historically documented stories. Just a group of working class folk with enough book education to get by and enough moxie to make it through the tough Vermont winters.
What will I find? Probably nothing. Tracing anyone or anything back to a specific place in Wales is unlikely; the further back you go the looser documentation gets. But I have one thing now that I didn't back then: the internet. I also have a name: Asa Williams, who is my grandfather's grandfather.
So I'll do a little digging and see what I can find, if anything. But really? The greatest gift in the package -- one that I could not possibly have seen at the young age of 20 -- is the letters and handwriting of my Grandpa Williams, my Grammy Page, my great-Aunt Beetee. Their voices have been gone from my life for many, many years now. To hear them speak again? Well. That's what really matters.
|The dude in the pic? My seven-greats grandfather on my mother's side, the |
Rev. Williams Wallace (Jr). If he looks all fire- and brimstony, you'd be correct.