Why genealogy?

Elenor, Ellen, Eleanor, Helena. Every official source seems to list her name differently. Why? After some digging, I learned that she could read but not write.

But that’s not the main question. The question I started with: which one of her husbands was my ancestor? Odd, conflicting family stories. Brothers who ran away from their father, or stepfather. They were adopted, but by which one?

The answer, which comes out only partially, is that there was one hell of a soap opera happening in the late 1800s. Elenor’s first husband Thomas had married before, not sure what happened to her. So Elenor married Thomas, and then had two sons. At some point, after the birth of the oldest son, she either left or divorced Thomas for a Henry (who had abandoned his first family to go gold mining, and who would later start a third family, after Elenor’s sons ran away from home and Elenor divorced him). She took her two boys, but later, Thomas filed a suit to get the oldest son back.

The game of musical spouses notwithstanding, it looks like my ancestor, the father of the oldest son, is Thomas. It took me three days of research and the answer feels somewhat anticlimactic.

But now there are more questions. Why did Elenor give up her oldest son? And several years later, when she went back to retrieve the oldest son, did Thomas give him up? Was it because he was busy with his third family? Why did the two boys later run away? Did they stay in contact with Elenor or did the family lose track of each other?

This is a story for which I’ll never know the details. The two boys had a happy ending. What about Elenor? She was indigent when she divorced Henry. Did she manage to have a good life anyway?

So why do I research genealogy? I’m seeking answers. But to what question? I confess I don’t know.

Chasing around after long-gone dead people to whom I am only remotely connected, but without whom I’d never exist. There’s some deep mystery there.

I do feel a greater understanding of human history. It’s a muddle. It’s full of people trying to survive the best they can. Sometimes they’re the oppressors and sometimes the oppressed, and sometimes they move from one category to the other.

And every one of the official stories about our collective past is a lie.

– Kristin

Picture of deeply entwined tree roots

We usually show genealogy as “a family tree” with happy ancestors adorning the branches. But our past digs deep, becomes unknowable fast. And many stories, like Elenor’s, become like bramble. (Image from the public domain.)

 

 

 

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