Everyday Orinda – January 2020

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20-20 in 2020

    My Ancestry.com obsession concerns me. Like fans of Fortnight or Call of Duty (admittedly, I had to Google those video games because, daughters) I have a very difficult time detaching from my giant historical jigsaw puzzle.
    I can’t quit the search for one more tiny piece of the magical, intertwined story of those who came before me, even if it’s midnight and I can barely keep my eyes open. Currently, my inbox is loaded with special seasonal pricing for DNA kits, so I have a hunch many of you reading this will have received one for a holiday gift.
    If, in fact, you decide to activate a DNA test, once you receive your results you then purchase a subscription to Ancestry.com to begin searching their vast database of records for your ancestors. Especially if your test reveals unexpected news.
    You’re way down the rabbit hole before you know what hit you. Maybe a portion of your DNA came from someplace mysterious and exotic like Iceland, and now you can’t wait to see how you’re descended from Vikings. Or if not Vikings, then at least royalty. Personally, I think their logo should resemble that of a friendly skeleton stashed in a closet. The dirt is the best part.
    At this point I’d like to give a shout out to our wonderful Orinda Library – actually, any of our local Contra Costa County libraries. Frugal Fun Fact: instead of paying for an Ancestry.com subscription, if you visit our library, you can bring your laptop and log on to the library’s subscription and access Ancestry.com free of charge. Our beautiful local libraries also provide free connection to Heritage Quest, Newspapers.com and many additional obituary and genealogy databases you will definitely want to access once your addiction slowly begins to consume you.
    The Family Search Library at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ temple in Oakland (also known as the Mormon Temple) also is an exceedingly helpful – and free – resource to budding genealogists. It is easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated at the beginning. I found my instruction from a very patient guide at the Oakland Temple library to be invaluable. One need not be a member of the church to visit and seek assistance. Appointments are not necessary, but it is wise to check their hours before heading over. (familysearch.org)
    Ironically, although your teens should be happy that your new obsession substantially derails your focused tracking of their weekend whereabouts, don’t get hurt feelings if your family thinks your new hobby is bonkers.
    Your excitement and downright thrill over learning how your great great grandmother married a man twice her age, or how your great grandfather had the audacity to remarry a mere 60 days after your great grandmother died, or how your great great uncle worked at Buffalo Bill’s Wyoming dude ranch might garner only an eye roll or two at best. Excavating these interesting, long-buried tidbits triggers a dopamine ding similar to seeing “likes” on social media, or reaching a new level or a new world in gaming. It’s easy to get hooked.
    Researching my family tree often feels like I’m watching this epic historical drama starring these fabulous characters I’ve brought back to life, yet I’m the only one interested in the plot. I’ve since decided that one has to reach a certain “vintage” in order to fully appreciate the past.
    When we’re young, the past and the future fall away; we live only in the present. Think about it, has your kid ever offered to book a dinner reservation? But if my mother were still alive, the fun we would have investigating the past together. Family genealogy would have been an amazing shared hobby for us.
    Unfortunately, the eye-rolling history repeats itself. When my mom would eagerly discuss her genealogical findings with me – which, incidentally were obtained the hard way, before records were but a mere tap on the keyboard away – I brushed her off, as disinterested as a self-centered adolescent could be. Mom’s having a good laugh now, from her all-knowing vantage point in the Great Beyond. “You may never learn why Great Uncle Field M. Carmichael left his motion picture executive career in Los Angeles and moved to Nebraska to die,” she laughs, good naturedly. “But I’m sitting right here having coffee with him!”
    Thanks to record databases and newspaper archives, I can construct a rough outline of the lives of my various ancestors. I find myself wishing for more juicy details to color in the total portrait of their personality.
    My habits make me wonder what our great great grandchildren will think when they research us. If they are able to access our social media accounts, little, if anything, will be left to their imagination. Perhaps directing a keen eye to the future, and picturing how we will be perceived by our descendants in the year 2150 will help us course-correct for the new year ahead; help us to implement all of our good intentions.
    Let’s literally have 20-20 in 2020. Let’s look to the past as well as the future. Let this be the year we truly act upon what sort of legacy we leave to those of us who, I feel certain, will be curious about us. Someday.

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