Monday, January 29, 2007

"I'd Like to Thank the Academy..."

Like those long-winded actors at the Oscars, I have an endless list of people I'd like to thank for nurturing this obsession of mine called genealogy. Always first on my list is the genealogical society member I've never met (who shall remain anonymous), who--in a Michigan courthouse 10 years ago--quietly checked my paternal grandmother's original birth record in the county birth liber to confirm the story of who her biological parents were. Then there are the volunteers at RAOGK and Find A Grave who make long-distance research possible, not to mention the wonderful people (good friends, really) at my local Family History Center and the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society who are so knowledgeable and encouraging in my quests. Recently, it's been my fellow genealogy bloggers who keep me abreast of the latest genealogy news and resources and whose virtual "high-fives" have sustained me through the winter blahs and blues.

But really, I have to say that the foundation of it all was laid by family (how fitting!). My father had the Robbins' touch for story-telling. I was an only child for seven years, and remember him tucking me into bed at night when I was very little and telling me stories his father had told him of the Robbins family: of Grandpa Robbins going to GAR reunions with his Great-grandfather Robbins; of my Great-grandpa Robbins fighting in Russia during and after WWI; of tiny Great-grandma Robbins warming herself by sitting on the oven door of the old wood cook stove, and once accidentally burning her keister! Growing up in Alaska three thousand miles from extended family made them all seem like storybook characters...celebrities, even.

When I was 11 years old, we went back to Michigan for a month, to celebrate Christmas with the family. It had been nearly seven years since we had been "home." Both sets of grandparents and an occasional aunt or uncle had come to Alaska to visit us, but none in the past 4 or 5 years since my little brother and sister had been born. To prepare us ahead of time so that we would know who all the family members were, Dad created a poster with the relatives' photos arranged in family groups, and hung it in the living room. We'd go over the names of the aunts and uncles and old the kids were, and what cities they lived in. And when we arrived at the Grand Rapids airport that December morning, there was a crowd of 30 or so people waiting to meet us...the ultimate family reunion! For the first time in my memory, I felt connected to a people who, although I did not know them well, seemed to know and love me.

During our stay, Mom interviewed my Great-Grandma Robbins and wrote down four generations' worth of notes of my Grandfather Robbins' ancestors. Mom knew her own family stories so well, but wanted to know more about Dad's family for the sake of us, her children, I suppose. Eight years later, I started my own family tree by filling out pedigree charts and family group sheets using the notes Mom jotted down. And the rest, as they say, is history...or in this case, family history.

So here's to all of you; and a special show of gratitude to you, Dad and Mom, with love.

1 comment:

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I grew up in New York and never felt much connection to my Mom's family in Michigan. How wonderful for you that you were able to feel connected. I have 1st cousins that I've never met or corresponded with, they are simply names in my file.