Thanks to NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are” and PBS’s “Finding Your Roots”, I find myself rooted (pun absolutely intended) to the television screen on Friday and Sunday evenings to watch in fascination (and a bit of jealously) well-known figures have their family histories discovered. I have been a long-time lover of genealogy and am fortunate to have relatives that have traced our ancestry on my mother’s side to William Brewster, a Mayflower passenger and author of the Mayflower Compact. I think what fascinates me most is that as you watch family histories unfold, you watch the fame of those on these shows fade away, and in its place you see pure wonder at what they find out. Blood is apparently thicker than fame as well as water. We all come from somewhere, and we are all somehow woven into the history pages. I actually find that as I watch these shows and they delve deeper into the stars’ genealogy, I forget that it’s someone famous who we’re following because the history lessons and stories of their not-so-famous ancestors are so compelling. So….since I don’t have NBC footing the bill for me to travel to the shores of Scotland, Ireland, England and wherever else my ancestry may be uncovered, and I don’t have Henry Louis Gates, Jr. telling me “Would you turn the page please and meet your 5th Great Grandfather So-and-So”, I will have to settle for my own research. I do have one “assistant” in my search: An old steamer trunk I found in my grandmother’s attic. I was so thrilled with this find that I wrote an essay about it that was published in “Cape Cod View” magazine. I’ve included it in the hope that it may inspire you to find the history that made you possible!
Paint-splattered, tarnished brass, frayed leather handles, worn wooden trim, and a travel companion to my ancestors – this describes the item I most cherish. The steamer trunk I found in my grandmother’s attic is still stamped with my great-great grandmother’s name, J.M. (Jane Margeretta) Ely. It sits in my home where I write. In my imagination, it’s the perfect accomplice in uncovering ancestral secrets. It gets me closer to my Pilgrim ancestors, especially my great-great grandmother’s husband, William Brewster, who was a direct descendant of the Mayflower’s William Brewster. I imagine its travels and what it has carried – a family bible, clothing inextricably woven with memories, and the uncertainty and hope that accompanied these items. It speaks to me each morning when I sit down to write: Pack your own life’s journey with hope, wonder and gratitude for the chance to travel it.
Hopefully my children develop the same appreciation for family history, as long as mom going a little crazy with the “I’m a 13th Generation Pilgrim” family trees for the Kindergarten family tree projects didn’t traumatize them!