OPED: Untangling the tales of my ancestry

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RBC | Happy New Year! I’ve officially swapped my Facebook habit for an obsession with genealogy, triggered by a do-it-yourself DNA kit I got for Christmas.

That’s right, I paid $60 for someone to tell me I’m about as white as they come—the fact that I turn the color of a radish after 10 minutes of sun exposure apparently doesn’t qualify as “hard evidence.” I’ve been tracing my family’s long trek from Ireland, England, Wales, the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland and France to the United States and on into Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and more.

My first and favorite discovery was a digitally scanned photograph of my paternal grandparents being crowned Snow Ball King and Queen at a Christmas formal at Glenwood Springs High School. It’s weirdly wonderful to see the bright young faces of people you’ve only known and loved the older versions of.

Other fun discoveries include official proof of my “Colorado native” status with ancestors dating back to the 1800s, as well as confirmation of the “five Irish brothers came over on a boat” story one great-grandpa was fond of telling. (His other favorite thing to do was encourage my parents to “get married and make some more Turner boys!” I still remember sobbing when the youngest of the four of us was born and it was yet another boy. Thanks a lot, great-grandpa Ralph.)

I’ve run into some trouble tracking down the lineage of the five brothers (and three sisters, whom great-grandpa Ralph failed to mention). I know that after their father, Christopher, died in Ireland, they, along with their mother Jane, headed for the U.S. The youngest of the children, Thomas, was just 3-years-old.

Can you imagine? I only have half the kids she did, and I can’t even make it from here to the grocery store without mass preparation. Picking up my whole life after being recently widowed and leaving my family and friends to cross an entire ocean on a boat? Heck to the no.

I’m not sure if they all came over at the same time or in stages sometime around 1865, but they ended up in Indiana. Four of the brothers and all of the sisters appear to have settled down and stayed near family. They got married, had children, dutifully (if sloppily) filled out their census reports (thanks, guys!) and died after relatively long and hopefully happy lives.

The last brother, however, a John C. Turner, mysteriously vanished after he arrived in the U.S. and apparently died in Mexico City about 30 years later in his early 40s. Rather suspicious, if I do say so myself.

Tracking down 20 generations of dead ancestors is probably not the “real human connection” I’ve been looking for after my recent social media hiatus, but there’s just something so reassuring (maybe I’m just being morbid) about tromping through the annals of history, finding Anns and Marys and Elizabeths (so many Elizabeths) and Williams and Johns from hundreds of years ago. They lived and they loved and they recycled the same five to 10 names for their offspring and then they died (lest we get too stuffy, I’ll add an “It’s the cirrrrcle of liffeeeee” reference from the Lion King here.) And you know what? Life kept right on going, all the way to the shiny new year of 2019.

It’s strangely comforting. Finding out that your grandma’s mildly drunken ramblings about inbreeding were probably true, however? Much less so. (Just cousins, though, several generations back, and it was 19th century Kentucky, so who’s surprised, really?)

The point is, we’re all eventual footnotes on a genealogical chart, and that’s if we’re lucky. Maybe we shouldn’t take ourselves so darn seriously.

By CAITLIN WALKER | caitlin@ht1885.com

1 Comment

  1. Bill and I just received a DNA kit each for Christmas!
    So have several other family members. It will be very interesting to find out if all reports come back with matching info?

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