I've been at this mad study of "where did my family come from" for over ten years now. As a genealogist, I'd still be considered a "newbie" although I feel as if I have been studying and searching my whole life.
It all started when I discovered some documents tucked away in the basement - hidden in the safest place. I can't tell you exactly where but it is safe from fire, flood and the prying eyes of anyone not familiar with the best place in the world to hide something.
I knew we were Hungarian -- the likes of the Gabor sisters, I guess - the only other Hungarians I knew of. I knew we were also Bohemian - now known as people from the Czech Republic. Or as grandma would playfully say "Bohunk". As for the Hungarian side, there was a ghoulish twist -- we were from Translvania, the land of the vampires. I remember seeing the word Transylvania on one of the documents.
My first clue was the town of Glogovat, stamped on the document -- the town where my father's birth and baptism took place. The scotch tape holding the fragile paper together had turn brown but the black script written over 90 years ago was still as beautiful as the day it was written. I wonder sometimes if the priest or deacon who had such beautiful handwriting ever dreamed I would be gazing at this document dreaming of what life was like so many years ago. As he carefully kept the records at the church, did he ever dream of who might be reading these books. Probably not -- he was doing his job, fulfilling his obligation to keep the records for his parishioners the same way we sit at our word processors today. If we publish a book we hope that people will read it for years to come; but the ordinary day-to-day activities - no, we never expect anyone else to be interested once the job is over.
Sometime in 1999 I trekked off to the library determined to discover exactly where this little town was located on a map of Hungary. I quickly discovered my local library did not have any books old enough -- through the years, through the wars, little towns in Hungary seemed to skip from map to map -- while the town stayed anchored in the same place. It was the country's borders that changed as it shifted from Hungarian to Romanian rule. The little town of Glogovat was known as Glogovat - Glogowatz - Othalom -- and is now known as Vladimirescu, Romania. More changes have occurred than just the name -- but the little town of Glogowatz is remembered tenderly by thousands of people living in Germany, South America, Canada and the United States to name a few.
I put my quest aside for awhile. Months later I was learning "to surf the internet" -- and to my surprise I found I was not the only one interested in this little town of Glogowatz. The Google Search Engine quickly found Peter Schmidt's Village of Glogowatz website. Skipping around the site, I found references to church records, baptism, voting records. Then I found a link to a Master Ship Extraction Data Base of the Banat -- I clicked on the town of Glogowatz - a page opened and to my amazement the first name on the list was someone who had travelled to College Point, New York -- my home town! Scrolling through the list I decided I had to print my own copy of this wonderful list. Click on File: Double Click on Print: One copy please -- I was on my way to possessing this list! My printer started buzzing -- clicking and clattering -- about fifteen minutes later my printer came to a halt -- I had run out of ink long before the list was completely printed! I still have that printout -- in fact, I have not gone back to attempt the printout again. I refer to the website often as I learn more about the people of Glogowatz.
Since that day I have read church records and microfilm with magnifying glass in hand in an attempt to put together my own story. I've collected pictures of my ancestors -- yes, now they are no longer just names and dates -- they have faces --I know their occupations and I know a little of their day-to-day lives and something of their struggles. I want to know what life was like in Hungary and Bohemia. What brought my family to America -- what gave them the drive to make that important yet possibly dangerous decision.
This brings me to the title of this piece -- Why? -- Why am I doing this? I know I'm not alone. Thousands of people like me are searching for their roots. There are days when I can hardly contain my excitement as I fine a name or address that has been eluding me. And there are days when I ask myself why is the past so important to me. Am I forgetting I live in the present -- and have a future to reach? Am I in danger of slipping through the portals of time and seeing for myself what life was like. I admit I have entertained that intriguing thought. Could I be like one of the characters in the book by Jack Finney, Time and Time Again, who possess that curious ability to walk back and forth in time. A young man steps into an apartment in the Dakota in New York City in 1970 -- and days later steps out of the apartment, down the stairs and walks onto the streets of New York City in the year 1868! He is free to search out his great grandfather, meet him face-to-face...yet he has the explicit directions that he cannot under any circumstances interfere with or change the events of the past. Interference could alter his very existence, his own future.
What if I stepped back in time and met my great grandmother Antonie? What if I contracted the malaria that took the life of my baby great aunt? If my family was strong enough to live through these times, would I be strong enough to make it back to my own future?
We know that we cannot change the past. But thoughts of times long ago can alter the future. I started my quest because it was entertaining just to see how far back I could trace my family. I never expected to locate anyone connected to me today. But I did that and much more. I have found cousins and connected others to their cousins.
I am happy to say my genealogy research has helped to mend a number of connections broken over the years. Some cousins I found agreed that our grandparents would be "dancing in heaven" if they knew we had found one another -- had connected the family once again.
Now I know why I study my genealogy. I want the reality of capturing the history of my own family and I can dream about travelling back in time. But genealogy is not just about the past. It is a way of connecting the past, the present and the future. Our lives here are the fulfillment of the dreams of our grandparents and great grandparents. We are who we are today because of our past. Who we will be in the future may depend on what we learn today and how it influences us. I know I am connected to many people I have not even learned about yet. As I have heard stories about them, perhaps they have heard stories about me and my grandparents. They may be dreaming and wondering about their cousins too.
Genealogy and the internet has made me realize just how small the world is -- it's only a matter of time before we complete the circle of past, present and future -- it may seem like a straight line but it's not. I have a past and eventually my present and my future will become my past. And maybe someday, someone will be reading this story and wondering just what my life and family was like.
Copyright 2009 Susan Williams