Opinion

Family Discoverer–Ancestral connections

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Have you ever felt the urge to visit where your ancestor lived? Sometimes we are literally able to walk in our ancestor’s footsteps and I recommend it. I’ve written before that our ancestors are more than names, dates and places, and the challenge to us as genealogists is to make them flesh-and-blood people like ourselves. Otherwise, we have a collection of facts which, while always welcome, can be dry and lifeless. One way to make them human is to see where they lived, grew up or died.

Connecting with our ancestors in a physical sense is a wonderful feeling. I had that experience a couple of weeks ago when my husband and I went to the city of Quebec. While we drove in comfort, in my mind I marched alongside my ancestor, William Douglass, who was part of Benedict Arnold’s expedition in 1775. For those of you who don’t know the history, General Washington sent Col. Arnold to Maine to travel up the Kennebec and Dead Rivers, to the Chaudiere and Quebec City, to link up with another army coming from upstate New York and seize the city before the British could reinforce it. It sounded easy on paper.

They started this journey late, inadequately clothed and outfitted, and fought their way up the Kennebec and Dead Rivers in heavy, ill-fitted boats in winter. It was a disaster. Whole companies abandoned the adventure and the men suffered terribly. I recently learned my ancestor’s company made it to Quebec and was part of the futile attempt to take the city. Luckily, he wasn’t taken prisoner and managed to make it home.

Several years ago, my husband and I followed the trail of several of my Civil War ancestors in Virginia. I’ve been a Civil War buff since I was 10, but this was different. We visited battlefields where family members fought, were wounded, and some buried in unmarked graves. We saw where one was wounded and abandoned for dead, only to be imprisoned in Andersonville. We located the gravesite of a great-granduncle, the first of his family to “visit” him. Believe me, that trip made their stories so much more personal.

For genealogists, it can be a moving experience to make this sort of journey. It can be as simple as locating a house where an ancestor or relative lived, seeing where they went to school, the town where they grew up, or traveling to see the land where the family originated. However short or long your journey, I do recommend you attempt to make the effort if possible. It will connect you with your family in a way it’s difficult to explain but which you will find rewarding beyond words and well worth the effort and expense.

If you can’t physically visit, the Internet has created a digital world where sites can take you to see areas, discover buildings still standing, and have the next to best thing experience of a visit in person.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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