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Is it normal to become quite obsessed with your ancestors?

(64 Posts)
WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 10:55:22

Asking for a friend. But it is quite normal isn’t it?

UrbaneSprawl Wed 24-Oct-18 11:12:57

Depends what you mean by “obsessed”...

I used to work in this sort of area, and would say that it’s quite normal to become interested in your family history.

For what it’s worth, I think there’s something that happens as the living links to the past begin to fade (the death of one’s own parents in particular) that drives curiosity about this - is the family legend really true, did great aunt Ada really run off with a sailor, etc., etc. Approaching middle age also sometimes makes people start thinking about their own mortality and their place in the world.

It’s also quite compelling to link one’s own family history to wider social history, and consider the small choices and moments at which “history rattles over the points” (as Alan Bennett put it) - if my grandfather was evacuated to a different town, I wouldn’t be here. Thinks like “Who Do You Think You Are?” play this up very effectively. The increase in availability of records online means that it’s potentially easier to find evidence to support (or disprove) family stories than ever before.

ProfYaffle Wed 24-Oct-18 11:13:24

I hope so!

I researched my tree a few years ago now. I found that while in the 'discovery' phase I thought of little else but it has worn off now that I've done everything I can reasonably do.

IsTheRainEverComingBack Wed 24-Oct-18 11:14:29

I’ve been working on an Ancestry family tree for a few months. I have to really think about when I sit down to it because once I do everything else goes out the window.

WeaselsRising Wed 24-Oct-18 11:20:18

of course. I am totally obsessed with mine since I've been researching.

What I find is that I'm really attached to a couple of lines but totally disinterested in others.

I started when I was 12. That was more than 40 years ago and I am still just as obsessed. More so, now it's so easy to research without travel. You are never finished.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 11:27:30

Oh thank you for normalising it! I wish there was a ‘am I being normal’ board 😀 I just didn’t see it coming because I’ve never really known my biological relatives- grew up in a massive family who are more than enough for anyone - I knew my mum (and had vague memories of her mum) who similarly had no idea who the rest of her people were, where they came from. So when my oldest daughter wanted to compare all the main dna kits out there and I matched instantly with my dad (!!) I’ve been hooked ever since.

Get the impression other people don’t fully understand!

florafawna Wed 24-Oct-18 11:42:02

Don't waste your life!

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 11:45:17

And yes to the wider social history! I’m so horribly ignorant of the geography, the politics, the conflicts, the everything really. There are endless things to look into like what kind of things did they eat (see username) were they obsessed with their ancestors too! Some of them definitely were because some lines are so well documented.

I tend to become most obsessed with the ones that end, dead, abruptly only two or three generations back.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 11:46:48

I definitely haven’t wasted my life! Although you do make an amazingly pertinent point 😳 I do have actual work to do . . .

BookMeOnTheSudExpress Wed 24-Oct-18 11:49:16

I got a bit involved with Ancestry etc about 10 years ago, and traced various branches of my family back to the 1600s, which was all very interesting. I must say now, I find I am far more interested in how, say, my parents lived in the 60s. Or even me, as a child, in the 70s.

A friend of mine is what I would term a bit unhealthily obsessed. It is all she does. She started about the same time as me, and we used to chat late at night as we were both delving into marriage certs etc. But her whole life is now taken up with it, and I confess to finding that a bit odd. Because at the end of the day, she's not found out much more than me, yet she will go off and try and find a specific house, or spend hours on FB speculating what her ancestor must have been doing in such a census year etc. She's done all the DNA kits and is now learning a specific language to research a specific ancestor.

(I realise I sound mean about her, I'm not, not really, but I confess to having hidden her FB feed because I don't really have any interest in her great great aunt's tombstone etc)

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 11:57:54

Wow that is a whole new level!! And a good check list 😀

I’ve shared nothing on FB but I have via Snapchat to interested relatives - not tombstones but photos of surprise grandparents.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 11:59:04

I don’t get the whole find a grave thing, I do like the romance of ‘buried at sea’ when that crops up though.

IsTheRainEverComingBack Wed 24-Oct-18 12:41:10

See I had an ancestor pop up from graves who is buried near Jerusalem after dying near there in the First World War. I found that really interesting.

BookMe if you went that far back did you get out and about looking in parish records? I’m wondering if the next step I need to take is a more active one

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 13:36:33

Ahhh yes that must be fascinating. I’m (mentally at this stage) drawing up a list of places and or living relatives to visit for a bit of ancestral tourism and a grave like that would definitely be on there.

whiteroseredrose Wed 24-Oct-18 13:44:10

I did! Once I'd gone back a few generations I wanted to add flesh to the bone with school records, army records, newspapers etc. My uncle took me for a drive and showed me where my great grandparents lived. So I've got pictures too.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 13:47:26

I’ve got back to the 1600s and earlier with the direct paternal lines but other people had already done the work, they’re horribly inbred over a few hundred years and it’s just all very well documented.

mateysmum Wed 24-Oct-18 13:55:02

It's totally normal - if you're me!

I'm obsessed with DH's family which is far more interesting than mine.They did big things in the 19th century so there is a ton of material available.

Once I got past the births, marriages and deaths, it is the personal stories that fascinate me. The hand written letters where you see someone's personality leap from the page. The woman who tried her whole life to conceal her poor and illegitimate birth, creating a whole, fictitious personal history. The clandestine marriage that ended in a scandalous divorce. The accidental shooting of the "golden child" that left a deep rift in the family.

I could go on....

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 13:56:03

My oldest ‘dna circle’ (groups that ancestry.com put you in made of people descended from a common ancestor, sort of mixture of the paper trail and dna) is only 1750 so not sure how legit anything before that is

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 13:56:57

Ah it sounds like a fabulous sweeping historical drama, novel!

SenecaFalls Wed 24-Oct-18 13:57:39

I wouldn't say that I am obsessed, but I am interested, as I think many Americans are. And I am also very interested in the wider social history. A few years ago I stood close to the spot where my Scottish many times great grandfather sailed in the late 1700s to North Carolina. He took most of his children with him, but left a married daughter in Scotland. Standing in that place and looking out at the vast ocean, I had a sense of the kind of courage and optimism it must have taken to embark on a journey like that, leaving everything that you know behind. And it is a story that has been repeated over and over again in the history of immigration to the US.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 14:02:54

Ahhh hello seneca! Our ancestors definitely knew one another!

justilou1 Wed 24-Oct-18 14:06:07

My kids were doing a family tree school assignment, so I jumped onto Ancestry.com during one of their free trials with no expectation of finding anything remotely interesting. I am an Aussie descended from shifty, uneducated types from all over the UK and Europe, literally starting with the first fleet. I very quickly discovered that one branch of my family was MUCH cooler than I could have ever possibly thought, and it goes back a loooooooong way! My rather imperious, High Anglican grandmother had a shameful secret. Her grandmother was a Jewess! (And to my delight, they kept very detailed records!!!) I discovered that her branch of the family were Sephardi Jews, and waaaaaaay back, the father of the family was tortured by the Spanish Inquisiton and the mother was burnt at the stake for heresy. They fled to Portugal, which was then annexed, then France. The next generation went to Jamaica and became a “merchant” (aka pirate) and made his fortune only attacking Spanish ships. Revenge, much?

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 14:09:32

Wow! These all make such brilliant stories!

SenecaFalls Wed 24-Oct-18 14:11:15

WhyDidIEatThat There was a lot of intermarriage among Scottish settlers in North Carolina during the 18th century. Maybe we are cousins? smile

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 14:16:50

I bet we are! One of my main migrations starts with ‘melting pot in the American colonies’ which made me lol because, no, they just kept mating with one another 😂

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 14:17:34

Are you on ancestry or any of the other sites?

UrbaneSprawl Wed 24-Oct-18 14:30:39

I think what Seneca says about stories being repeated down the generations is what makes it so compelling. My son’s great grandfather came to the UK as a refugee from the Basque Country, less than a month after the bombing of Gernika - we’ve been into my son’s school to tell this story, and the kids made their own links between his story and child refugees coming to their school from war zones today.

IsTheRainEverComingBack Wed 24-Oct-18 15:27:12

How are people finding these more detailed stories, personal letters etc? Ancestry only has the obvious records and not sure how to branch out from there

powercutie Wed 24-Oct-18 15:31:32

Second the question about where you're all finding the information? Fascinating!

SenecaFalls Wed 24-Oct-18 15:34:33

I did a lot of research on ancestry.com. But I had a head start because my father had a lot of information about his Scottish ancestors that have been handed down in the family. I wrote down everything that he told me, and through research found that all of it was true.

Ships' manifests, many of which have survived through the years, can also offer a lot of information about immigration in families.

Another good thing about ancestry.com is that you can connect with other people who have done research into your family. This is how my husband, who is also of Scottish ancestry, discovered a branch of his family in Australia.

SenecaFalls Wed 24-Oct-18 15:35:32

Wow. That link to ancestry.com magically appeared.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 15:45:25

I’m in absolute love with ancestry although it does lead me in the wrong direction sometimes! Massively grateful to paternal ancestors for coming from a family with so much written about them and for the most part getting there so early so lots is publicly known about them.

Having a much harder time with my maternal side, so desperately want to find her dad but they all seem so much more ??? diffuse? German and Scots-Irish mostly but just hardly anything recorded anywhere

Windgate Wed 24-Oct-18 16:32:08

I'm not sure obsessed is quite the right word for me but researching my family tree has helped me understand my roots. Found some very sad facts along the way including tragic deaths, suicide and abandoned children.
DF and I worked on the tree together until he died, I've carried on and found great comfort.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 18:22:32

That’s so moving Windgate, all those layers of personal meaning.

AornisHades Wed 24-Oct-18 18:25:21

Perfectly normal blush

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 18:29:27

One of the many very best parts is when people ask ‘where are you from’ and your reply leads to ‘noooo I mean where are you from originally’ you can go into way more detail than they could possibly handle 😀

LittleCandle Wed 24-Oct-18 18:38:30

I started looking to find out how my grandfather ended up with a wooden leg, as I didn't ask my DM when she was alive and none of her cousins or mine know. I still don't know (I assume WWI but who can say?) but have found out a huge amount about both sides of the family. I have connected with a distant cousin who provided me with a photo of my great-grandfather, which was amazing. I discovered that a great great aunt murdered one of her own children. I am loving the journey.

BaldricksCoffee Wed 24-Oct-18 19:49:16

Haha, reading this thread and an ad has just popped up on the side of the screen for the British Newspaper Archive grin

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 19:58:02

Haha! Oh god yes look what we’ve done!

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 20:10:03

I’d kind of like to know the story behind the wooden leg myself now 🤔 some mysteries should remain unresolved though. I was So Excited when I uploaded my raw dna thing to some of the research sites and matched with various Lost Colony dna projects but 1. of all the lines of enquiry dna seems the least useful and 2. It’s so much more romantic not knowing.

Except I walk through woodland a lot which I still love but now I feel creeped out and wonder wtf might happen 🙄

IsTheRainEverComingBack Wed 24-Oct-18 20:12:41

I’ve got ‘marriage records online’ at the top!

I definitely want to delve a bit further into the details of some of this stuff. I’ve discovered a family member wasn’t born in Ireland as everyone else thought - pretty conclusive, I’ve got the birth certificate and everything - but it’s made me want to find some more good detail to make up for everyone else feeling let down!

HuguenotJo Wed 24-Oct-18 20:23:16

Yes. Perfectly normal. grin

MarmiteTermite Wed 24-Oct-18 20:26:16

I’m obsessed at the moment but because I was adopted as a baby and I have managed to use Ancestry DNA to identify members of my birth family!

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 20:46:24

That’s so amazing Marmite! I’m really happy for you.

I thought I didn’t care much about my biological origins and was so unprepared for the rollercoaster of it all, now there’s just a kind of deep peace, having that confirmation and the connection. (Except am still on a quest to identify my mum’s dad.)

MarmiteTermite Wed 24-Oct-18 21:01:01

Thank you. Unfortunately my birth mother does not appear to want contact sad. I’ve found two siblings (possibly half, possibly full) on social media and just debating what to do...

LittleBittyKitty Wed 24-Oct-18 21:03:07

I might have found my people! 
I started using Ancestry and ScotlandsPeople a few years ago and became completely hooked really quickly. I found it absolutely fascinating and traced one branch of my tree back to the 16th century. For various reasons I stopped having the time to do it and left it for a couple of years and only recently have gone back to it and am completely hooked once again, but not in a 'sitting up till 2am' kinda way any more.

Loving all your stories.

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 21:42:38

💐 marmite I’m sorry to hear your mum doesn’t want contact 💔 how long have you been deliberating over whether or not to approach your siblings?

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 21:46:43

I haven’t heard of ScotlandsPeople, will check it out. Have got almost nowhere looking for my Scottish ancestors and would really like some specific places or regions to visit!

Rubberduckies Wed 24-Oct-18 23:14:27

Yep it's normal...! I first started around age 10 I reckon and every year or so I get super into it and delve into particular lines of the family. I lose hours and hours.

Don't get the ancestry phone app if you have an obsessive personality.....speaking from personal experience.

I don't tend to stay on my main family line. I like looking at whole families and what sort of families their spouses came from and who left who what in their Will. I got quite cross with a family once who had servants and loving in expensive areas London while their sister was dying in a workhouse with 2 small children. Why didn't they just help her out lol!?

I found that one of my ancestors had a baby with his wives sister. The sister died and his wife ended up bringing up this child with all her other children!!! His name was on the birth certificate as if he were her husband!

WhyDidIEatThat Wed 24-Oct-18 23:47:27

Oh god I have the phone app! It’s amazing, in minutes (maybe an hour) can build massive hypothetical trees (mostly using info from trees of dna matches) placing various candidates in role of my maternal grandpa then assess the likely strength of my relationship to the match - not very scientific but one day something will fit? People are so helpful and share their private trees and photos and anecdotes. Photos are great, I’m no face ninja but even I can see a resemblance between my mum and some of those people.

That’s heartbreaking about the workhouse, whatever the moral standards of the day it’s very hard to understand that.

Loving ScotlandsPeople! Must not buy all the things I find there.

butterfly56 Thu 25-Oct-18 00:38:55

I started my family tree not thinking for one minute there would be stories about the difficult lives they had only going back one and two generations.
People being widowed in their early 20's(the husband dying from a broken leg). Remarrying a widower whose wife had died in childbirth at 20.
My great-grandmother being age 9 when both parents died within weeks of one another and she was looked after by 2 older sisters 18 and 20 who worked as paper bag makers.

Some of the stories were really sad, and some were funny. No scandals but a few surprises.

The only thing I cannot find is my great-grandfather's birth certificate...born in 1873(death certificate give his d.o.b.). He was jewish so he could have come from anywhere and the only problem is he has a really common surname so that's a dead end.

I have found it really interesting and I feel that in a way researching their ancestry has in some way made sure they are not forgotten.

I did go to Belgium to visit the Menin Gate(2names) and Tyne CoteCemetery(1 name) where 3 great uncles aged 18, 19, 21 their names appear on the walls...there are no graves for them as their bodies were never found.

That trip had a profound effect of me and will stay with me forever flowers

WhyDidIEatThat Thu 25-Oct-18 00:50:55

Butterfly 💐

The only ancestral thing that’s really properly broken my heart so far came via one of the dna circles that just popped up one day. 3rd gt grandma, Cherokee, photographed with 3rd gt grandpa in ? 1830 something. Really exciting because as far as I know it’s rarely possible to pinpoint Native American dna, it just gives massive regions. Mine says ‘north, central and south’ and colours in the whole entire continent. So it was fantastic to have a face and a name, her tribe, a list of descendants on the census roll thing etc etc but the more I read about it the worse it became. Not particularly for her, as far as I know, but other men in the family also married Cherokee women - after being so careful to keep marrying within the same families for like 200 years? I knew Cherokees were matrilineal but I didn’t know that meant women owned the houses and, crucially, the land. So those greedy fuckers, these specific individuals, who already had so much land married these women to secure more. And the women married them to escape the trail of tears, which obviously in a way that’s a better outcome. And it’s not that there’s any evidence these marriages were any worse or better than the ones before, it’s these women coming from a society of gender equality going into this system which ultimately excluded them from all power. I don’t think it sounds so bad written down like this but it feels horrible.

This is a better description: newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/the-power-of-cherokee-women-cguyNX91RE6asAyIQwYheg/

WhyDidIEatThat Thu 25-Oct-18 12:22:06

Bit morbid but anyone else ever find themselves thinking about how they’ll be an ancestor one day and wondering what their descendants will infer from whatever info survives?

Worldweary Thu 25-Oct-18 12:54:53

Doing my family tree has been like watching a film but with the reels all mixed up. That is, some family stories were sort of correct but not in the time order that was passed down. I've been amazed at how some stories don't get passed on from generation to generation. I did a Masters degree many years ago which required sitting in records offices and archives for hours and days on end, sifting through dusty documents the hard way. I was happily surprised when I started my own tree to find how much was online and how much continues to be added. Scotland's People has improved its offering a great deal in the last four years with different options for sifting. It is a money pit though. If you go off in the wrong direction it's a huge amount wasted on credits. Because of the different laws in Scotland about the information that was recorded on death certificates, when you do turn one up, it's really useful. However, they didn't start recording information as early as England did, which is frustrating. Irish records are very frustrating and sparse. With around 3m deaths and an ant heap of migration within Ireland and out of it it's impossible to look further back than the 1850's unless the family was rich and well-known. Wills have been very interesting. They tell you you are on the right track and have identified the right set of people. Some of them are (goulishly) hilarious. I laughed out loud in Lancashire Records Office office as my several times great grandad demanded in his will that someone's body be dug up as he hadn't paid back a loan of £100.

WhyDidIEatThat Thu 25-Oct-18 21:16:02

😀 must take a closer look at the wills ! In competitive ghoulishness I do love the death certificates (hypochondriac) although so many children dying of ear infections put me off after a while.

mateysmum Thu 25-Oct-18 21:25:01

I have a fabulous will from 1840 where the guy demanded his wife be chucked out of his house immediately on his death and the house secured, with his body in a lead lined coffin to be left in his bedroom. It was to be sneaked out in the night without anyone knowing and taken to Scotland for burial.
The executors managed to avoid most of the provisions of the will - including the one about the burial.
The "will" had to be recognised specially in court as it was never formally drawn up. The solicitor had refused to formalise it because the testator was behaving so badly towards his wife and family!
The wording of the "will" shows he was a pretty bitter and twisted old man who believed his wife had been unfaithful,but the children stood by their mother.

WhyDidIEatThat Thu 25-Oct-18 22:07:56

Ugh, the world is definitely a better place without him in it!

Land records are my enthusiasm of the day, lots of ancestors were given land by the government in return for military service (one only got fifty acres of swamp though). I never knew that was a thing.

SwedishEdith Sat 27-Oct-18 11:57:27

I'm in this phase now because I have no living relatives now who know very much. I get sidetracked by the Hoboken census records of 2nd cousins and then looking at the address on Google Earth.

WhyDidIEatThat Sat 27-Oct-18 17:10:56

Do they have addresses? I was looking at the first ever census of the US and it was only an index of heads of families, I found 5x gt grandfather but just his name and no info. How do you get into the actual documents?

SwedishEdith Sat 27-Oct-18 18:14:54

I'm only looking at what I find on Ancestry. Luckily, I've hit a rich seam of photos and documents from one part of my family - although not directly related ie down the cousin side. I wish someone had done all the donkeywork for me and I could find some info on my actual family.

WhyDidIEatThat Sat 27-Oct-18 21:33:37

Lots of people on ancestry volunteer their help, if you approach your dna matches or even just randoms via ‘community’ or member support or something. People generally very keen to help. Also wiki tree seems to have a ton of stuff?

I found the whole census www.census.gov/library/publications/1907/dec/heads-of-families.html so it’s not exactly hidden and I found my 5x gt grandpa and his 20 slaves, that’s quite high for the district, and it made me cry. Even though I know what things were like in that place at that time. Don’t know what I was hoping for? Abraham Lincoln owned slaves his whole life.

SwedishEdith Sun 28-Oct-18 15:59:19

Thanks. Not doing DNA but do find some people helpful at answering queries - usually along "I can confirm I can't help you" lines. grin

acivilcontract Sun 28-Oct-18 16:57:02

I moved to the US and started research, only to discover that in the 1840's ancestors moved to the same state from Scotland and then moved to Nebreska, founding a small town there. We have just come back from a trip to see it, it was very moving thinking about how long it took us to do the trip in a car knowing where we were going. Maybe it's a middle aged thing?

WhyDidIEatThat Sun 28-Oct-18 18:24:58

😂 wow, super helpful!

It’s extraordinary what our ancestors could be bothered to do, I try to invoke some of their enterprise and general spirit in daily life 😀 I have to think of them as a group though because the individuals don’t always seem real or relatable from my point in time and I’m not all that fair on them. Definitely definitely a middle aged (although I’m way beyond that) thing, I feel quite keen to check out some of their places.

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