Who will tell your story when you’re gone?

The study of Genealogy started in the Middle Ages with the sole objective of recording a direct link of descendants or lineage of kings, rulers, and nobles and to prove a legitimate claim to land, wealth, and power. Contemporary Family History differs from previous positions of Genealogy in that modern family historians look to broaden their understanding and knowledge about their ancestors and not only to record data related to their birth, marriage, and death. Although both terms are currently used interchangeably.

Those who love genealogy would tell you that every family has a family historian who willingly records data related to their family and keeps alive their link with the past. I am proud to say, that in my family, I am the family historian. That said, the study of my family history is the longest project I have ever worked on.

From an early age, I remember my dad’s conversations about the story of his ancestors. He used to tell me and all of those who showed even a minimal amount of interest in the subject, how in the late 1800s his great-grandparents emigrated from Milan, Italy to Mexico. He was very passionate about this topic, so it was very common for him to talk about it for hours at a time.

At our house, inside a locked bookshelf with glass doors, he had a dedicated compartment that was separated from the other books, in which one of his most precious treasures sat. It was a limited edition book and the only copy in town where the author, a descendant of one of those Italian families, narrated the adventures of many Italian families that immigrated to Mexico. In one of the chapters, there was a list with some of the names of the families that founded the Italian Colony where my family migrated. The list included the name of my great-great-grandfather and his family and the only clue that proved that the story told by my father was true.

When I was 4 years old, my dad’s mother died and her dresser was moved into my bedroom. It was a beautiful antique, made with dark wood, small drawers, and a very charming mirror. I remember moving some of my belongings into the bottom drawer on the right when I found a small cardboard box filled with lots of old photographs. Nobody seemed to know the identity of the people in the pictures, so I was allowed to keep them. I don’t know why a 4-year-old would save a bunch of old pictures with unfamiliar faces and places, but I did. I think that was the first time that the family historian inside me manifested itself. From time to time, I used to look at the pictures and try to find familiar faces, but my brain wasn’t mature enough to figure out the puzzle within.

I grew up in a very small town, surrounded by lots of people that my dad told me to call aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was hard to understand the family links I had with all of them, but I never questioned him. Ten years had to pass by for me to develop a strong enough interest and finally start asking questions. At 14 years old, I bought a small notebook, filled it with lots of questions, and walked to my oldest aunt’s house; she was about 75 years old. She had white skin, green eyes, and very light-colored hair. She and I were so different that people wouldn’t have known that we were related just by looking at us. But looking different wasn’t a new thing for me, since my sister and I are so different. I have dark skin and she is blonde. My aunt was very excited to share her knowledge of the family with me. She gave me so many names that I had never heard before and helped me create my genealogical tree. That notebook was the beginning and foundation of my investigation, and to these days it is the base of my research.

I got busy with my life as a teenager and then my college years came.  Every once in a while I found a clue or a piece of information, but the years went by really quickly. My elders began to die and I started to feel that they were taking a piece of the puzzle that I was trying to put together. I hit a wall for so many years, the investigation wasn’t easy and my family members weren’t contributing any new information.

When I moved to the US in 2006 I considered my project as being abandoned. So far from home, how could I continue my search? Then, my dad passed away in 2010, and I felt like I owed it to him to continue with the project. I realized that the internet had opened up a vast amount of information for family researchers. I discovered that websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry held information related to documents and that I could look for these without leaving my house or having to travel to Mexico. This is the exact moment when I became a serious family researcher.

I started with what I knew from my interview with my aunt and some of the information found in the book my dad so carefully guarded. I was able to find the month and year that my family’s ancestors arrived in Mexico, so I began my search using the town’s civil and religious registries from February 1882. I looked page by page and found some names of families that weren’t included in the book and some names related to my family research. I started to write and document everything and rebuild the story of the colony and its people.

This adventure started with me only being interested in researching my heritage, but suddenly I was interested in so much more. I wanted to know who all of these families were and the circumstances that made them leave their country of origin and migrate to an almost inhabitable place. Then with the invention of social media sites like Facebook, I was able to communicate with my relatives, ask questions, and confirm some of my findings. I’ve been religiously looking on the internet for more than 10 years, so now I have so much information that I could even write a book. 

A couple of years back, I took an Ancestry DNA test, it revealed so much about my genetic makeup that energized me to broaden my investigation and begin researching my mom’s family history. I gave up on the idea of writing a book since genealogy information is updated so frequently. So I learned WordPress and created a family history blog where I can share information with all of those interested almost immediately.

I recently read a phrase that says “Who will tell your story when you’re gone?”. I hope someone in future generations will have the same interest I have in this project and continue to expand the data that I will leave behind when I pass away. At this point, I am 43 years old and I can spend hours talking about my ancestors as my father used to do. Genealogy is a never-ending topic in my life and a big obsession, so I could spend the rest of my life looking for more information trying to honor and remember those that came before me.

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