At some point in my life, I jumped, whole-hog, on the genealogy bandwagon and started researching my family history with wild abandon. It’s just another of those many things I got passionate about at some point, but I still keep it up, and it has spurred much of my writing.
I was bored at some time in front of a computer screen with nothing else to do. It’s amazing what you can find on a computer and nothing but an endless sea of undedicated time in front of you. One thing tends to lead to another, and the www-part of the internet truly becomes web-like in how it stretches before you.
In any event, because of my work as a programmer, I’ve been involved with a programming bulletin board for years. It’s a spot where other SAS programmers can post a question, and other programmers will read it, converse with them, and give them samples of code that might eliminate their problem or answer their question. It’s a lovely Google group called SAS-L, which sends emails to people on a daily basis (in case you’re interested). I was looking for an answer to a particular programming problem I’d been having and reviewing answers. There was one programmer who routinely responded to people’s questions in a very thoughtful manner, and he answered lots of people’s questions. I wondered to myself: “What does this guy do? Does he just sit around and answer other people’s questions all day? Doesn’t he have a programming job like I do where he’s too busy to sit around and answer people’s questions?” Now, in twenty-two years of programming, it is a very, very rare day when I have time to sit around and read SAS-L, let alone answer other people’s questions.
I got intrigued with this guy. (Sorry, but I don’t even remember his name.) I looked him up on Google, and he had a web page where he had his entire family tree listed out. I mean, he had thousands and thousands of people’s names, dates of birth, etc. This was before ancestry.com and all of the lovely online trees and things that are available online and via social media. It was amazing that this guy had done all this documentation. He had a link to a website that was free from the LDS (Latter Day Saints), and I clicked on it. I looked up one great-grandmother’s name and low and behold; it gave me back her parents’ names and dates of birth. I had never heard their names or they were just distant faint memories. So I looked up their names and, again, I found their parents’ names and info. I kept doing this until I had a full page of notes on people’s names and info and I’d gone back to the 1700s in North Carolina. All of that was news to me.
I have kept up that frantic searching online ever since that time. It was very hot and heavy when I first started looking things up and interesting as all get-out. I’ve learned things about American history, unique localized history, and personal stories about ancestors from my family that I couldn’t have invented in the most amazing of fiction. Life truly imitates art, and it’s amazing what you can find in your family history.
Now I write about people’s histories in my fiction. I weave their stories in with fiction because a lot of the older folks from a family tree will never have their stories uncovered. They did live amazing lives and did things that would blow your mind. I encourage everyone to dig into family history. You don’t know what you might find, and if you like puzzles, it’s the most amazing, complicated, and confusing mystery made of real things and people that you could imagine. It’s a never-ending puzzle.