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At the start of 2020, I found myself gravitating toward the word “meaning.” So much so that I made it my Word of the Year and blogged about it to keep myself accountable. Little did I know that in a few short months, the world would suddenly be focused on the smaller, more meaningful things anyway — health of loved ones, genuine quality time at home, all those fulfilling dreams we’ve pushed aside for “someday,” when we have more time or money, when the kids are grown, when we’re not pushing for a promotion.

One of the projects I added to my (ever-growing) list in January was to research my family tree. As a society, we find meaning in who we are, where we come from, how we were raised, and as an only child with family all across the country as well as a young woman with hopes to eventually continue a new family branch (don’t get too excited, friends — key word is “eventually”), I’m collecting old family stories of those who are gone, an ancestral guidemap to hand down to future generations.

See this guy? He’s my paternal grandfather, and he’d turn 105 years young today. A Second Lieutenant during World War II, school superintendent and master carpenter, he was the man who, in his eighties, built portions of my parents’ old basement. A stickler for education, he wisely advised me at fifteen to focus on school and “not go boy crazy.” (I didn’t always heed his advice. Some lessons are better learned firsthand.) He was an early riser, and he’s probably the reason why I wear so much plaid. He loved to pretend to catch my nose between his fingers when I was little and chow down on the breakfast spread at Old Country Buffet. He’s also often the family member others would say I most resembled.

If only we all had similar glimpses of our ancestors, generations back. In a few cases, I’ve been lucky to stumble upon more detailed life stories written by historians — as in the case of my great-great-great-grandfather, who founded the town of Bloomington, Illinois, and helped establish Illinois Wesleyan University in the early 1800s. But for many of my family members, the most I have are old census records documenting decades-long travel inland from the original colonies. And let’s not ignore the fact that tracking the lineage of female ancestors is much more difficult. Who are these women I come from? What are their stories?

(I’ll take this chance to remind you that 2020 is a census year. Do your duty!)

I’ve barely begun delving into my family’s history, but it’s already been such a rewarding (and, yes, tedious) project. My next questions: Did my family come from Ireland? What other nations are represented in my history? Where are the cities they lived in, the places that meant something to them? Did any have unbelievable love stories or war experiences or strokes of good luck? (I feel like I might need some good luck of my own to cross any of these questions off my list.)

Have you ever taken on a genealogy project? Discover a famous relative or cool story? Share in the comments — my fuzzy companion Cocoa Puff and I would love to hear!

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