When I was with my family in England over winter break, I found an envelope of family photographs which dated back to the last years of the Victorian era. I sat on the floor at the foot of my 102-year-old great-grandmother’s chair. She still knew every name of every person I asked her about, along with their family histories. This is one of my last bonding memories of her, alone together in her cottage in Great Bardfield, Essex, just asking her any question that came to mind. She always had an answer.
Today, when I put on “Great-ma’s” amethyst necklace or my great-great-grandmothers’ gold band wedding rings, the energy I feel shifts and I can feel them in the pendant. It feels daunting holding something of incredible meaning to an ancestor many years ago, but today, that meaning has changed.
“Great-ma” passed away two weeks ago and now we have lost a bridge to the past few generations of my British family. When “Great-ma” died, my grandma and I went straight to the little library of photographs, uncovering photos of her from when she was a young girl up to the last years of her life. These photos also give a glimpse of society at different times, based on attire, photo production, hairstyle or whether there are other people in the background.
There are two binders in my grandparents’ house full of family records, one for each side of the family. My grandpa’s lineage dates back to George Abbott, who was the first person in our family to immigrate to the U.S. from England; this makes me his thirteenth generation. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to obtain family records dating so far back. Not many people are able to, especially descendants of enslaved people and most immigrants. According to Kristen Green, family history websites such as Ancestry.com cater more toward white customers, as there is more documentation and family records, whereas black families have a harder time tracing their histories. The transatlantic slave trade separated uncountable families over hundreds of years, making it extremely difficult for descendants to truly find out where they came from.
There are other alternatives to finding family history readily available. Popular ancestry tests such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage have been sparking conversation lately. These tests are a growing business, as more people become curious about where they came from. People either get reaffirmed about their family history or their world completely changes. However, they are expensive, nearing $100. While these tests are beneficial when it comes to knowing what genes you have that could link to cancers, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s, etc., it should be affordable and not burn a hole in your wallet to find out this helpful information. It would be more beneficial for everyone to have access to their family records at affordable prices, but unfortunately it is a big business.
It is important to access information about your ancestors, as far as they can go with what resources are available to you. We all come from somewhere and everybody has a story to tell. If you are able to, go and look through your family photo albums, at your parents’, grandparents’, or great-grandparents’ houses and ask questions. Finding out about past relatives and their lives is one of the most life-changing things and makes you realize you have the weight of an entire lineage on your shoulders.