It is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times to Research Your Family History, by Michigan Swamp Buck

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Gone are the days of the nuclear family. With high divorce rates, remarriages, single parents, and the legalization of same sex marriages, the family unit as it was once known is becoming a rare thing in the 21st century. Although these changes have brought more choices and variation in family structure, there have been losses from abandoning the traditional family unit. One loss is the traditional family value of knowing your family’s history and lineage. Knowing who you have descended from and the history surrounding their lives provides a foundation of pride and strength that many families have lost touch with in our current era. Knowing this personal family history not only gives strength to the individual but brings to life the unique history we all share in the United States. Losing this personal connection to the past can leave us weakened and indifferent to the reality of history and open to revisionists who seek to change it to suit their agendas. In essence, the survival of our family history helps to ensure our survival as individuals as well as the survival of our western lifestyle.

I’m what you might consider old now, as I’ve passed the half-century mark. My family has been scattered to the four winds with the oldest members long dead. Our family has almost completely lost touch with each other, and those who are left have little or no memory of who and what our family is about. As disconnected and dysfunctional as my family has become, there was a time when we were much tighter.

Back in the 1970s, we would frequently gather on the family farm owned by my grandparents and attend a yearly family reunion organized by my great aunt. When they passed the family reunion torch to my father, it lasted for a few years into the early 1980s, but he gave up due to low interest and attendance numbers. I believe that was the decade when things began to totally fall apart concerning my family. All my immediate family had moved away, I lost three grandparents and a number of older relatives that decade. The 1990s saw my parents get divorced. I lost my last grandparent in 2003 and my mother in 2009. Few are left who may remember our family history, and most of the rest don’t know it or even care to.

Since then, I’ve had the unusual luck to have recovered my grandparent’s photograph and document collection from both sides of the family. I saved them from poor storage conditions and situations that would have soon found this valuable collection in the trash heap. At that time, I felt compelled to compile the information chronologically and digitize the entire archive. I also have endeavored to make a complete family tree to trace the family back to at least their original country of origin. I’ve found out many things that were not only unknown to me and my surviving family members but unknown to those who had kept the family unified back while they were still alive. Some of things included the fact that two of my father’s ancestors came over to the new world on the Mayflower and an ancestor on my mother’s side helped found Jamestown.

As worthy as the family tree and archiving project is to me, it has proved to be a huge undertaking. It has, at the very least, put me more in touch with my closest family members, a couple of cousins, and a few extended family members I never knew existed. Fortunately, I was blessed by my father’s interest in photography. His collection of photos and his organizational bent was very helpful in my own archival endeavors, making it much easier on me to organize and to remember the good old days growing up in the 1970s. As much time and effort as I have devoted to preserving the family’s history covering the past century (and more), I’ve managed to work on my own collection of photos and videos and make more sense of my own immediate family history.

In my intensive efforts to preserve my family history, the use of our expanding digital technology, the Internet in particular, has made it easier than ever to research our family trees and the history surrounding them. In years gone by, this research required a huge amount of time, effort, and expense to do. Before the digital age we are currently in, you would have to find your research material by going to various libraries, historical societies, and churches all over our country and beyond. I’m extremely grateful for all the research that had been undertaken by so many in those years to document and preserve that information so that we may access it so easily today.

I started my family tree by utilizing the resources of Ancestry.com that offers an initially free service. I worked like crazy to complete as much of my family tree as possible during the free period. If you continue with the unpaid membership, you retain your tree and research and can continue to work on it without the use of their resources. However, there are many free family tree services and historical reference materials available online to continue the research started on Ancesrty.com in addition to the fact you can renew your paid membership for short periods of time when needed. Other free resources available online are the numerous stories and photograph collections of other people. I’ve found it quite useful to do online image searches to fill in the gaps of my family photographic archives, especially those years in my life where photos and videos are lacking for me. It was during this research that I began to think that perhaps the days of reliable online research may soon come to an end concerning the history of how things used to be back in the day.

Since an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was passed in 2012, it is now legal for the U.S. government to overtly publish propaganda. Also, there has been this latest push to censor the so called “fake news” offered by sources other than the tightly controlled main stream media. Factor these things into the now changing family unit and efforts toward the new revisionist history and it can be surmised that our sources of reliable online information may soon become diminished.

Although it has not yet come to the point of being unable to find our neglected family histories online, I feel that it has become important for us to recount our life’s experiences before the new “Ministry of Truth” changes our past for our children, our grandchildren, and the future generations yet to come. As an example, one of my recent areas of study has been the points of interest we visited during our family vacations back in the 1970s. Those memories I’ve been reassembling are things like historical markers, amusement parks, and tourist “traps” that are now long gone, currently abandoned, or are being removed due to politically correct sensitivities. There may well come the day where those things will be considered forbidden knowledge that will cause unrest to a population subdued by a lowered standard of living and by a government bent on control. It’s not beyond possibility that in the near future such extravagant excesses of capitalism, free travel, and independent thought are eliminated and erased from the memory of the public’s mind in order to control the masses who have lost touch with their personal family histories.

This brings me back to the main points about my research. It seems obvious to me, and there is evidence to support my contention, that there has been an ongoing effort in our country to subvert the traditional family unit and revise our country’s history, since before I was born. It also seems that those efforts have been gaining ground and momentum in recent years. Regardless of the “how” and “why” these things are happening, it cannot be easily denied that the family unit and our collective history has undergone many changes that have caused us as a nation to lose ground in remembering and preserving our history.

As important as the preservation of our family history is to our country and way of life. Our individual family stories can be related to our own personal survival as well. Most, if not all, American families have ancestors who have lived though hard times and adversity and who have ultimately allowed us to come into existence. By and large today’s Americans are derived from groups of people who lived through times and situations that rival the most difficult survival scenarios we could imagine and that we might have to endure in this day and age. From European immigrants fleeing poverty and oppression in the Old World to Native Americans surviving genocide and Africans forced into generations of slavery; for the longest time most had to endure impossible odds and extreme conditions to survive. Those personal family stories must be preserved, honored, and even celebrated so that we will remember that we have come from people who had the strength and will to survive such unforgiving circumstances and that we have that same ability to overcome when times get tough once again.

To summarize, the survival of our history is just as important as, if not more than, our own physical survival as individuals. This issue goes well beyond our own personal survival to the survival of our unique way of life and our survival as a country as a whole. What future will we have without our past? These are the best of times to do the research needed to reassemble the forgotten and missing pieces of our collective histories and to preserve them for future generations before they are changed and lost forever. This is also quickly becoming the worst of times, as censorship and revisionist histories are working against our efforts to remember and preserve our vanishing family histories. As easy as it has become to do such research, I fear it will not last, as fewer and fewer people have the interest or the time to invest in such a project. However, I believe it is worthwhile on a personal level as well as on a universal one.

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