Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Looking For Answers About The Past, By Talking With People Living in the Present

     When I begin researching my mother’s side of our French Creole ancestry in Louisiana, I was reminded by several whom I spoke with that finding anything worthwhile or even important about our ancestral past was most likely going to be a challenge.  People tend to become a little nervous and even a little suspicious about individuals delving around in their past. 

     In a way, I believe that was their way of telling me not to go looking for anything that might cause problems for the family. Funny how folks think of the worst when venturing into ancestral history.  For me, that was some 20 plus years ago. Back then, I just wanted to know and understand how my mother’s, mother’s Nellie Mathieu and her surname “Mathieu" (French) for Matthew, came to be. What I would later discover was some very interesting history behind this particular surname and the family’s progenitor from which the name came. 
      One day, I remember a good friend of mine showed me a document that traced his family’s ancestry back several generations and the stories he knew of their lives caused me to wonder why there weren't any stories about my family that were written down and organized the way my friend’s family history was.  So I decided to start what I had hoped would be the beginning of my research, documenting what I knew about my family and the many relatives I came to know growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana.
     At first, I tried to imagine what I wanted to accomplish as I started to record the basic facts about my relatives. As time went on and the further back I went those, relatives became known as ancestors. I began by listing all the names of my siblings, their dates of birth and anything I could remember about their lives. It was pretty easy since I was the eldest of Albert Henderson's and Frances Phillips's eight children.  

My first attempt at building my Ancestral Family Tree
     Next, I listed the names of my parents' brothers and sisters and what I knew of them.  That too was pretty easy. However, I needed my parents' assistance in determining their siblings ages, dates for birth and information of those who had already passed away. It was at that time the reality hit me as each of my aunts and uncles got older and were beginning to die off.  All of what they knew about life and living back then would be forever gone.  A tremendous sense of urgency came upon me as I tried to collect as much information as I could from all that I knew who were still alive. Many would say it appeared as if I was on a mission.  Little did they know, what was happening to me was an appreciation for genealogy and the recording of one's own life stories. 

 I did not realize it at the time, but what I was doing in those initial days was gathering the facts about the different family lines that would later help me to formulate questions that would drive my research towards finding answers to questions that those alive knew little about. I was becoming the family’s historian, of sorts.
      As time when on, I wanted to become more organized with the information I had gathered. I began to read books about the art of genealogy.  I did not know then what impact this research would have on my personal development.  However, what I was learning was history about my own family.  

     History was one of those subjects in school that I paid little to no attention to. As I think back I now believe I know the reason. Like many other students, I felt a disconnect to the past and was not able to relate to the lives of those being studied. The few persons of interest who looked like me or were mentioned were somehow always displayed as being someone of little to no significance. Now that I’ve been  able to trace several generations of family members who lived, worked and died in the state of Louisiana, with it’s rich history, I have a different perspective on history and the value it has played in the lives of my family members.

     As I delved deeper into the understanding of how my Louisiana Creole family developed over the years, there were questions I came up with that neither my mother nor father could answer. Over time, this sense of urgency to know the answers increased. So, I sought answers from other family members. Time was passing, and I wanted to gather any bit of information these family members could share because I knew it would help me as I continued my research.  

       Years later, I met for the first time a distant cousin on my mother's side of the family,  whom I later discovered was doing similar family history research. She provided information about additional generations to my family tree that was beginning to developing rather nicely. She also became that one family member who would share with me for the first time, a bit of oral history that would cause me to continue my research and that would take me all the way back the both the French and Spanish Colonial periods in Louisiana's History.

No comments:

Post a Comment