I’ve written a few times about the various projects I’ve been taking on lately and thought it was time for a progress report.

Relay For Life

I have initiated a RLF team at my church and have been working to recruit members for my team for the local Relay event. I have one other person on the team so far, and a few others on the fence about joining. The holidays are a difficult team to spring something new on people – especially when it involves money – so I’m not terribly discouraged that new members aren’t beating down my door. Build it and they will come.

I’ve already started fundraising, and find that it is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating to raise money for a good cause. I’ve been extremely lucky so far and have already reached my initial fundraising goal of $500, and have upped it to $1,000. Even better, over the weekend my sister volunteered to help sell Hope bracelets and earrings to raise money for my team, and she is on a tear. She has already texted me that she has sold everything I gave her. Yay! 

Family History Project 

This project is getting off the ground with a herky jerky motion – a bit like the Wright brother’s first attempts at flight I would imagine. That said, I am making progress.

A few weeks ago I dug through some boxes in the attic and found a tiny gold mine of photographs, an obituary for my great-grandmother, an oh so precious handwritten letter from my grandmother, and a few other treasures.

I also wrangled some formal given names from my Mom’s memory via email which are easier to research than “Great-Grandma Ella.”

Then, this past holiday weekend, a visit with my Dad produced a cornucopia of information. I learned a great deal about the family farm and how it came to be, and a bunch of things about my grandparents and my great-grandparents. I also got my hands on some great old pictures and found out who has more, and then – Cha-Ching! – my Dad produced two books that will be hugely helpful with background data – one on the County in which my family has lived for generations, and the other on the church that my great-great-grandparents help found. As if that weren’t enough, Dad, Little M, and I took a short drive down the road, and picked pears and pecans off trees on the farm that have been bearing fruit since my grandfather was young. A priceless outing. (And yes, I got pictures.)

Letter Writing Team

In October I joined the letter writing team at www.soldiersangels.org. Each week I receive the name and address of a new soldier (male or female) in one of the branches of the military, and I write them a letter of gratitude for their service. I have found this to be the most uplifting of my projects, but also the most difficult. It is a privilege to be able to write and express my gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy everyday. However, at the same time, it is incredibly difficult to find the right words, to figure out what to say and not feel like I am sounding like an idiot. You are told upfront when you join the team that you may not ever hear back from your soldiers, but that regardless if you do or not, the letters are invaluable and to keep writing. I have taken that message to heart and will keep writing and trusting that my letters are helpful…and hoping that I don’t sound like an idiot.

Decluttering

A few weeks ago my BFF, bouyed by the success of my yard sale back in early summer, agreed that we should have a sale together.  Get rid of stuff, make money, spend time with BFF. Hurray! 

Wait…now this crap has to sit in my basement until Spring? Boo!!!

I have discovered over the years that I am very much a light switch person. Either on or off. I’m fine with the stuff hanging around until I flip the switch in my mind and decide it has to go. Once I make that decision I want it gone yesterday, so the thought of having this stuff lurking around taking up valuable real estate (especially now since it is piled in the basement instead of stashed here and there) is slowly killing my sanity. In light of the impending sale, I’ve decided to take a break from serious work on decluttering until mid-January in order to preserve what is left of my mind. In January I will be a few weeks away from the sale and will be able to stack, sort, and price with abandon because I’ll know it will all go soon. Hurray!

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I took my laptop on vacation with me last week, not so that I could stay “connected”, but so that I could use spare moments to work on my ancestry project.

My husband is a horrible night-time sleeper, but a world class napper, so each day when he and Little M headed off for their afternoon naps, I grabbed the laptop and my pile of papers and got to work adding my peeps into my new family tree software.

As I worked, entering names, dates, and scraps of information pertaining to my relatives stretching back more than 300 years, it occurred to me that I’ve taken on a daunting task, but more importantly a fascinating and exciting one.

Unfamiliar names sparked my curiousity – Who were they? What did they do? What were there hopes and dreams for the future?

Some names brought to mind faded memories of long ago meetings, or snippets of conversation between closer relatives.

Then there were the names of my grandparents and great-grandparents – all are gone now. My grandparents I remember vividly and miss everyday. My great grandparents, those I knew well, are memories that fade in and out, some vivid, some ghost like. All are bittersweet.

As I add each name to my tree I realize once again how quickly time is passing, how quickly my own memories are fading, and how many of my family members and their stories are slipping away. That knowledge has only served to remind me of the importance of my project and the urgency attached to it.  One day when my daughter looks at those same names I want her to be able to have a sense of who they were and where she came from.

Well, today is my birthday and the official launch date of my family history project. Yay!

Now the work begins…

I pulled out that old photocopy of my paternal family history and noticed that 1) the last entries were handwritten in the early 80’s, 2) some of it is faded and difficult to read, and 3) really old photocopied paper makes yours fingers itchy.  Ah well, its a place to start.

My aunt put me in touch with a family cousin who is supposedly really into geneology and has been keeping up with the itchy paper side of the family. I sent her a “may I pick your brain (and files)?” email this morning. Then I sent out an email blast to a large chunk of both my side of the family and my husband’s announcing my project, and asking for any help they could give, and warning them that I would soon be pestering them for info.

My husband has been out of town on business since Wednesday so I haven’t even told him about the project yet. Surprise! Tonight’s dinner conversation should be interesting. I think overall he will be pleased though as he knows very little about his ancestry.

Wish me luck on my project, and if you have any tips on geneology research I’d love to hear them!

A number of years ago (before the days of personal computers in every home) my Dad gave me a photocopy of my paternal family history dating back before the Revolutionary War and involving a land grant from the King of England. At the time I thought it was “really cool” and read through the whole thing, then took it home and filed it away. I’ve pulled it out once or twice since then and flipped through it, and then returned it to its folder. 

Years later my Mom gave me a copy of my maternal family tree dating back to our original clan in Scotland. That family tree is handsomely framed (thanks Mom!) and hangs above my great-grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. Occasionally I’ll have a look at it, find my grandfather’s name, and look at all the brackets of family members that came before him, and wonder. 

From time to time over the years I’ve thought a lot about examining those two family histories, researching them further, updating them, and putting them together in some kind of cohesive fashion, but life always got in the way. Lately, however, I’ve starting thinking about this again, and more urgently. 

Having had Little M a bit later in life than expected, I’ve begun thinking about the importance of having a family history available for her to know where she came from. The more our society becomes digitally connected and less face-to-face connected, the more priceless that sense of history, roots, belonging becomes…at least to me anyway. 

Another thing I’ve thought about is how much I’d love to explore the countries of my ancestry. I’m English, Irish, and Scottish. At a recent networking event related to my day job, I met a woman who was born in Scotland, but has lived stateside for three decades. She still had a lovely Scottish lilt and just listening to her speak had me mentally packing a suitcase and boarding a plane with Little M in hand and my husband bringing up the rear. 

To my knowledge my husband’s family doesn’t have an assembled family history, but it’s a question I’m about to ask. 

I’ve read a lot the last few months about yearlong projects people have undertaken in every conceivable category, and have thought a lot about what I would do as a project without great results. Thinking about my family tree, that lovely Scottish lilt, and what a wonderful gift a sense of history would be for my Little M would be (especially since we live so far away from most of our relatives), I think I’ve find my project.

Friday is my birthday and what better time to start? I’ll devote an hour a week minimum to the project.  I’ll pull out my the family history my Dad gave me, photocopy the family tree in the living room, send out some email inquiries and see where it gets me. I’ll even start a spreadsheet to track my efforts, and maybe a page here, and next August 27th we’ll take a look at my progress.