While weeding in the mulched beds in the semi-cool of the day, I came across a particularly insidious patch of Bermuda creeping into the neat row of shrubs. I noticed that by pulling at the farthest ends where the Bermuda had not entrenched itself too deeply into the soil just yet, I was able to pull from there to get to the next knot of vine-like shoots. Knowing that I may never get all those roots fully sorted out but continuing to work from the ends back to the thickest part in a systematic way, I loosened the dirt at each junction to get to the next.
Researching your genealogy works much the same way. By starting at the newest end, yourself, and working your way backwards bit by bit to the knottier roots, you can dig in and unravel parts at a time. Sometimes it goes quickly, when one end loosens and new clues lead in quick succession to the next. At other times it seems as though you are never going to get to the root of it all, but you keep trying. When one knot seems particularly hard to unravel, go to another point and systematically work your way back to the cluster. Just as it is with weeding the garden, you find another loose end in your family history and work backwards or sideways until the weeds give way. If you dive into the knottiest end of the weeds first, digging them up by the roots seems impossible. In the outdoor garden, it’s true that if you do not dig up the weeds by their roots, the weeds will grow back, but resist the temptation to start there when working through your family’s past. Grab hold of the ends and let them lead you where you need to go.
Are you ready to know what will be uncovered in your family garden? It can get messy! The legends you’ve heard may be just that–legends only. The truth will reveal itself in the documents. Be respectful of your great-aunt’s fading memories but quietly question everything you hear. Get the documention to back up or refute those claims you’ve heard time and again. Maybe you’ve been told your family came from Ireland during the potato famine, or that your family descends from some famous person in the history books. Really? How do you know? Let the family stories guide you but not blind you to the truths about your ancestral past.
Be ready to accept what you find because there will be surprises along the way. Some of those surprises can be found in the lives of your parents and grandparents. You thought you knew everything, but a closer look lets you know you missed the obvious clues. Just as with pulling those nasty weeds from the mulch, you will reveal some dirt but also the beautiful plants that grew from those roots. How did they survive the heat of their lives, the dry spells, the cold? As you dig, one thing leads to another. You may never unravel it all, but there is satisfaction in the digging and ultimately finding the roots of your being.