Thursday, December 28, 2006

The journey "re-begins"

I've chosen the word "re-begin" since I made quite a headway with my family's genealogy starting in 1998. I worked on this project for about two years and put it aside in mid-2000. So this blog is a way for me to make journal entries on my efforts to learn more about my family and perhaps more about myself.

I've always identified more with the Austin part of my family, mainly my mother's family. In 1998, Mom gave me a photocopy of a genealogy that the family had printed back in 1916. It is entitled "Genealogy of David Putman and His Descendants" and was compiled by George W. Putman. George W. Putman is my 2nd cousin 5 times removed and was born in 1838. It was fairly common in the first 20 years of the last century for families to research and print up their own family histories - partly in an effort to demonstrate that they were more "American" than recent immigrants.

My latest motivation to pick up this project again is somewhat personal but one that should be shared. Over the past six years, as my mother's Alzheimer's Disease has taken its natural progression, I have felt more and more separated from my family, despite more frequent trips back to upstate New York. In 2006, I made at least five trips to clean out my mother's house and to sort through 30 years worth of pictures, clothes, jewelry - the detritus of a life put on hold while my mother took care of her own grandmother and great aunt. But as my mother's world grows smaller day-by-day, I'm committed to expanding my own world of knowledge about her ancestors.

Ask any of her siblings, all nine that are still living, and they'll tell you about "Ma" and "Pa" - my great-grandparents John Ralph Austin and Therese McGinnes Austin. They were a big influence in my life and I had the privilege of knowing them before they passed on. They were strict, they were funny, they were very opinionated and rather conservative; they taught us the right way to hold a fork, how to say "please" and "thank you", how to handle many different social situations; they taught us how to get by and make a buck seem like a buck fifty, how to grow and can your own food, how to appreciate simple things like plumbing, electricity and telephone (do you remember their double-seater outhouse? or the 8-party line?). These are the people that we all thought about when at a family gathering we identified ourselves as "Austins."

The photo above is of John Ralph Austin at age 18 months.

So, with my new copy of genealogy software, my old database files, and a huge storage box of mementos, pictures, diaries, and notes, I'm off on the journey.

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