Harkening back roughly 220 years, and making reference to my own collection of 211 ancestors [ed.: the 11th generation, same for everyone, contains, logically, 2,048 individuals], I can point to the possibly desperate, though likely only enterprising, Abraham Tegarden. He and his wife Anna Albrecht left the forge and hearth in the Wupertal valley somewhere near Solingen for the ‘new’ territories which were ‘granted’ by the British Crown to the Calverts in Maryland. 1700s. The Tegardens set up shop in the hills north-west of Baltimore and proceeded to have a ton of children. Said children grew up and married fellow settlers, or descendants thereof from London, from towns in Germany, from where ever. It was a new world with different rules than were left behind in Europe.
These few are like the many, many small dramas that constitute one’s history. Similar stories abound from other branches: Those who wandered in from northern Norway via the St. Lawrence river to Minnesota and beyond, those who sought to flee the dead-end occupations of coal mining in Wales–only to end up coal mining in Kentucky! Enter the Spanish, the Finns, the Cherokee, the merchants, vagrants, farmers, Calvinists, Episcopals, atheists and many, many others. By the way, when I say “many“, I mean that, given 11 generations, I am talking about a total of 4,094 people, each with his or her own separate, self-involved dramas. I am not including my own separate, self-involved drama in that tally.
I would care to say that there was a time when I was intensely interested in genealogy. I had hoped to find myself in these invisible people from whence I came. It may sound presumptuous to conclude so, but I think that they probably knew as little about themselves as I did (and do) of my own self; they likely knew less about the world. I suspect that I am likely to make the same mistakes as each and every one of them did everyday of their lives. This, no matter how much I know about them.
Not to detract from the process of discovery, of course, but you will not discover much from genealogy but that you have elusive qualities that are simultaneously as unique as they are ubiquitous. Though I feel little affinity for my own ancestors, others have related to me that their histories inform them personally. Some people struggle with the knowledge about ancestors with questionable histories or questionable deeds; others find tremendous comfort in an accurate and plausible rendering of a family history, even if not noble or noteworthy. Many Americans I have spoken with about this topic seem to feel, if I interpret their responses rightly, that their ancestral history gives them a connectedness that would otherwise be missing.