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Jeb Bladine: Past connections open door to whole new set

My recent peek into one family attic produced much nostalgia, and, ultimately, recognition that genealogy is a complex pursuit.

I wouldn’t call genealogy a hobby, but I do enjoy delving into records created by other family members. I haven’t joined the millions of Ancestry.com subscribers, or sent my DNA for testing, but I have traced recent generations of the family through FindaGrave.com.

This adventure unfolded in the small town of Comanche, Texas, where my great-grandfather sired seven children, then died suddenly at age 44.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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I drove to the intersection where stood the house in which his widow raised my grandfather and his siblings, and later took in boarders. I also visited the small, fourth-generation family newspaper, which published a wonderful story about that house when it was torn down in 1959.

Nathan Lents, writing this year in Psychology Today, began his analysis of genealogy by observing: “We put up pictures of our great-great-grandparents, whom we never met and are long dead, and bore all of our houseguests with their stories. But what does it all really mean?”

Many family trees, wrote Lents, are genetically thwarted by mistaken identities, misspelled names, misattributed paternity, secret family adoptions and even forged records. Still, the stories fascinate us.

We discover sources of family pride, but can’t share the credit. We may find reason for shame, but shouldn’t feel guilt for past sins. We notice connections to cultures that have no role in our lives today, but we also develop new and lasting relationships.

Genealogy, as I found in Comanche, is the universal ice-breaker for new connections and relationships. I talked for an hour to the widow of my second cousin, for example, and shared stories with the owner of the newspaper about that 1959 house article.

At a small gathering, a man walked up to me with an outstretched hand and a big smile, saying, “I just wanted to meet you … I bought your granddaddy Ossie’s car.” We laughed and talked at length about that old, tarp-covered DeSoto stored in the dusty garage I rummaged through as a child.

Of course, we aren’t related. Or, as Dr. Lents would say, we actually are.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.
 

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