I spent today researching family history--somebody else's. The other day I had been browsing around in census indexes and had come across someone I thought might be a part of a missing branch of my husband's family. I shot off an email to the RootsWeb email list for our surname to find out if anyone knew of this particular Zinkand. There aren't too many Zinkands, after all, so it's not too hard to keep them straight. I got an answer back from the man's son. He had enough details to tell me this wasn't our branch of the family. In the process of communicating, though, I realized he hadn't gotten far with his Zinkand family research and because of a broken family situation didn't even know his grandfather's name.
Just my sort of mystery!
So last night and today I sorted through online census images that I can access through Ancestry.com and through my local library system. I thought of every possible misspelling and misreading of the name as I ran wildcard searches and soundex searches through every database I could find. I went through church records and online family trees. I scoured images of old newspapers and looked at Social Security death records and military rolls. At the end of the day, I could not only tell the man his grandfather's name, I could tell him about his great grandparents and great great grandparents, too. We still need some birth and death certificates to firm things up, but I'm pretty sure I've got it right.
I love this stuff. I've got files full of information about generations of my family and my husband's. Some of them are little more than names and dates on a page. Others have flesh on those bones from the stories they left behind. There are kings and coal miners, bishops and fishermen, restless wilderness pioneers and settled lords of the manor. There is the first German settler in Pennsylvania, and the first English settlers of Massachusetts. There are lords and ladies and scoundrels and saints. Some were born in castles, others were born in cottages by the sea. One was born at sea! Welshmen, Manxmen, Norsemen, Frenchmen, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Narraganset Indians--all contributed to the blood that courses through our son's veins. On some lines I get stuck after three or four generations. On others I can go back over a thousand years. But I'm not going to be done until I get to Noah--on every line.
Every time I find a new piece to the puzzle and add to the known history of our family, I find myself in awe of the God who not only knows the sketchy details of these lives that I am able to uncover, but knows the very hearts of these men, women and children, and who decreed every detail of that history from the beginning. I scan these ages and wonder what purposes He had for these people and how His will was accomplished through them.
Sometimes, when I come across famous people, I think I can guess a bit of what God was doing in their lives. At other times I can see how a particular ordinary person altered the course of the family history. Sometimes I can only look at a family record and wonder. What values did this mother instill in her thirteen children? How did these parents bear loosing all five of their children and starting their family all over again? What was it like to tame a wilderness, go to war, or leave everything behind and risk life and limb in the hold of a leaky sailing ship? Did they think they were building a better life for their children and grandchildren? Did they hear God's promises of faithfulness to a thousand generations and think they were doing it for me? What did they imagine I would do with the freedom and prosperity they bought for our generation? Can I ever hope to live up to those expectations?
All this is yet another reminder that we ought to do all we do--even the ordinary things--to the glory of God. If He has not given us a wilderness to tame, but instead a laundry pile to conquer and a child to teach, let us launder and teach in His name with a mind to His eternal purposes. As we do this, let us trust that the Potentate of Time will weave our lives into that great tapestry that is His History, and in so doing will bring glory to His name and blessings to His people.
Related: Homeschooling High School: Family History Project Idea, Elder William Brewster in England, Elder William Brewster in Holland