Family History Buff? Try Pocket Edition


When you’re grounded with foot surgery, what could be better than a compulsive genealogy project?

Chocolate, probably. Or binge-watching The Crown. Or ordering Pad Thai online.

But I’m happy to report that I took the high road and wrote the story of how my dad’s family came here from Czechoslovakia at the turn of the 20th century.

Truth be told, it was not so much the high road as a time-honored compulsion to discover one’s family story after the children are grown.

I remember when the genealogy bug bit my mom. Newly widowed and down-sized into an independent living facility, she ordered that all her family pictures and letters be crammed into four plastic under-the-bed chests.

“I am going to write my family history before I meet the neighbors,” she said.

An extrovert to the end, she produced one type-written page and left behind a myriad of snapshots labeled, if at all, with the date on which the picture was taken. Happily, a cousin of hers took over the project and hungrily grabbed all the bits and pieces she had for her side of the family.

Left behind were remnants from my dad’s side: some naturalization papers, a few birth certificates, more unidentified pictures, and a riveting description by a distant cousin of life in Czechoslovakia.

A quick glance at revealed that the family name – Ondo – was extra common in Czechoslovakia and that the Ondos had a bad habit – as my grandparents and their parents did – of naming every male in the family John, Paul, George or Michael.

“Good luck with that!” said a responsible genealogist friend. “You’ve got a lot of digging to do.” She said something about consanguinity charts and libraries and graveyards in any state where they’d ever mined coal, forged steel or raised chickens – all early occupations of my forebears.

I said “Of course!” and thought “No way!” To date, the most family history my children have absorbed is the family tree I’ve scribbled on a cocktail napkin in flight to a reunion.

So how to hook the Twitter generation on family history? Easy. Write a pocket edition that satisfies the universal hankering for in-the-genes brilliance.

With apologies to genealogists everywhere, I stuck to the generations of Johns, Pauls, Georges and Michaels I already knew about, pictured them once and threw in a few good stories. Not because I’m lazy. Certainly not!

Who cares to see a chart of third cousins once removed if you can know instead that great-great grandpa was a village blacksmith, smoked his own sausage and may have owned a tavern? Or that great grandpa skinned rabbits and made wine? Or that his oldest son (“the black sheep”) was a daring racecar driver? Or your second cousin (honest) is a rock drummer in Portland?

Isn’t it more important to know your great-uncles rose through the corporate ranks with elementary school educations and your grandpa was a stickler for hard work?

My dad, I might add, would have endorsed my pocket edition approach to his family. He had an opinion about genealogies.

“Don’t look too hard,” he always said. “You might find a horse thief.”

Copyright 2017 Pat Snyder




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