March 3, 2013
What Would You Do With a Genealogy Time Machine?
Here are the rules of the Time Machine:
1. You can travel to any year you wish
2. You can travel to any geographic location you wish
3. You only have the time machine for 24 hours
4. You will be invisible to those you encounter so it will be challenging or impossible to interact with them
5. Be cautious about bringing back mementos. Any action you take may affect the present timeline. As an example you decide to grab that precious family bible and bring it back to the future. But the loss of the bible creates a huge fight in the family and one of the sons (your direct ancestor) storms out and never returns home. He does not marry the girl next door (your ancestor) and thus his future changes. So when you return to your present time, nothing is as you left it.
So - what are you going to do with your Time Machine?
I had so much trouble deciding what to do and where to go. There are three ancestors I desperately want to visit but doubt I have time to see them all in 24 hours.
McGinnis Family Guelph 1849
Joseph McGinnis arrived from Ireland. But then I realized that without knowing his exact date of arrival the chances were good that I'd get there before he did! And even if he were there with his wife Fanny and toddler Delia, what are the odds he'd be sitting around reminiscing about the good ole days in Ireland?? Because what I want to find out from him is the name of his parents, or siblings and maybe even the town in Ireland he came from.
Then I had another thought - he and Fanny baptised my great-grandfather Alex in the Church of Our Lady in Guelph in 1849. There must have been a party, a celebration of some kind. I wouldn't be surprised if family members went to the church to witness such an occasion. Decision made, my first stop is going to be that christening in the church. Maybe I'll even follow the family back to their log cabin in Puslinch after the ceremony. I bet there's a gathering at their home and hopefully he'll greet someone with "Good to see ya Uncle xxx!"
Even if attending the party as an invisible guest doesn't yield any further information, I'm going to try to take some photos with my digital camera. Wow wouldn't that be cool? At the very least I'll get to see what my 2nd great grandparents look like.
Once I decided on that course of action my mind began whirling, and I started second guessing myself. Maybe I should make my first stop a wedding of an ancestor. After all, weddings bring dozens of family members together! I could run around taking pictures but I might not figure out who everyone is.
So my first stop is definitely my great-grandpa's christening in 1849.
My Mohawk Ancestor 1640s or Jacob Peer 1790s?
Then I have to choose between trying to find out more about Ots-Toch, my Mohawk ancestor born ca 1620 in what is now New York state, or Jacob Peer, who cannot be found before 1793 in New Jersey. I'd sure love to know who his parents were! Or his wife Anna's maiden name.
Decision made - I doubt I'll learn anything more genealogically about Ots-Toch although it would be fascinating to see how she lived before and after her marriage to the Dutchman Cornelis Van Slyke. So I'm going to hop down to New Jersey to September 1793, specifically to NewTown, Sussex County where I know Jacob Peer and his older sons were being taxed. My goal for this part of my time machine travel is to look for a family bible. It's a long shot but Jacob and most of his sons left wills and that makes me think they might be the kind of ancestors who also kept a family bible with births, marriages and deaths in it.
At least I'd get to see their faces and hang around for a few hours to see how they lived. But once again I'm torn in my decision-making! I do know the exact date and location one of Jacob's sons was married. Would it be wiser for me to attend that wedding to see if any of the guests are family members? I think that's a bit of a gamble because maybe there were no relatives living nearby (other than siblings I already know about) or maybe the couple ran off and married quietly that day with no family in attendance.
And then just as I was about to end this blog post, I had another thought - what if I took my digital camera and simply hopped from place to place, from year to year - popping in and taking photos like crazy of each of my ancestors. I'd build quite a collection in 24 hours! And it would be so amazing to be able to see so many of those lost faces. I could run around New Amsterdam (now New York City) snapping photos of all my Dutch ancestors who settled there in the 17th Century. I could go on to various parts of Ontario Canada where many of my father's ancestors settled. It would be kind of like speed dating which I've never participated in but I've read about it) except I'd be speed ancestor hunting.
Having a Time Machine at my disposal might not be quite so much fun as I originally thought! I'd have to do a lot of planning - figure out where ancestors were (exact locations) on precise days and years. And that takes me back to choosing weddings, funerals and baptisms as my best bet for finding certain ancestors and family members. So that's my choice. I'm going to time travel to as many celebrations where my ancestors were involved, and take as many photos as possible while eavesdropping to try to hear names of other family - parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so on.
It was fun writing this and letting my imagination go wild, but I'm curious to hear what you would do with a Time Machine!
Log Cabin drawing by Brian Massey of AncestorsAtRest
Time Machine image by Salvatore Vuono, on FreeDigitalNet