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March 3, 2013

What Would You Do With a Genealogy Time Machine?

Wouldn't you love it if Time Machines were available? I think all genealogists, archaeologists and historians would. So let's pretend we are being given the opportunity to use one.

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

My first thought was to hop out Guelph way to 1847 which is when my Irish ancestor 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


Unknown said...

OMG - Where would I start? I like the camera idea. First pop into the life of William Powers in Canada and Buffalo, New York to find his family, then to Julius Rhaesa in Luxembourg to find him on the ship to America and finally to Germany - Biesenrod and Buhren to take pics of the family villages. Oh and if there is still time left to Thompson Run in VA to see my Thompson family.
Are you sure we can only have 24 hours????

Iva Green said...

I think my first stop will be my brick wall...John Glen and the christening of his son...The first and only information I find on him before two of his children come to America by boat from Ireland...Since there is no mention of his wife, maybe I will learn her name, where they came from and where they went as there are no family members buried in the town in Ireland where the christenings took place. Next, stop would be England and Green's Norton, The day Walter de la Zouche was given his land by his father Alan de la Zouche, and be came Walter de la Greene de Boughton/Boketon becoming the first de la Greene de Boketon. I would like to find out the name of his wife. My final stop would be North Carolina. I would love to see my Cherokee ancesty and the women who dared to learn to read and write in English and study the Bible. Then teach their husbands the Chief's and her children.

CallieK said...

Like you I have an brick wall with one line of family that I believe came to Canada from Ireland. I'd head to Montreal, where Joseph McCluskey and Catharine Robinson were married at Christ Church Cathedral on July 25 1843. It is the first record I have for this family and the only one I have of Joseph who was dead by the 1861 census (1851 census is missing for the place they eventually settled.) The witnesses names don't seem to be family related but maybe I'd see or hear something to point to their origins/ names of parents or even to make a guess at the age of the bride and groom.

Next one is a little trickier but in the same area. I'd love to drop in on the wedding of John McCluskey (son of above)and Lizzie Macvicar on Mar 15 1875 to see if any of her siblings attended. Lizzie's mother died young leaving Lizzie an infant, and at least 2 older siblings who vanish after the 1861 census.

If I still had time I'd whip over to Huddersfield England on Sept 25 1839 to be present at yet another wedding, this of Anne Richardson Bamforth and Thomas Kilner. Unlike the previous weddings, I have no lack of info on these ancestors but I would just like to be able to witness this particular event because I have a copy of Anne's journal which details the wedding (an elopement!) and following honeymooon journey.

Kristin said...

I think I will have to sleep on this and plan it out. I would hate to look back and decide I should have done it different.

Cheri Hopkins aka You Go Genealogy Girl #2 said...

What an awesome idea! I have to now write my own story as you have opened up that can of worms for sure. We have all probably given this a bit of thought(although not in as much context as presented here)- as we wished for answers and photos. You have inspired some thought from us all, I can see 'sleep' not coming along easy this night...where shall I go first? Thanks for the great idea and for taking us along on your time machine!

Diane B. said...

I would drop in to the home of William Sutton in Sussex County, NJ, to see what I could learn about his ancestors to prove or disprove the connection back to Suttons arriving from England in the 1630's.
Then I would zoom over to Devon England to see how the Chick family lived in Yarnscombe. And while I'm on that side of the ocean, I would try to find my Heck ancestors in Ireland whose confusing family has had me scratching my head for years.

Anonymous said...

I would take my digital camera back to the day when my grandfather, Silvestro Cappuzzo, was born in Rovigo, Italy, and take photos of all of the entries in the church record books relating to his (my) family.

Unknown said...

I think I'd go back to 1783 when my ggg grandfather was born in MD. I know his father is suppose to be Samule Caple of 1752 by why didn't his parents get married unti 18 something. Hopefully I'd learn the awnser to why they had 3 boys before their marriage as stated in a court document years later. And perhaps I'd learn for sure who Samuel's parents were and his wife Mary Cole.

Next I'd go to Le RAy, New York. around 1824 when Rueben Phillips was courting or getting married to Sarah O'hara. I'd love to find out who is family was.

Then I'd dash over to Boone County, Indiana to the day my gg grandparents were wed. I'd love to know who Jonathan Harden's parents were and if I couldn't learn that maybe I'd at least hear where he'd come from.