In a few hours, I will mix myself a dirty gin martini with three olives, settle into my favorite chair and watch the premier episode of this season’s NBC series, “Who do you think you are?” I mention the martini because, for some reason, I started drinking them on Friday evenings after a long day at work, and coincidentally, about the time that the NBC series first started nearly two years ago. That’s the same time I became motivated to start researching my own family history.
I’ve always had a passing interest in my family tree. I can’t say I was ever as interested in New Mexico history – until now. It has become obvious that I had to understand New Mexico history in order to put my own family history into the proper context. For example, I am currently reading “Gateway to Glorieta,” a history of Las Vegas, NM, by Lynn Perrigo. With each page, I’m beginning to have a better understanding of what my Gallegos, DeTevis, Cordova, Alires, Trujillo and many other ancestors were going through at the turn of the century: The arrival of the railroad; constant drought and, ironically, deadly floods in 1903 and 1904; frequent, deadly bouts of smallpox; out-of-control fires the destroyed buildings nearly as fast as they were erected on the Las Vegas plaza; rough-and-tumble political battles; and the Rough Riders campaign in Cuba, among many other events.
Despite my passing interest in my own history, I never really did much about it. Like many people, I waited too long to start my research, and missed valuable opportunities to gather and appreciate information that I only could have found from my grandparents. I shouldn’t say “too late,” because I still have my Grandma Rise. I also have pretty good memories of the many stories that my Grandpa Louie told me. But my Grandpa Carlos died in 1980, and I wish I had the chance to talk to him about his family history, his service during World War II and his career as a painter in Los Alamos and a mailman in Las Vegas. Likewise, I regret not talking more with my Grandma Lola, who died in 2000, about her family. I recently discovered old photos from her cousins and nieces and nephews that were sent to her and to her mother. Since I didn’t know any of those relatives, I had to crop the photos, upload them to my family tree on Ancestry.com and compare them with information gleaned from obituaries, census, marriage records and baptismal records. Now I have a better idea of the family tree on my Grandma Lola’s side of the family; but I don’t really know many of the family stories.
In any case, I now know that those family stories, records and photos may still be out there, if only I continue to probe and exercise patience. I also know that Ancestry.com is a valuable tool.
When I first watched the NBC program in 2010, I was fascinated by the compelling stories of the celebrities whose genealogy was expertly laid out in a way that you can only find on TV. Still, I got caught up in the marketing campaign, and went online to check see what I could find. I immediately figured out the appeal: you had to pay to be a member of the online service, and once you successfully track down ancestors, you’re hooked. At least I was hooked, and apparently many others continue to join the successful web site.
I continued to make progress online, but also moved quickly to the more tedious, but also alluring, side of genealogy research – physically going to the library and state archives to read through hundreds of records.
I’ve come across some people who think online research through sites like Ancestry.com is the ultimate research tool. I’ve also heard some traditional researchers who refuse to embrace the technology. Obviously, I believe the more tools we can access, the better.
Since watching that first episode of “Who do you think you are?” I now have about eight large binders full of records -- all backed up and organized on my computer. And I don’t have plans to slow down my research. For now, I’ll mix that martini and enjoy learning about Marin Sheen’s family history.