Until I got an Ancestry.com account for my mom, I was fairly tepid on the subject of genealogy. She had done a fair bit of shoe-leather genealogy, finding the usual array of birth and death certificates, marriage licences, arrest reports, trial transcripts, and … well, let’s just leave that there.
Anyway, Ancestry is an amazing piece of work, placing a staggering amount of data at your fingertips. Dig a little bit, and suddenly people start popping up all over the place. After a few months, both my wife and myself had documented our main family lines back to their arrival in America in the 17th century, and I was able to push one (the de Suttons) all the way back to the Norman invasion. It makes your head swim to be able to trace a line from yourself back to someone who waded ashore with William the Conqueror, even if was only the Royal Poodle Walker.
The more interesting stories, however, are the simple ones that emerge in things like census listings. Watching, decade after decade, as a young couple starts out, fills their household with children, sees some of those children move out to start their own households, see other children (perhaps fallen on economic hard times much like we’re experiencing now) drift back home, watch grandparents age and move in with their own children: it’s a kind of continuity of life that connects us, one to the other, in an unending chain stretching back as far as the records will go.
Now that record is about to become a little more complete. On Monday, April 2nd, at 9am, the National Archives will unlock full access to the 1940 census data. Five minutes later, their servers will crash, but as the data works its way into various genealogy systems reports, we’ll be able to make important links in the chain of ancestry that binds us to the past.
See the National Archives census site for more information.