Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Search

Just after Christmas I signed on to an online ancestry search engine. I thought I’d take a casual look and see where my relatives originated.

Casual look? I should have known better. Given my somewhat obsessive personality I could have anticipated the result but I didn’t.

Now, two and a half months later I’ve tracked down a motley crew of more than 1500 souls lurking in the blackness of history and all from following the antecedents of two grandparents. I have carpal tunnel from incessantly clicking the mouse and a sore back from hunching over the computer. And, given that two-thirds of the gang seem to have been part of The Great Migration, the 40,000 Pilgrims who settled New England between 1600 and 1640, I’ve joined the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

I’ve read several books about the Puritan settlements available for free from Amazon as they are now in the public domain having been written before 1900. I noted how ‘political correctness’ has now triumphed and we no longer refer to our ‘dusky friends’, or ‘tawny-skinned warriors’ although the writers presented what seems to be a fair pictures of the relations between the tribes and the early settlers.

What has all of this proved? That an historian, which I was in an earlier incarnation, never loses the desire to follow a lead, to see where a trail will go. After all, this is also the basis of mystery writing. We have a murder and we have to ask all the relevant questions and follow leads to find the killer. In the process we find out the dark secrets of an individual’s life and sort relevant from irrelevant information. That’s what makes mystery writing fun.

And how will my quest end? Will I lose interest and return to a partially completed twenty-first century mystery not involving my family? I’m hoping I can do both but until I find out how to access the files from Northern Ireland (a non-Pilgrim group), until I see where my husband’s family came from I suspect I’ll still spend too many hours fixated on the lines extending back into time.

What surprising things have I learned from this exercise? That any religious instruction suggesting that we meet those who went before us in heaven has to be a myth? Can you imagine facing that horde with their thousands of brothers and sisters? Impossible to even contemplate. As my mother said before she died, “I expect this is all there is, but I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised.” I don’t think it would be a pleasant surprise but maybe someday I’ll find out I was wrong.

What do you think?

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, will be published by Dundurn in November. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

1 comment:

  1. I do love your mom's exit line. And I suspect she's right. We'd darn well better make the best of what's here.