I’ve always been in love with my family. What a marvelously colorful cast of characters they are – peasants, pirates, horse thieves, coal miners, factory workers, priests, military men and women, waitresses, mail carriers, police, housewives, artists and more. My family is made up of remarkably common folk who have lived extraordinarily uncommon lives.
Much of what I learned about my family came from sitting for countless hours listening to my parents and their siblings reminisce about the adventures of their youth. They’d share laughter and tears recounting in vivid detail little moments in time and the people who were there – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins – some long dead, but all still very much alive in the stories that they told.
For every story that they’d tell, I’d want another, often begging my parents to tell me a story that they’d already told many times before. I’ve never gotten my fill of those stories that I passed onto my children, adding some of my own adventures to the collection. I wanted to learn about more of these incredible people who make up my family; I wanted to learn about their stories and put them in writing so that they’d never be lost – so that each and every one of them would remain alive.
In 2001, I began searching for more people who share my family names hoping that they might also share their stories. Using internet search engines, I looked up the names – Pipta and Runkles and stumbled upon an older cousin, John, who was also researching our family genealogy. He responded to my email and sent an extensive list of names much of it complete with dates of birth, death and marriages as well as some old family photos and documentation of my ancestor’s arriving at Ellis Island that is available through the Ellis Island Foundation.
I stored that information away, promising myself that I’d use it connect with other family members so that I could collect and share our stories. I’d bring it out to read on occasion, but could never find the time to do more than talk about writing those treasured stories that I kept in my head and heart. Thankfully, I talked about it with my daughter, ElizaBeth, who is also a writer. It was ElizaBeth who started our online family tree using Geni.com – a free online service.
She started the family tree on Valentine’s Day 2008 and in less than one year, our family tree boasts 549 members. More importantly, we are able to connect and collaborate with other family members to document our collective heritage. Using their simple interactive website, we can communicate through online discussion threads, share photos and videos and add events such as marriages, births, graduations and more. We can even send each other holiday greetings and receive email reminders of birthdays and anniversaries.
Most recently, ElizaBeth and I uncovered information about an unusual genetic trait that she and I share – Brachydactyly type D. Until we posted an inquiry on our discussion board, we had been unable to trace the origins of our clubbed thumbs. According to Wikipedia, clubbed thumbs are historically thought of as a sign of royalty; they are also a sign of inbreeding.
So, in addition to the common folks who comprised our family tree, we may be adding the intrigue of royal blood lines. Whatever we uncover, there’s bound to be a great story in there somewhere; maybe you are part of it. Get in touch and let me know. I’d love to hear your story.