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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: History Comes to Life
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 17, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Recently we took the family to Walt Disney World. Among other things, I made sure that we visited the American Pavilion at the World Showcase in EPCOT. "The American Experience" has long been a favorite of mine, and I never tire of going to see it, much to my kids' dismay.

For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated by history. Even when I was in school, I loved history class. At the time I tossed it off to the fact that I was living in New England, a place with lots of history. Now, though, I think it is much more, given my present day family history enthusiasm.

A glimpse into my ancestors' lives through history.

A Look at History

As we sat there with the lights dimming and the animatronic Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain figures coming to life, something took hold of me. As the first section began talking about the Mayflower and that first difficult winter, I sat transfixed realizing that my ancestors were on that ship.

Suddenly, this historical event was more than just an event in history. However distant the relationship through the generations, I had a personal connection to that little ship. I had a personal connection to that first hard winter.

As the program continued I found myself reflecting on other ancestors involved in other events highlighted in this historical perspective. I found myself thinking of the four brothers who were killed or captured during the Civil War. Suddenly those photographs by famed Matthew Brady were more than just black and white stills, they were a peek into the horror of a war that was fought on American soil by Americans against other Americans.

Putting Family Into History

While I have always had an interest in history in general, this realization of the true involvement of my family history through these events surprised me. My fascination with the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria was ignited long before I realized how many of my maternal lines were directly involved in that one year of accusations, death, and delirium. However, now I have discovered ancestors directly affected by this hysteria, some of them to the point of death.

Time line programs can help you to put your ancestors into a historical perspective. In the past as I generated these historical timelines with my ancestors I looked at them from a purely analytical view. Now I look at the suffering and strength my ancestors endured. I look at the sorrow and joy they must have experienced through the many wars. I think of the tears of joy and the tears of sorrow that fell from mother's eyes as some soldiers came home and others didn't.

In Conclusion

While my experience is truly defined by the history of the United States, such an involvement transcends country borders. All countries have weathered storms of war and times of good fortune. All of us have ancestors who have experienced true hardships as they carved out their niche in history. Most of us descend from the obscure rather than the famous, but it was our hard working, day-to-day farmers and foot soldiers that helped mold the countries as they are today.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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