There’s a question that I always hated being asked–mainly because growing up it seemed like everyone else had an answer but me. “What’s your heritage?” I know it’s a simple question…just three little words. But I hated the three little words that I’d always have to say back as a response: “I don’t know.”
My previous detective attempts to learn about my family history were disappointing to say the least. I remember asking my grandma where we were from. I had high hopes of her telling me about the exotic places that our ancestors once lived. Ireland maybe? Italy? France?
Instead, all I got was: “Kentucky!”
Thanks, Grandma–that wasn’t exactly the answer I was looking for.
When I started to make the list of things that I wanted to do this year, learning more about my family tree was one at the top. Maybe it’s because as a mom, I want my kids to know where they came from, who they are, to have an answer when they’re asked about their background. Or maybe because as I watch my grandma get older and see her memory quickly fade away, I want a way to stay connected with her…to know more about her.
And with a little luck and a lot of help from ancestry.com, I’m happy to be able to mark this off my bucket list. I finally found my answer…at least part of it.
It took me nearly a month of digging and searching on the site. In fact, I had to go back nearly 400 years. (Turns out my grandma wasn’t kidding when she said we were from Kentucky. I had to go through five generations before I was able to just get out of the state!) But I finally found what I was looking for…I found Elizabeth K. Banks.
My 7th great-grandmother, Elizabeth K. Banks was born in 1627…in Canterbury, Kent, England.
I still have so many more branches of my family tree to research, but for some reason knowing at least where one of my ancestors came from has given me a sense of closure, a pride in my roots and an appreciation of where I came from.
And while finding this answer was my ultimate goal, the entire process of doing the research was absolutely fascinating to me. If you’ve never been on the site, let me just warn you…ancestry.com is very addicting! Nearly every day I would spend a few minutes on the site and sure enough, I’d learn something new. Just a few of the gems…
- My grandma’s mother was named Hattie Little. And my grandfather’s mother…she was also named Hattie Little. Different women…same name…lived in the same town. What are the odds?! When my grandparents went to get married, they actually had to prove that they weren’t brother and sister! Please hold all Kentucky jokes!
- My family came from very humble beginnings. They were farmers, coal miners, general laborers. In fact, my 2nd great grandparents, Andrew and Mollie Akers, couldn’t read or write. And my grandma’s dad, “Poppy”, only had an 8th grade education…her mother, only a 6th. I’d like to think they’d be very proud if they could see how far their descendants have come. College educated, Master’s degrees, successful careers.
- I always thought my grandmother’s name was”Maxine”…but according to Census records, her real name is actually Maxi. The first time I saw this, for some reason my eyes were instantly filled with tears. There was my grandmother’s name–when she was just 10 years old, in the 3rd grade. It made me wonder what she was like as a little girl–going to school, playing with her brothers and sisters.
I’ve kept this research project a secret from my grandmother. This has been so hard for me to do. So many times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and tell her what I learned or ask her more questions about her life growing up in Pikeville, Kentucky. And eventually I will. But I have something special planned for her. Something that I hope will be a memory that my grandma will never forget. (Stay turned…I’ll be sharing in a few months!)
I didn’t know it when I started doing this research, but March is Women’s History Month. Very fitting. And this woman is so happy to now know more about MY history.
So, until my next adventure–goodbye. Or, as my ancestors would say, cheerio!
UPDATE: Since writing this, I have shared what I learned about my family tree with my grandma…and it was everything I hoped it would be! Find out how she reacted when she discovered she’s a “briar and a Brit”!