My Favorite Things: I Collect Dead People
by Emerian Rich
Name: Karysa Faire
Current obsession: Family History
I collect dead people: their pictures, their memories, their descendants. My summers are devoted to this collecting habit. My vacations are planned to accommodate my collection. It’s an addiction, really.
My “collection” is the research of my family history. In high school I was given an assignment to make a family tree, going back as far as we could. Since I needed extra credit to pass the class, I trekked out to the Mormon Temple in Oakland, California (this was pre-internet-in-every-home). I still remember the thrill I felt when I FOUND my great-great grandfather’s family in one of the 1800 census in Decatur County, Georgia. Then there was a super-thrill when I researched back ten more years in the census records and found the family again. These microfiche machines were amazing! Yes, it was time consuming. Yes, there were dead-ends. However, the reward of finding written existence of my family made the hours of scrolling through old-fashioned, almost impossible-to-read scrawl, well worth it.
The things I’ve discovered: an uncle who was hanged for murder, another who was a congressman; an aunt who divorced in times when that really didn’t happen; a set of grandparents who had twenty children; a grandfather who was born in England, not Ireland as the family legend goes; a Native American grandmother whose name I share; and thanks to DNA tests, some living cousins throughout the United States.
Why do I do it? What exactly is the pull to discover these people who no longer live? Besides the obvious that it helps me understand a part of me better, researching my family is the closest I can come to the magic of time travel. When I see my great-great grandmother’s signature on her marriage certificate, I can imagine her standing there, maybe fear, maybe joyful tears in her eyes. I feel the nervous flutter of her heart as she thinks of moving out of her family’s home into a new home with her soon-to-be husband. I feel the nervous sweat on my great-great grandfather’s palms.
Now, as I’ve exhausted finding the physical copies of documents (which is much, much easier to do with the internet than it is with a microfiche machine!), I’ve turned to local historical societies that can describe what the area was like in different periods of time. Wow! It’s a time machine on steroids! And it’s better than any history class as it’s so clear to me. I feel like I am there—and I believe I feel this way as a result of the blood connection, the thread of genetics that connects me to those people from so long ago.
This summer I’ll be in southern Georgia and northern Florida, visiting cemeteries where my family is buried. I’ll be paying my respects, of course. But what I’m really excited about is taking photos of their burial spots to add to my collection. I have addresses of old homes—I don’t know if they’re still standing, but I’m very excited to go on this treasure hunt to find out. I already have the hours and locations of the state archives which I’ll visit for a day.
Am I dork for being super excited to spend two vacation days in a library? I’m giddy thinking of it and it’s still over three weeks away.
Next family-research vacation will be to Texas. Or to southern Illinois. Or to Ireland (yes, my DNA test said that I do have the ol’ Irish in me). Or to the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, my mother’s side of the family.
I’ve never written historical fiction (which I find strange, considering my obsession with the past), and really don’t have an interest to do so. I’d be caught up in making the time period perfectly accurate, something that’s impossible to do since I can’t actually go back in time.
Writing and family research are two separate entities in my life. Yet, they are connected, as both hint at who I was and who I am.
Karysa is a writer of the romantic, the unseen, the other worldly and the horrific. Residing in Northern California with her daughter, dog, and cat, she reads when she can and cleans her house when she has to. Find out more at: http://karysafaire.com/
Don’t miss the next installment of this
favorite things series when my writer friend
Leigh M. Lane
will talk about her obsession.
Do you have something you collect or obsess about and would like to share with my readers? Feel free to comment below or if you’d like to do a post on your obsession, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org