When I talk to most people about the fact that I do genealogy, I often get the feeling that they think to themselves, “Oh, how quaint.” or “That’s nice.” and then they “Hmm” and “Okay” their way to the end of the conversation. Then, there are those whose interest in genealogy doesn’t go any deeper than wanting to know where they came from. Generally what they mean is, “What country did my ancestors come from.” Or like many who rightly claim to be descended from royalty, make affirmations of their royal lineage without a clue what exactly it is. But from time to time I encounter someone like myself, whose passion for knowing where they came from and how their family ended up where they were born, runs deep.
My experience with genealogy started in the mid-1990s when I was a teenager in high school. I had been curious about my family’s story for a number of years, but beyond the stories that my parents and my aunts and uncles were able to recount, deep knowledge of my family’s history remained out of reach. That began to change for me when I met a cousin, who despite being a member of the same familial generation as myself, was some 55 years my senior, Mr. Velia Bertrand. He had been working on the Bertrand genealogy for about 30 years and had compiled a book, several hundred pages long, that traced our particular branch of the Bertrand family back to Louis Bertrand who was born in the year 1660 in Saint Maixent-l’École, Deux-Sèvres, France.
Unfortunately when I was born, all of my grandparents, with the exception of my maternal grandmother, had been dead for many decades. My dad himself, lost both of his parents by age five, and, like myself, had only one living grandparent, whom he says he never met. For this reason, despite frequent forays to the library’s genealogical section, I had long abandoned the notion of being able to know the history of my Seaux last name.
In 2015, I chanced upon FamilySearch.org when looking to get back into genealogy and was surprised and happy to find a place that made what I had assumed would always be a tedious, solitary task a communal effort. Unlike other genealogy websites and software packages in which each user maintains their own “family tree”, FamilySearch.org has a single family tree on which all of its members work collaboratively. Don’t get me wrong, it still has it’s bad points, especially when people make edits without doing the research or including their sources.
It’s through this collaborative effort that finally, after some 20 years of searching through records from time to time, I made progress in understanding the story of my paternal history. With the help of my cousin, Genevieve, who still lives near Laffite-Toupière, Midi-Pyrénées, France, I am piecing together that story, so that one day, I can pass it down to my nieces, my nephew, and to their children, in hopes that our legacy will live on.
“So, whose the guy in the picture?” you ask. He’s my Great great great great great great great great great great great great Grandfather, King Phillip II of Spain, von Habsburg.
Yeah, I think that’s kinda cool. But really it’s not that big of a deal considering I have 16,384 12th great-grandparents.