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Nauvoo Blacksmith Shop - George Brown

We had a great experience in Nauvoo, Illinois. Not only did we make some amazing family history discoveries on Kathy’s side of the family, but we were able to experience so many different trades relevant to the life of a frontier pioneer in the mid 1800’s.

One in particular was of most interest to us because of how it related to my ancestor George Brown. George Brown was a blacksmith in the 1800’s and after making this discovery it made our experience at the blacksmith shop in old Nauvoo so much more interesting. I felt like I could see into the past and understand what it must have really been like for my Great Great Grandpa Brown as a blacksmith. As someone who has owned his own small business for the past 13 years, I could see that in a lot of ways things haven’t changed very much in the last 150 years. I am sure that my great great grandfather had a lot of the same challenges running his business that I have had running mine. Customers must have wanted things done yesterday. I am sure that some of his customers probably paid very well, while some probably didn’t pay  at al. I’m sure that he had employees that needed to be trained and retrained to get the job done just right.

 I couldn’t help but wonder, while we were watching the blacksmithing demonstrations, what kind of a person he must have been. I wanted to know how he decided to become a blacksmith, was there someone in his life who influenced him to pursue this trade or did he discover at some point early in his life that he was good at the trade and so he stayed with it throughout the remainder of his life. This is what is so amazing about this trip and what is so amazing about doing family history. We make these insightful discoveries on Ancestry.com and then we can go out the next day and live a little in the life of that very ancestor. As I look back over the photos we have taken so far on this trip, I feel like a sponge that just wants to soak in as much as I possibly can. I am grateful for the example of George Brown and for the contribution he made to the lives of those in his community and family and now for the contribution he has made to my life. Thanks Grandpa George!

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Ancestry.com Great, Great, Great Grand Adventure: Listen to a story by Kathy who is telling us about her search for Mary Ginger, her great, great grandmother while hunting among headstones.

Go see more of the Brown family and their adventures at http://www.ancestry.com/adventure

How To Go Home: A Survival Guide to Life During the Holiday Season

Download ShoeBox by 1000memories*

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When you’re back home this holiday season, bring your albums, scrapbooks, and photo-filled “shoeboxes” out of the closet and into an online, shareable space where they can be shared with your family and friends. More details here.

*An Ancestry.com Company

If you didn’t hear the news, we just added more than 18,000 yearbooks to our growing U.S. Yearbook Collection. The new additions, spanning 1806-2008, include schools across the United States, from junior highs and high schools to colleges and universities. You can browse this rich collection for a glimpse into relatives’, friends’ and celebrities’ past, from more formal class portraits to team photos and fun, candid shots. In total, the collection now stands at 53,000 yearbooks and approximately seven million images.

Kris Williams: Three Days by Horse

In the last five years I have seen more than half the states in our nation, plus 22 countries and counting. In that time, I have bounced from one hotel to the next with everything I own packed tightly inside two 25” pieces of luggage.

My downtime has been spent with family in New England, visiting good friends all over the United States and visiting my boyfriend in Australia. Even when I am not working, I somehow manage to stay on the road. Through all of this, there are times where I have taken the technology to travel and stay connected for granted, and there are other times where I’ve been completely amazed by how far we have come. With every generation’s advances in technology our planet continues to get smaller and more connected.

The first time I remember being completely blown away by our progress was while talking to my great-grandmother’s cousin. My great-grandmother passed away when I was only four years-old. Through my genealogy work I was able to track down her cousin, Albertine, about 10 years ago.

I remember her surprised look when I explained to her who I was, and I will never forget her response when I told her it only took me two hours to drive to Vermont from New Hampshire: “It only took you two hours?! It used to take us three days by horse!”

In those days you didn’t just hop in a car. There were no short visits, no phone calls, texts or emails. They would send out letters announcing their visit with the intention of staying a week or more after traveling for days by horse or foot.

Today, having to rely on a horse, and not having a car, is unimaginable. Then again, it was only six short years ago that traveling the world – never mind dating a man who lives in another country – also seemed unimaginable. It all seemed so impossible and, just a few generations ago, it would have been.

Now, as I write this, I’m waiting to board a plane in Australia to head home to the United States. I will have woken on one side of the planet, and will be climbing into bed on the other side – all on the same day!

All around me people talk, some complaining about the long flight ahead. I will admit, the idea of a 14-hour flight stuck in coach isn’t my idea of a good time.  But five generations ago, my second great-grandparents boarded boats in Europe that were headed for America. Following two weeks at sea in cramped quarters, they finally reached their destinations.

If Albertine was surprised by my two-hour drive, how would those great-grandparents respond to my 14-hour flight across the globe? Then again, how would my ancestors from the Mayflower react to my great-grandparents’ “short” two-weeks at sea?

Yes, I had relatives on the Mayflower! Setting sail from Plymouth, England, on Sept. 6, 1620, it took the ship a total of two months to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Two months! There were a total of 102 passengers packed into cramped, cold and damp living quarters. Most found themselves seasick and some passengers died due to illnesses. At least one man was lucky enough to be rescued after being thrown overboard by rough waters.

As a female, I am most amazed by the pregnant women who made the voyage, one of whom gave birth on the ship. Through all of this, the passengers of the Mayflower wondered if they would even make it to the shores of America due to damage that was done to the ship from storms.

They spent two months at sea, and here we are, in our coach seats being served food and drinks. We’re flying in a relatively safe, large metal object and we are complaining about a 14-hour trip from Australia to America.

Once I land Los Angeles, I will be spending the next three weeks looking for an apartment. For me, leaving everything I know in New England is both exciting and scary. In some ways it’s a fresh start; the first time in my whole life where I will be completely responsible for myself and I am excited about it.

However, I still can’t quite shake the fear of leaving what is familiar, and the guilt that hangs over me about leaving my family. What if this move turns out horribly? What if something happens back home and I’m not there? Can I handle being that far from my family? I am willing to bet these same fears and questions haunted my ancestors from the time they packed their bags until years after they settled in New England.

Taking into consideration the day-to-day challenges they continued to face as soon as they touched land, I feel a bit foolish. Once my ancestors made the voyage from Europe to America, that was it. Those who were lucky enough to make the trip alive found themselves in a foreign land having only the limited possessions they brought with them. Chances are they would never see the friends and family they left behind again, and their only communication would be through an occasional handwritten letter.

Today, people regularly move from state to state and I continue to meet many who have moved from country to country. Although we may experience the same fears, we have options. If we are missing home, we can jump in a car, catch a bus, hop on a train or book a flight. While missing our family and friends in-between trips, we have the luxury of making a phone call or sending out a text message.

Not enough? Then there’s always the convenience that comes with the Internet from emails, video chat and social networking sites that allow us to post and read regular status updates or share pictures.

From the days of uncharted lands to the days where you can look up any location on the globe by satellite, I have absolutely no idea where life is going to take me. I may decide to stay in California. I could eventually head back to the east coast or maybe even find myself living outside of the country.

Wherever I am, I hope to always be thankful for how far we have come, and make use of everything we have available to stay connected with my family and friends. As I now sit here on my flight, I also can’t help but wonder what stories I will someday share with my grandchildren that, to them, will seem unimaginable.

By Kris Williams

Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

Kris Williams, part-time ghost hunter and genealogist, shares her thoughts on the Titanic voyage.