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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, an Ancestry.com user and genealogy fan since she was just 11 years-old, talks about one of her first experiences with the paranormal while doing some genealogy work in an old graveyard.