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Color bullet February 2011 - We Are All Connected

Some history
Insights 
What does it all mean? 
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)
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Color bulletFebruary 2011 - We Are All Connected

Some history

Recently, Iíve become interested in our family genealogy.  It all started when one of my sons asked about our family history last year.  He wanted to know more for his children as they grow older.  I pulled out a chart that my sister had done almost 30 years ago showing our family back about 4 generations, with some notes about ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620 and some ancestors who were part of the American Revolution in the 1700s.  I talked with a couple of friends who are very involved in reconstructing their family history for advice on where and how to start.  They pointed me to some good resources and actually started my family tree on the two sites they liked best.  

As time has allowed over the past few year, Iíve become fascinated with the twists and turns that Iím finding in learning more about our ancestors.  Using some of the new online resources is so much easier and more rewarding than searching out dusty records in old courthouses or attics.  So many generous people have posted their family histories on the Internet so they can be searched and used by others.  I am very, very grateful for all the great resources that Iíve uncovered and the very helpful people I have connected with.  

Iíve also found a few dead ends Ė places or people where I couldnít seem to go any further.  These have been put aside for now.  

Using a couple of the most widely used genealogy websites, Iíve found that Iím related to both of the friends I contacted.  Our family is related to quite a few presidents of the United States, a couple governors and quite a few ministers of a variety of faiths Ė demonstrating a broad cross-section of political and religious beliefs Ė often at odds with each other.  There are also farmers, lawyers, trades people, crafts people, business owners and all sorts of other occupations that showed up.  And, we are related to someone who was hanged for being an accused witch in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s.  I would venture a guess that most people in this country would find similar interesting ancestors in their family history.  

Insights

Some of the insights Iíve gained in this process:

  1. The more I delve into the family history, the more I learn about how we are ALL connected to each other in some way or another.  
  2. Iím learning about a whole variety of names that I have never heard or seen before such as Eleazer, Rhun, Verch, Hywel, Gwenllian, Madog, Bedo, Ieuan.  
  3. We have more people named Sarah, Mary, Elizabeth, Abigail, Ann, Hannah, Thomas, Samuel, John, and Joseph in our family than I ever imagined was possible.  There are several children with the same name in the same family who were re-named with the same first name after the first or second child with that name died for some reason.  I found one family unit where 8 children died within 2 months of dysentery in the 1700s during an epidemic in New England. 
  4. Iím really appreciating just how much progress we have made with medical advances and our standard of living so that our families today donít need 8, 10, 12 or 14 children in order to have children survive to adulthood.  We are very, very blessed today in this country.
  5. And, I am finding how inter-connected I am with a great number of other people that I never knew about before now.  They are "strangers" and yet they are also "cousins" and "family."
  6. Some ancestors have left a legacy with writings about them, stories passed down through families, projects they were involved in and long-lasting records of their lives.  And, there are many people about whom very little is known.  Sometimes, there is only a record of "son" or "daughter" or "child" without any further information, probably because they didn't live long enough to be named.  Even people that I know personally lived to adulthood seem to have "disappeared" as far as available records would indicate. 
  7. Many towns have taken the time and made a concerted effort to keep good records about local births, deaths and marriages, and made those available on the Internet.  Many have not.  
  8. A growing number of books and other documents have been scanned and put on the Internet as their copyrights expire to be used freely by anyone who finds them.  And, many good and generous people have transformed that raw scanned material into formatted websites that can be searched.  
  9. A great number of records have been destroyed in wars, especially during the Civil War in the South, when courthouses were burned down and all their records were lost.  Many more records have been lost simply due to lack of interest in protecting them or lack of awareness that they might be valuable to someone some day in the future.  
  10. Some families moved around a lot, didnít own property, didnít leave wills or family records, and used a variety of names or nicknames, which makes tracing those parts of the family much harder.  Finding clues, following small "bread crumbs" and tracing down long-lost ancestors is like solving a complex puzzle, with great exhilaration when a good result is finally found.  I managed to untangle a couple people's history through shear persistence and determination not to give up until I found the answer.  
  11. There are many errors ó with dates that donít make sense at all ó especially the farther back I go.  Where sometimes a year might be off by one or two because a birth or death date was estimated, in farther back history (the 1400s for example), the cumulative effect means the date range differences could be up to 50 years, which means that entire generations could be mismatched.  Even in recent history, I found a very good resource of my family line in a published book and was disturbed to see that my close familyís middle names were wrong.  The person who wrote it has since died, so the errors are very hard (if not impossible) to correct and will be probably be propagated for many generations to come. 
  12. Errors get picked up and carried forward by many people who "assume" that if it is published or on the Internet, it must be a true fact.  Not so, Iím learning, so have tried to find ways to authenticate and cross-check information that I find.

Tracing family history is very much like dealing with day-to-day corporate life - searching for lost or missing records, coping with errors that get carried forward, solving puzzles, figuring out what someone did after they moved on, chasing down rumors, trying to understand what happened and why, who did what with whom and when, and untangling messes. 

Many inter-connections that may not be obvious at first glance show up when we take the time to delve a bit deeper.  We find out that a guy in Customer Service is related to the Corporate Vice President, the lady who works down the hall goes to church with the President's niece and nephew, that we went to high school with the company accountant and that someone else in the company is married to our best friend's cousin.  We may find out that a recruiter we contact about a new job is also a good friend of our boss.  Oops!  Or we find out that someone we once fired, now works elsewhere in the company because they knew someone that didn't do a thorough background check.  It's an immense web of connection that is hidden until we go looking a bit deeper.  In December 2010, an intern on Facebook's data infrastructure team completed a map of the inter-connection of their members.  The result is fascinating.   He says, "When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people.  It's not just a pretty picture, it's a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders."

In corporate life, we constantly encounter people with names or backgrounds that we may have never encountered before.  We find many people with the same name.   Sometimes, a whole bunch of people leave at the same time, to be replaced with people with similar names but very different personalities and skills.  

There may be great diversity of beliefs, cultures and styles, even when we share some similar characteristics.  

I'm seeing how the new media like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and others have allowed so many people to connect with each other easily.  I'm very much appreciating the hard work done by those visionary folks who came up with the technology that we take for granted today.  The Internet as a structure didn't exist at all just a short time ago and today, we can't live without it.  Our lives and our businesses have been forever changed by technologies that came out of nowhere it seems and continue to evolve and change our world for the better. 

What does it all mean?

As I try to pull all of this into perspective, it makes me wonder what is really important to my own family and what is important about my family.  What records should we be keeping?  What should we be sure to pass along to our children and grandchildren?  What will be written about us in 50 years or a 100 years or 500 years?  Is our life worth anyone knowing about it?  Are we making a contribution to the history of the world?  Are we making a meaningful contribution to society through our day-to-day activities?

It also starts me to wondering: What kind of progress will our descendants see in the future?  Will they look back to our current generation and wonder how we could be so "backward" in our methods, attitudes or accomplishments?

What is the business legacy we are leaving for future generations of workers in our company and our industry?  What type of world will we leave them?  How will they look back at us from some future time? 

What legacy are we leaving through our own individual work today?  How will it affect future generations?  Will our work be understood or will it leave people confused?   Are we being careful about the records we leave of our time in history?  Are we taking the care to make sure all records are accurate and complete?  

It makes me stop and remember that everyone I meet ó whether at work, at play, at the grocery store or on the highway ó is probably related to me in some way.  They are part of my world family.  Am I recognizing them joyfully as the family they are or am I seeing them as "strangers" or not important to me? 

And, I wonder what my life and my world would be like if those brave ancestors had not left Europe to cross the sea to create the new country that we take for granted today. 

As we start a new year and set new goals, what is important this year?  What can I do as an individual person to make my life better and contribute to the betterment of the place where I live?  What can I do to improve the working lives of those that I interact with every day?  How can I remember that we all come from common ancestors ó even though our views and beliefs may be quite diverse today? 

Each year, I do an exercise to chose a "word" as a theme for the year (see our January 2010 article for an exercise you can do).  This year, it feels like my word is "Perspective."  Weíll see how that plays out for 2011.

We wish you a year of looking forward as well as looking back, a year of keeping life in a healthy Perspective, and a year of accomplishment in whatever way is meaningful for you.

And, we wish you a year of recognizing more of your own "family" members where ever you might be. 

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