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Genealogy

Sometime in my early youth I became interested in family history, which is not a normal hobby for a child. Long before the TV show, Roots, made it fashionable, I could be found prowling the genealogy library: scrolling through microfilm in a darkened room, wandering amongst dusty bookshelves, and sitting at a desk writing to distant relatives for family information. On my dad's side, most of the research had been done - at least for five or six generations. But my mom's side was a different story. I had some names, a few dates, and a couple of stories from years gone by. Just enough to get started. I envisioned my ancestors buried in obscurity, waiting to be released back into modern-day consciousness by digging up the names, dates, and places attached to the events of their lives. The census records told me exactly where these people lived, what they did for a living, and where they were born. The marriage certificates revealed who witnessed their wedding, what the wife's maiden name was, and who their parents were. The death certificates revealed what finally overcame them, who cared for them in the end, and where their final home was. Like assembling pieces in a puzzle, images began to take shape of their lives. They became more real. With a little research, I could uncover their ambitions, their sacrifices, their setbacks, and their triumphs.

Consider, for example, my 3rd great grandfather, Andrew Burt. There is nothing written about this man nor are there any stories handed down in the family. The only information I could gather on him was what I found in the census records or in the church records. I know he came from a coal mining family, perhaps a long line of them. He was born in 1813 in Balderidge, the mining district of Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, He was the first of five brothers and two sisters. His future, I'm sure, seemed bleak although he managed to marry, at 22, a lovely bride from Kincardine named Elizabeth in the Culross Parish in Perthshore. Less than 10 months after their marriage, they gave birth to a girl, Mary. She lived to be a year and a half and then died. The next child was a son, and Andrew thought enough of his father, Alexander, to name this first son after him. Nine more children would be born with nearly half dying in their early youth. I don't know how this all affected Elizabeth, but in the mid-1840's when Mormon missionaries were proselyting in the Fife area, this family was introduced to and embraced this new religion. This, I'm sure took tremendous humility and conviction to buck the tide and join a small group of people who were undoubtedly persecuted. During this time, Andrew prepared his son for work in the mines also. It was the only thing he knew, and it was an added source of income for the family. Andrew's second son, Peter, began working in the mines with his older brother when he was about 10. I'm sure that seeing his two young sons laboring in those conditions must have been hard for Andrew to take. By the time Alexander was 19, his family was ready to send him to America, to start a new life and, perhaps, allow for his family to join him one day.


Alexander Burt

In 1856, Alexander left for Liverpool, England where he would board the USS Thornton for America. Within 3 years of sending their son off to America, both Andrew and Elizabeth would be dead: Andrew from the deadly effects of laboring in the mines, and Elizabeth from a cancerous tumor that she had carried for 16 years. The children were forced to fend for themselves under difficult circumstances. Not surprisingly, James, their youngest boy, had the most difficult time. He ended up in an orphanage and there he contracted tuberculosis. He died a few days before Christmas in 1860.


So, this family is a good example of why I like genealogy, not because their story is unique, but because it's my family's story. And it's a story that would largely be untold unless I dug it up. These are my people, and I wish I could have been there with them in their triumphs and their suffering.



 

This page designed by John Burt.  
 

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