Digging our way through family roots

Researching family roots seems to be the hot ticket of late.

Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I’d like it known that I was ahead of my time in the 1980s when, after taking a look at my family gene pool, my curiosity got the best of me. So I decided to do some digging into my family roots.

In the 1980s there were no home computers or Google search, so I was content to sit down to write letters by hand to relatives, just asking basically “who are we?”

One letter I received in response stands out in my memory, and I swear this story I’m about to tell you is true.

Through a child’s eyes, Aunt Rose seemed very old. She was actually my mother’s aunt, and I only saw her once a year at the family reunions but I recall her clearly. With her silver hair pulled back in a bun and long skirts that swished when she walked, she always looked like she walked straight out of an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” She was a novelty.

Our Murphy family reunions were always a fun event for the cousins because we could run and scream and get absolutely filthy and nobody cared. I recall an old wooden merry-go-round that scared the bejesus out of me. There were competitive games and prizes, and at the beginning of the day each child was given six tickets we could exchange for ice cream, lemonade or cracker jacks. There was power in those tickets.

Even with all the fun, crazy activity at the reunions, I always found myself looking forward to seeing my colorful Irish relatives, like Aunt Rose.

It’s important to mention here that I come from a very musical family. My grandmother Murphy played banjo and was known for carting all 11 of her children around the county to sing at various churches and fairs. So it’s no surprise at the family reunions there was always a sing-along around an old upright piano.

The sing-alongs were pretty much honky-tonk songs about beer and bars and lousy cheating men sung in tremendous loudness with rich harmonies while my uncle Virgil pounded out chords on the piano. That is, until Aunt Rose would make her way toward the piano. The Murphy clan, without missing a beat, would smoothly move into “Amazing Grace.” Still makes me smile to think of it.

So imagine my delight, decades later, when I received a letter in the mail from my sweet Aunt Rose. By this time, she had to be at least 90 if she was a day.

In response to my questions about our family heritage, she had sent a four-page letter, filled with all the family gossip written on lined writing paper in carefully penned cursive handwriting. The letter is now kept in our family archives, and although I can’t remember all the content, the one line I recall goes something like this:

I’m sitting here at the table while Uncle Red is out hunting for another squirrel. The one we have for dinner is awfully scrawny ...”

Recently, I decided to share this letter with my grown daughter. I was almost salivating in anticipation of her response. She didn’t let me down.

She hesitated for a minute – I could see the horror on her face – “…. So these people are blood relatives?”

Yep. They are your family.

Thus began the revelation of who I was and from whence I came.