We have reached the final month of 2016. Most people are looking forward to the holidays and looking back at what they accomplished this year. We count our blessings and begin creating goals for the new year. For some, the goal of breaking down a brick wall or adding more people to their family tree is on the list. Perhaps there are unanswered family questions to be answered. Whatever the goals, we know with genealogical and military research, we are never finished.
Have you considered looking at your genealogy or military research from a different perspective than just adding people or facts to your family tree? Have you been writing the stories of your ancestors or military family members? If not, why not make a resolution for 2017 to begin writing. Need some help?
As you look back over this year, or your entire research lifetime, ask yourself several questions.
- How has researching your family history or military family member’s history changed how you research?
- How has it changed your life?
- Who did you meet along the research trail? New family members? People who became good friends?
- Were unanswered questions finally answered? Was there any healing or peace in the family with that?
- Did you discover any family secrets?
- Were any family secrets explained?
- What lessons did you learn this year, or over the course of a research project?
- Did your research take you on any adventures around the world?
As you explore these questions, and add your own, it may change your research perspective and open new avenues. You may also discover similarities between you and your ancestors that you didn’t realize existed.
Looking back over the last four and a half years of research on my military family members, I see a lot of changes in my work, research, and life. I am spiritual and believe in serendipity. Many people say genealogical serendipity is when your ancestor “shows up” or “provides you with a document” or other miraculous event that helps you uncover more of your family’s history or break down a brick wall. This has happened to me not only by my own ancestors showing up but also soldiers I’ve researched. All have guided me along my journey.
What have I discovered? Exploring the life of my paternal grandparents, Grandma Libbie and Grandpa Joe Holik, I learned a lot about Joe’s World War II Naval experience. I connected with the fact my grandma was in many ways a single mom when he went off to serve and again after he came home, due to medical reasons. I’ve felt her around often as I’ve researched and written as I navigate life as a single mom. While we are two generations apart, there are many similarities in our experiences.
My cousin James Privoznik was Killed In Action during the Battle of the Bulge on 11 January 1945. The Battle of the Bulge began on 16 December 1944. This month marks the 71st anniversary. When I began researching James’ story, he stayed with me for more than four years. Documents and books showed up when I needed them. People who could help me learn more about his service magically appeared. I met people in Europe who helped expand my military knowledge.
Then, when I finally visited Europe for the first time in April 2015, I met several of them in person. I also ended up, not purposely, retracing James’ steps through Europe to the point where he was killed. I had planned to walk where he was killed, having met friends of the 90th Division in Luxembourg, and fly his burial flag at Luxembourg cemetery, where he sleeps. I never expected to retrace the 90th Division’s journey on that trip.
The first trip led to several others over the last two years to a total of five. Those trips led to meeting some incredible people on both sides of the pond who are passionate about World War II research and preserving the stories of our soldiers. It also led to me meeting my fiancé, which has completely changed my life because he is Dutch and lives in the Netherlands.
Whether you believe in serendipity or not, the questions posed at the beginning of this article are important. The things we do, whether raising a family, working our job, or researching our genealogy, has an impact on our lives. As this year draws to a close, shouldn’t we count our blessings and look at what our genealogical research has brought to our lives? And of course, make plans to take our family history even farther in 2017!