Elyse has a great post up about whether beginning a genealogy quest in your teens or 20s confers an advantage in mining the memories of older relatives. As Elyse explains, beginning your genealogy young doesn’t help much if your older relatives are deceased or suffering from dementia.
I didn’t begin my family research until I was in my 30s. But I wouldn’t have had a head start had I started as a toddler. Both my paternal grandparents died before my parents met, and my maternal grandmother died when I was three. The only grandparent I really remember is my maternal grandfather, who lived until I was nine.
Much as I regret this, I agree with Elyse that access doesn’t necessarily guarantee answers. For instance, I was lucky enough to travel to Germany with my parents at age fourteen, where I met a number of my maternal grandma’s sisters. What an opportunity! But … I was fourteen. Yes, I was interested in family stories at that point, but I was more interested in whether everyone was secretly laughing at my Coke-bottle wire-rim specs or whether I would completely lose it if my father hissed, “Don’t make that face at me!” one more time. Painful to contemplate, isn’t it?
Even worse is remembering my attitude toward my Aunt Catherine, my father’s sister and keeper of the family history flame known as The List. I wish I could have talked to her about genealogy, but frankly she scared the poop out of me, being one of those Brooklyn Irish ladies who took guff from no quarter.
I remember mentioning to her that my mother told me the Prospect Park carousel once cost a dime to ride.
“Oh yeah?” she said. “I remember when it was a nickel.” I slunk away, terminally intimidated.
I think this is all part of the genealogy life cycle. Missed connections are a feature, not a bug, but it’s what makes the discoveries more precious. I’d love to think that if all my grandparents had survived into my teens, I would have probed their memories with care and insight. The facts of my life suggest otherwise. I believe I began the search when I was meant to, as many people do, and regrets are a waste of more precious time.