Shifting Gears

My last post about our family reunion caused me to reconsider my perspective on family history research. I write a monthly genealogy column, “Turning Hearts” for Meridian Magazine online, and used my last post as the basis for an article published October 18, 2013, which is reproduced below.

Last weekend, my “East Coast” cousins gathered for a joyous occasion – the baptism of the newest member of our family, Megan Ryan, at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Westwood, New Jersey. We are the grandchildren of Louis Pappas (Ilias Papagiannakos) and Angelina Eftaxias Pappas.

Family gatherings were central to the lives of our grandparents. As immigrants from Sparta in the early 1900’s, they settled in Hoboken, New Jersey. They traveled regularly to Brooklyn, New York, to be with family and friends from their homeland. These associations  brought them a sense of comfort and security in their new and very different country.

Our parents – Catherine, Bertha, William, and Nicholas – also treasured “family time.” All four families lived in neighboring towns in northern New Jersey. We cousins grew up together until the scattering began. Job opportunities took our fathers to Long Island, California, and Maryland. Only Uncle Bill remained in Westwood. There were occasional visits, but as cousins married and children arrived, we spun into differing orbits.

Except for Aunt Pauline, Bill’s wife who just turned 90, our parents have passed into a new realm of family relationships in the spirit world, unencumbered by worldly travails and earthly distances. This has engendered a new realization into all of us: We are now our parents’ generation; we are the ones to keep family traditions and maintain family ties. Our first reunion in July 2012 reinforced our longings to be together. The more we meet, the more precious these events become. We miss our  four “West Coast” cousins in California, the children of Nick, and we hope to be together with them soon.

Our renewed cousin reunions have changed my perspective on family history work. I have spent untold hours reading obscure documents from Greece with the hopes of finding one of my surnames. Although I now have a spreadsheet with several hundred names, I can’t go back far enough to find a common ancestor and to determine how these people are related to me (I know they are, as they hail from my grandparents’ ancestral villages). At times I become frustrated and am tempted to “throw in the towel” and wait for the Millenium to continue my research. But in my heart, I know that is not right. I must do what I can with what I have.

Our cousins reunions have caused me to pause and reconsider that I should reallocate some of my time from searching for the dead to reconnecting with the living. There are photos of my living relatives to be obtained and attached to our online tree. There are stories to gather from my cousins, so our collective family memories can be memorialized for future generations. There is research to be done on our parents’ cousins who came to the U.S., but whom we never had the opportunity to meet.

Shifting gears is not easy, as I am driven to probe deeper into my pedigree line. But it is essential to do so:  someday, our children will be us. If we do not capture our own family stories – and those of our parents and grandparents – we will leave them an empty legacy.





3 thoughts on “Shifting Gears

  1. Carol,

    From my limited experience, don’t throw in the towel. Fold it, and gently place it aside. Don’t forget about it, just put it aside.

    When the time is ready you will find the “hint” you have been looking for. Probably in a document or record that you already have, already looked at, but that hint will appear.

    The hint may come while capturing those stories.

    Good luck,


  2. Carol, this is a great article! For some time I have been collecting pictures and stories about living family , thinking one day, someone will want to know about them too. I have found most relatives appreciate the opportunity to share something about their lives and why not preserve those memories while there is someone to record them who actually knows the people involved. One of the bigger advantages, it draws the cousins closer.

    The other day I received an update from a cousin where she was highlighted in her ward. It included a couple of pictures of her and information about her. All very nicely presented. It got me to thinking, what a nice addition to add to our family page as well as our written history.

    Love your articles!

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