Getting to the Root of the Matter

Searching for ancestors, searching for self.

By Chris Lynch
Freelance Writer

Has searching for ancestry online gotten so good that one can simply log on, hit ‘find’ and populate a family tree?


But two amateur genealogists say that finding one’s roots can also be a soulful, personal experience that requires more effort – whether you do it the oldfashioned way or enable it with technology.

“For me it was an experiential trip back home,” says Chris Carrino, retiree in training and world traveler. “I’m 58, and I wanted to find out more about who I am and go to where the heart of that is.”

Carrino lost a relative who knew the connections back to Italy, and that was a wake-up call to get reconnected. He employed a travel consultant, worked with a researcher in the homeland, and used some technology, such as records search, GPS and translator apps.

“We found the death certificate from when the cousin who traveled there had a fatal heart attack. That gave me the location of a local cousin once removed. Then I planned the trip and showed up unannounced. They interrupted their whole day, took me in and mapped out a family tree for me,” he says. “And I spent more time with them after that – dancing, eating, socializing.”

“I found I was not the big executive I thought. My roots are working class, family oriented, agricultural. It was tough to come back to the rat race after that,” he says. “It’s a traditional way of life there: community-oriented, connected. Everything was a celebration.”

“I wanted to find out about who I am and go to where that heart of that is.”
– Chris Carrino, retiree in training, world traveler, amateur genealogist

For Lynne McLernon, age 81, genealogy was about curiosity. This devoted family member wondered where her ancestors originated. And that lead to adventure, friendships and sharing.

“I came upon some old family papers that whetted my interest,” she says. “So, I took a class in genealogy in 1972. Then I wrote letters to anywhere records were kept… courthouses, churches, cemeteries. I borrowed microfilm from newspapers. This was before computer use was common, of course.”

She found that there were challenges. Her maiden name was Smith, which was widespread. People didn’t use middle names as much back then, so even more detective work was required. Plus, old records had been destroyed by fires, responses took a long time, everything had to be typed and so on.

“I joined genealogy societies, visited libraries and traveled. The generosity of other researchers to share their years of work was a wonderful surprise,” she says. “Everywhere I went, I had new adventures and made new friends. That was another thing that made the experience so rich. I was so very grateful to put a copy of my findings into my dad’s hands before he passed away—and also to share copies with my relatives after that.”

Travel proved to be a common thread with these two genealogists. “But, be a visitor. Don’t be a tourist,” Carrino says. “Ancestry is about traveling to experience a different culture. To live like the townspeople of the place where you originated.”

If your family tree involves a trip, you may find more than your roots. You may find yourself, too.

Interested in legacy planning for your family? Learn more at Jackson.com.

The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and individuals quoted and should not be construed as a recommendation or as complete. Chris Lynch is not affiliated with Jackson National Life Distributors LLC.

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