Old and New, Lost and Found
by Karen

I’ve been known to grouse about writing and publishing in the electronic age, which probably accomplishes little more than revealing my age. I can boast about graduating college with only a typewriter and white erasers. I could reveal shoeboxes full of airmail letters from old boyfriends that would make great Hallmark plotlines, if only they hadn’t mysteriously vanished. Whiteout and answering machines had not been invented back then, but I doubt anyone would care. That’s past history. I definitely know no one cares about fat finger mistakes at the keyboard now. That’s my problem. Keep up with the times, lady, is all I hear. Grrr.

But a couple of big events happened in 2017 that have softened my thinking and inspired this blog.

First, in February I got a beautiful new granddaughter—700 miles from where I live. I flew over to meet her when she was only 4 days old. No matter how intently I gazed at her, she hardly changed at all. I’d definitely have to make a lot of trips Since then I’ve flown back to see her milestones: smiling, rolling, and sitting. But in between, I keep in touch with Facebook photos and text photos. My college age granddaughter is teaching me Face Time so I’ll be ready for the crawling stage (all right, so I can also keep in touch with college life). Funny what can motivate an old dog to learn new tricks.

Then, a couple months later, the electronic age and Facebook brought another person into my life. This was a stranger on Messenger. “I’m your cousin and we’ve never met, but I’ve been looking for you.”

Whoa! Had I been lost? In a sense, yes, I had been. This second cousin, Darci, was working on a genealogy for my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. She knew little about my grandmother, who was one of 9 children born in Scotland. Growing up, I naturally believed the world centered around our immediate family in America. So this blew me away to learn there were far flung relatives who knew very little about me, or my mother, or my grandmother.

My grandmother, Helen, left Scotland in 1910, married in Canada, and went on to have five children, one of whom was my mother, Elsie. I knew about Helen’s younger brothers and sister who also emigrated to North America, but they settled far from each other, so keeping in touch came down to letters and Christmas cards and maybe one visit each decade. No email or texting back then. But at least I was aware of them.

I also knew a few of Helen’s siblings never left Scotland, but there was no contact, not in my lifetime. I assumed someone had let the letter writing lapse or thrown letters into a bonfire, or had a falling out. I assumed any Scottish connection was lost in the mists of time. The family line seemed to end with old photos from the cemetery in Forres. End of the line. Then Darci delivered a bombshell.

“You know,” she told me via email, “you have cousins in Scotland. They don’t know much about any of Nell’s descendants.”  A stunning revelation. To think on both sides of the Atlantic, there were relatives who each thought the others were lost. In Scotland, where I thought I had no one left, instead there are second cousins, descended from a brother and sister of my grandmother. And they referred to my grandmother as Nell, not Helen as I knew her. Months later, it still makes me gulp and blink back tears.

It won’t do any good to bemoan the past and wonder how the connection got broken. Times were different. Postage to Scotland might have been a luxury during the Depression. Feelings might have been hurt. A life situation might have been embarrassing. It doesn’t really matter now. It’s simply a wonderful thing to connect with long lost relatives this late in life. I only wish my mother had still been alive to know about them. I dream of a future where I meet Darci, William, Catherine, Leslie, Kersty. . . .

I’ve been digressing. The point is I never would have made this discovery without Facebook and email and text messaging. Thanks to Darci in Oregon and William in Scotland for persevering in the research. Thanks to the age of electronics, we are all a bigger family than we knew.

And most of all, we are connected.





Copyright by Karen Finnigan 2011
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