Earlier this year, my son made a seemingly simple request. He asked if I could put a family tree together for him, as a birthday gift. I agreed, thinking, how much work could it be. I’d find the time to do this. His birthday was months away. I’d fit the work in to my regular schedule.
And then, schedules and life as we knew it changed with the pandemic. Time was the one commodity I found I had more than I’d ever dreamed or wanted. So, it was time to tackle this project.
What cast this simple task into a whole new world of “what was I thinking of when I said sure, no problem”?
The little clarification Ryan had requested. Not just parents and ascending grandparents. Could it include siblings and their off spring from the generation of his and his wife Annie’s grandparents? This tree rapidly escalated. Just getting the information was a challenge unto itself. Special thanks here to my daughter-in-law’s parents, Nancy and Tom Trevethick who provided me with excel formatted spread sheets. What a surprise to find the documentation extends back to John and Priscilla Adams who settled at Plymouth Colony after crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower.
Ryan’s side of the family did not share the same documentation. My mother had been the keeper of records for my side of the family. It was organized chaos, going through her notes, charts and albums. Again, so grateful to have the time to enjoy the search.
Hans’ family records proved much more difficult. Special and grateful appreciation to his cousin Susanne Rieck, who provided me with the names and dates of family members Hans had not known.
My cousin JoAnn Simon’s trip to find Cavaliere relatives in Amalfi and Ravello netted us my grandfather’s birth certificate. Hans had it translated by Nino, his barber, so we could confirm one more date. And there are too many to list of all of Hans ‘and my relatives who responded to my every email requesting just one more thing…
You know who you are and I appreciate your help and time.
So enough talking, here’s what the initial tackle looked like. I gathered info, wrote it out and cut up the excel spread sheets to start trying to make sense of this.
When done, I finally was able to fit it into a workable size for me, 36″ x 48.” Here’s the final layout.
Completed, there were 374 names. I dated the piece when I finished it as I know there were babies on the way but I had to make my layout a done deal.
I was painting on a stretched canvas. Take a look as it started coming to life.
Finally, substance began to peek at me. Here’s progress. The blocks for names had each received three coats of white for smoothness and opacity. An outline was adding the crispness I wanted.
And then the fun began, seriously. Here are the principles which base the tree. My son and his wife and their children.
The four corners of the panel were the artwork Ryan had also requested. On the upper left are immigrants coming to New York with the Statue of Liberty in the distance. This honors so many branches of the tree, family that came from Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland, Cornwall and Germany. In the upper right is the Mayflower. I was intrigued reading these histories of those who had been born in Europe and died in this country. I was impressed with the longevity of many, knowing my granddaughters carry that blood.
The lower left corner shows a New England farmer. In my mind, he might be any of the people on this tree, but he is my Grandpa Louie. I was raised next door to his home and magnificent garden. The final quadrant on the lower right is Musberg, my husband Hans’ childhood home.
It was a most trying jigsaw puzzle I put together. I know there’s no right or wrong as long as I found a way to make it readable. I didn’t keep track of all the failed approaches but I will share that it took me 168 hours to complete. I’m not including the research time. I started , more out of curiosity, to keep track of my time once I started to arrange it.
And it’s done.
We had to wait a little past Ryan’s birthday til we could be together. Ryan wanted to see it in person first. The photos don’t do it justice. I’m so glad we waited.
Finally, after being done for weeks, Ryan got his birthday present!
If you’ve been thinking about making a family tree, give me a call. They can be done in so many ways, and not necessarily so expansive as Ryan’s. Here is a very simple one a did a few years ago on a 16″x20″ canvas.
If there was ever a way of bringing me a little closer to so many members of my family, this project was one of them. Trying to put a positive outlook and benefit on the effects of the pandemic.
I hope this finds you staying well.