Family History is for Everyone: Spotlight on Teresa L. Thyden
Today I’d like to introduce you to my second cousin, Teresa L. Thyden. Although our grandfathers were brothers, we had never met, corresponded, or even known about each other’s existence. Teresa found our blog when she happened to come across my post: The Search for William Henry Kelsey’s Journal. Also a Kelsey descendant, she shares my love of researching family. She inherited photos and documents of the family I had never seen and has been uploading them to FamilySearch for all to enjoy. She has graciously agreed to share her genealogy journey.
How did you get started in family history? Do you remember an initial “spark” or incident that inspired you? Did you have any experiences as a child/teen in school or at home that helped you be more inclined toward family history?
As a child I heard a story about my great-great-grandfather who immigrated from Sweden, leaving his family behind as he searched for a better life. He created that life in Minnesota and after a while saved enough money to bring his wife and four children to join him. I was fascinated by someone who could leave everything and start brand new elsewhere, especially if it involved learning a new language and customs. I have been fortunate to meet cousins in Sweden who descended from this great-great-grandfather.
My mother’s side of the family left England about the same time, leaving family and friends behind. The pioneering stories of their struggles and triumphs are amazing and should be preserved.
My daughter had a genealogy project in elementary school which re-sparked my interest in genealogy. As I helped her, I rediscovered my interest and have been researching and documenting every since.
What mentors influenced you to get started in family history and genealogy research?
Both my mother and my grandmother were very interested in genealogy. I grew up hearing stories from them. Their ancestry goes back to the Mayflower. The personal connection to historical events hooked me. I remember sitting with my grandmother as she told stories and showed me photographs about those ancestors. As I got older, I wanted to know more. There are so many branches to follow. When you reach the end of one, there’s another waiting to be explored.
Why do you do genealogy? Why do you think it’s important?
In some ways I feel I’m picking up where my mother and grandmother left off. It is so much easier to research today than in their day. So many records are available on-line. My discoveries often come much easier (and faster) than theirs did. I have turned much of my focus to my father’s ancestry. There is so much we never knew. I find it very interesting to see how and perhaps why people immigrated to the United States. Through my research, I’ve found connections to so many countries: Sweden, England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain.
What is the most rewarding part of researching your family’s history?
Whenever I can research a new branch of the family or find an answer to a lingering question I feel all of the research has been worthwhile. There have been mysteries from the past, unanswered questions, unexplored paths, and sometimes completely false tales. Learning the truth and honoring those who lived before me is extremely rewarding. It is through their struggles to get here that I have the life I currently live.
What has been the most difficult part of your genealogical journey?
Not all records are on-line. Much of my family immigrated to the East Coast. I live on the West Coast. I can’t simply travel on the weekends to libraries, court houses, and archives along the Atlantic. Harder yet is traveling to Europe and understanding the languages of the documents. Customs are different in different countries. For example, in old Sweden, it used to be that children were named after their father’s first name. For example, if John Larsson had a son the son’s last name would be Johnsson. A daughter would be Johnsdaughter. No one has the exact same last name. As traditions changed, people used multiple last names. Identifying people in the same family can be difficult.
Another huge obstacle is non-standardized spellings. Computers are fairly smart in finding similar records, but it’s very difficult when one person can be identified as Humphrey, Humfry, and Humphrie.
What are your research interests?
I often switch back and forth between my mother and father’s ancestry. If I get stuck with one, I’ll pick up a different branch for a while. Sometimes when I get back to my original problem, someone has loaded new information to the internet and all of a sudden, I’ve got my answer. Lately I have researched my father’s ancestry to Jamestown, VA. Going back to the founding days of our country is fascinating.
How do you preserve your family history?
Currently I have everything on my laptop: documents and photographs scanned into folders and a 50+ sheet workbook filled with family records. I would like to load the data to an on-line tree, making it accessible to other family members. I have a file cabinet full of hard-copy documents and photographs. I am creating binders with photo-safe page protectors to preserve them for generations to come.
What is your favorite way to share genealogy and family history with others?
It’s very difficult right now with the laptop, that’s why I’m eager to get the data loaded into an on-line database. I’m e-mailing files back and forth to people or when we’re together, we can look at the laptop – or original hard-copy documents.
If you had all the time in the world to spend on family history, what would you do?
Travel to locations where ancestors lived. Snoop around their old villages, searching for clues to the past. I would love to spend time visiting living relatives to interview them. Everyone has stories.
What’s the best discovery you’ve made about your family?
There are so many: ship manifests of immigrants arriving in the U.S.; diaries and trail ledgers of pioneers traveling across the prairies settling new towns; Mayflower and other early immigration expeditions; Jamestown settlements and interactions with Native Americans; American Revolution, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and II soldiers fighting for independence and freedom. Basically, watching how my family helped explore and settle this country from coast to coast.
Who is your most interesting ancestor?
There are several but they all boil down to one category of people – those who leave everything behind to begin a new life. The courage it took to uproot their families and head off to parts unknown is amazing.