The Inspiration for My Why

I am often asked why I got started researching family history, and that’s a good question.  I suspect for most who ask the question, it is a simple curiosity since I usually do stick out in a room–by being quite a bit younger than the average genealogist by 2-4 decades, give or take.  I used to be able to say I didn’t have any noticeable grey hairs, but that is not really true anymore, so we’ll just stick to the fact that I’m younger than most.

Marie Campagna, Sophomore year at LSU

Marie Campagna, Sophomore year at Louisiana State University

I always answer that it was my last living grandparent, maternal grandmother Marie Campagna Anderson, that was the impetus for my journey down this path.  Without even thinking, I normally rattle off that she “passed the torch” to me, and now I’m the family historian.  And I usually also tag on that my paternal grandparents Weldon & Lucille Darst also did genealogical research, so I got it from both sides.  And that I am the eventual heir to all the boxes of photos and memorabilia from both sides of the family, so it is my responsibility to document all the people and stories that left behind all the stuff.

So how did it all start?  When Grandma Marie turned 80 on 31 August 2007, her six daughters planned a surprise birthday reunion for her.  One of the gifts to be unveiled at this reunion was a scrapbook that documented the 8 decades of her life.  I diligently worked for 9 months preceding the reunion with my mom and aunts to collect all the photos, milestone events, and stories that would go into the book.  My mom scanned 2,000+ vintage photos, and each of the 6 daughters wrote several short stories of memories of their mother over the 6 decades of their lives.  I restored all the faded photos and compiled everything into 2 scrapbooks spanning 130 pages. It was a fascinating experience, because I learned things about my grandmother that I would have never known, had it not been for the massive scrapbook project.

Scrapbook to celebrate Marie's 80th birthday

Scrapbook to celebrate Marie’s 80th birthday

My interest had been piqued, and I was heading down the slippery slope toward genealogy addiction!  After the reunion, most of my visits home to see my parents and grandmother revolved around some type of family archiving, scanning, or organization projects.  When I learned I’d be moving from Texas to Colorado in early 2010, I spent about 3 weeks engaged in curating activities for our family archive.  I began to help my grandmother with her Family Tree Maker software, and then bought my own copy of the software in 2010, because I wanted to start adding new information to the family tree.

As it turns out, my Grandma Marie had inherited the beginnings of her research from her brother Salvador Campagna, who had traced the Campagna and Margavio ancestors and descendants about 3 generations in both directions.  Being from a large Italian family, Marie had about 53 first cousins, so most of the members in the family tree were living descendants of these individuals.  Both Sal and Marie had done most of their research the old-fashioned way pre-Internet:  by writing letters to family members, sending away for records from the National Archives, or renting microfilm to view at local Family History Centers.  Reviewing this information opened my eyes to the existence of entire branches of the family that I hadn’t ever heard of, much less met in person.

I have a tendency to dive into anything I do with full gusto, and genealogy was no different for me.  After I moved to the Denver area, I didn’t know a soul, so began attending local genealogical society events at the rate of about 2 or more per week.  I quickly came up to speed on research techniques, methodology and record types, and soon found myself being the teacher to others.  I began taking week-long trips to Salt Lake City to research at the Family History Library, and brought home stacks of papers usually averaging 2,500 copies!  I was officially addicted!

Weldon & Lucille Darst, 1965 at Driscoll Hotel, Austin, Texas

Weldon & Lucille Darst, 1965 at Driscoll Hotel, Austin, Texas

My Grandma Marie officially handed off responsibility for further research sometime in 2011, and I haven’t looked back since.  I love to share with her the new things I find on her Italian lines.  I’ve even gotten my mother Beth Darst hooked on the gateway drug known on the street as Ancestry.com, and now she is even doing basic research requests for members of her church.  My, how slippery that slope is!

I recall as a child that my PawPaw Weldon always challenged me and my brother to “leave a legacy.”  This was something very important to him, and although I didn’t fully grasp it as a teenager before he passed away, I understand now.  I wish my PawPaw was still alive today so he could share with me in all the discoveries I’ve made on the Darst and allied lines.  I think he would be proud of the legacy of which he and his ancestors are a part.

So as I continue my genealogy obsession, I remember those who came before me and planted the seeds of the trees whose roots now run deep.

This post is dedicated to my grandparents Marie & Nathan Anderson and Weldon & Lucille Darst.