By Ceil Lucas
Katey Sagal discovered a surprising fact about
her family history when she appeared on the “Who
Do You Think You Are?” TV show, which
features celebrities tracing their roots.
of her distant ancestors were Amish – a
bit of information that somehow failed to work
its way down through the ages to her generation.
experience uncovering such a fascinating, but
previously unknown family fact isn’t that
far off the mark from what others could expect
to find when they start tracing their family lines,
says Ceil Lucas, a sociolinguist, amateur genealogist
and author of How I Got Here: A Memoir.
past is chock-full of secrets ready to be revealed,”
says Lucas, whose exploration of her own family
history provided the stories she includes in her
memoir, such as the tale of an ancestor who was
involved in the Oklahoma Land Rush.
layer can be richer than the last, revealing people
you never knew about and, with any luck, your
family’s connections to major events in
offers a few pointers to others who want to peel
back the mystery and learn more about their ancestors:
Start with what you already know about your
family and work back from there. Lucas began
investigating her family history three decades
ago, about the same time she began making
notes on what would become a memoir of her
childhood in Guatemala City and Rome, Italy.
This expatriate upbringing left her with a
sense of “I’m not from here”
– “here” being the U.S.,
where she was born. But her genealogical research,
which revealed her first ancestors coming
to the U.S. from Scotland in 1654 and England
in 1679, showed her just how “from here”
Take advantage of the many genealogical resources
available these days. Community colleges often
offer genealogy classes that can help propel
you on your journey. When it comes to research
or DNA testing that provides revelations about
your origins, several websites are invaluable,
such as ancestry.com, 23andme.com and myheritage.com.
If you plan to write a memoir, remember that
the life story you’re telling will be
an even richer narrative if you do your genealogical
homework and include those stories of the
relatives from your distant past. “Your
ancestors are part of who you are,”
Lucas says. “So you should weave them
into your memoir and let them provide an added
texture to your tale.”
in the genealogical picture has thoroughly shaped
how I think about myself,” Lucas says. “In
a way, genealogy has given me ‘memories’
of those who came before me, even 10 generations
before me. I have pictures in my mind of the places
they left and pictures of where they ended up.
Their stories have become mine.”
Ceil Lucas, author of How
I Got Here: A Memoir, is a sociolinguist.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in French
and Art History, a master’s degree in French
and Italian, and a doctorate in Linguistics. She
spent 40 years as a university professor and researcher.
She began teaching Italian in 1973 and continues
to do so. She is the editor and co-author of 22
Ceil Lucas @
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