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
of her distant ancestors were Amish –
a bit of information that somehow failed to
work its way down through the ages to her
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
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 history.”
offers a few pointers to others who want to
peel back the mystery and learn more about
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 books.
Ceil Lucas @
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