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E-mail gave new value to the census

There are moments in life that take your breath away. Literally.

These moments compare to a pivotal point in a movie where the bellow of, “Lights! Camera! Action!” resonates amid the din of a Hollywood set as the scene plays out in precise momentum.

That’s what happened to me on a recent Monday morning of bright blue sky and eye-squinting sun when a Hollywood movie moment arrived in the form of an e-mail. One that was almost deleted thinking it was another advertisement to renew my journey into familial roots that ended two years ago after hitting a brick wall.

My parents were not ones to share family tales of yore. The good, bad and ugly were kept in the closet with a vast array of other interesting skeletons. When we moved from New York to California in 1960, the familial bonds that could have been, were lost forever.

Forty-five years later I discovered resurrecting one’s family history from scarce pickings is similar to riding a unicycle – a wobbly journey at best on a singled-wheeled contraption with a clown sitting precariously on top. I was that clown and such was my journey.

But on this particular Monday, fate pushed me away from the computer before the last e-mail was deleted. A grenade had hit my desk, and paperwork covered every inch … but something caught my eye.

“New Message sent to you on” had numerous come-on lines but “new message” wasn’t one of them. I clicked the e-mail.

“Clarence (1888–1975) married to Nancy (1884-1975),” the e-mail read. “My father was Lawrence who was a brother to Clarence. Clarence’s son James Albert (1912-1972) and married to Annah Elizabeth … I have a tree that goes back to my Great-Grandfather John S. who was born in Virginia in 1827 and died in Delaware in 1910. If you are interested I would be glad to exchange information with you as I have very little on James Albert and his children. My name is Roland.”

This could have been a ruse or a mistake. It wasn’t. Clarence and Nancy were my grandparents. James Albert was my father, Annah Elizabeth, my mother. Cue the violins; snap on the bright light. My Hollywood movie moment had arrived.

The scattered papers covering my desk faded in a blaze of keyboarding finesse. “Yes, indeed, we are related,” I typed to Roland.

“I knew you were out there. I just didn’t know how to contact you,” he answered. Then, in an unassuming way characteristic of my paternal side, Roland wrote, “I have a 30 page Descendant’s List. Would you like me to send it?”

Lightening-speed Internet could not shoot the word “Yes” into cyberspace fast enough. Within seconds, the names of those I share a blood connection with, but had limited knowledge of, appeared.

This unexpected Hollywood movie moment was surreal. Butterflies bounced in my stomach, a lump swelled in my throat and the unicycle toppled to the ground. The stage lights flashed on and my mind’s camera rolled, recording every nuance of surprise, joy, pride and tears as I read the names of my ancestors that trace back to 1827 Virginia.

On the final page, Roland listed the censuses of 1900, 1910 and 1920 among the source materials he used to discover our roots. I spotted the uncompleted Census 2010 form from beneath a mound of papers and smiled at the irony.

For a week, the census form had been pushed aside while I vacillated between whether it was intrusion or necessity, but on this bright Monday morning the distant echoes of my relatives conveyed its importance.

A day will come when the information on my Census 2010 form will be a key discovery for a relative seeking connection. On that day, a director will unexpectedly pluck them from the ordinary and bellow – Lights! Camera! Action!

And on that day, it will be their turn to experience a Hollywood movie moment like no other; one that will, literally, take their breath away.

Spokane Valley resident Sandra Babcock can be reached by e-mail at

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