I love learning my family history.

And despite what my sister whispered in my ear through much of my childhood, an Ancestry.com test several years back proved I was not in fact adopted.

You might have one of those sisters, too. Or maybe yours is a brother?

Anyway, I have to be careful when I take a dive on Ancestry. I have been known to click on a 1910 Census report and resurface four hours later, red-eyed and eager for more information.

It’s truly fascinating to stumble across 150-year-old birth certificates and ship manifests.

Or to find out a co-worker is a distant cousin.

That happened.

Or to find out your great-grandfather was nearly killed when the car in which he was a passenger was hit by a coal train.

I stumbled across that information in our own newspaper archives.

It received prominent display, and follow-up stories, in both Beckley and Charleston, yet I somehow never knew it happened until Ancestry told me.

It’s safe to say much of my family — like many others — was drawn to southern West Virginia because of coal.

I often think about what their lives were like in the coalfields more than a century ago.

By the time I came along, no one in my immediate family worked underground.

Most of them had moved into our bigger towns and cities by then, but a few still lived – and still do — in the small coal communities they settled in all those years ago.

But it’s difficult to imagine the lives they led in the early 1900s.

And over this past year, I’ve wondered what life in the coalfields was like during the Spanish Influenza.

Did any of my family die? How did it change them?

When the calendar flipped from 1918 to 1919 to 1920, did they celebrate?

I know they didn’t watch the ball drop.

Did they spend all year saying, “Man, I can’t wait until this year is over”?

I doubt it. They were probably too busy surviving.

I just don’t know how.

I never really thought about our great-grandparents’ pandemic until our own hit. It was sometime in March or April, I think — those early months blend — when people began sharing photos of life back then.

Photos of families, and even a cat, in masks.

That’s when I really started to wonder about what life must have been like in those years. Of course, everyone in my family who was alive back then is now gone. Even the next generation. So, I’m mostly left with questions.

Those questions are what led me on my most recent Ancestry dive. But I uncovered only the train accident.

That is a pretty big “only,” though.

Eventually — and it still seems like it’s a very long way away — we’ll see the other side of Covid-19. Just like our ancestors saw the other side of their battle.

And in 100 years, future generations will look back with many of the same questions.

Hopefully, they won’t be in a pandemic, but I can’t see the future.

And as much as it pains me, I can’t see everything I want from the past. I will never know what my family did 100 years ago.

But I take comfort in knowing mine can look back at my words and know just what I was doing today.

My mom said my Pawpaw cooked a silver coin in his cabbage on New Year’s Day for good luck.

I thought about emptying my piggy bank, but I opted for a dime instead.

Happy New Year!

— Email: mjames@register-herald.com

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