Once upon a time – I think it was 2006 – I was procrastinating taking a break from work and decided to Google my name, just to see which of my freelance articles would pop up. The usual suspects were revealed: articles from ASU Research Magazine, alumni publications, local Phoenix magazines. But one hit caught my attention: a Melissa Crytzer from Kittanning, PA – not from my native Greenville, PA – and the added bonus… an included email address regarding her upcoming class reunion.
From my then-Phoenix office, and without thinking, I shot off a quick email: “I’m a Melissa Crytzer, too. We might be related.” I laughed at the absurdity of my correspondence and thought nothing of it, until I heard back from the woman who shared my name – though by now she was Melissa Schaeffer.
Fast-forward to 2010, my trek back to Pennsylvania for a Girls’ Week getaway – and a trip to visit “Cousin Melissa.”
My immediate family had long heard rumors that the Crytzers originated in Kittanning, northeast of Pittsburgh, even though my great grandparents and grandparents hailed from nearby Ohio. Melissa wrote back, telling me that her Uncle Ron had mapped out the family tree back to the 1800s, but was missing one branch … from Ohio.
Yes, my father’s family was the missing branch Uncle Ron had been searching for (Uncle Ron’s grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers, if you can believe this crazy story of Internet fate). You can imagine how excited I was to share the news with my Dad that we were going to meet Melissa and Uncle Ron, who invited us to tour the Kittanning area.
We learned so much fascinating family history from Uncle Ron. I was intrigued about the metamorphosis of the spelling of our last name (rarely consistent due to Census recording, phonetic spelling during the time period, and a general lack of interest in correct surname spelling). Our family tree includes Krytzer, Critsor, Critzor, and finally … Crytzer)
Aside from meeting flesh-and-blood family members for the first time, I learned that ours is a family of war veterans – Revolutionary War, Civil War, Korean War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam – and a family of settlers, landowners, laborers, farmers, coal diggers, carpenters, factory workers, business operators and police chiefs. I now also have the family crest and learned that, at one point, a settlement was named Crytzerville near Kittanning in the 1800s.
I’m proud of my family heritage (and have fallen in love with my long-lost relatives. Thanks, Uncle Ron, for doing all the legwork on the family tree. Thanks, Melissa, for responding to my crazy email and entertaining my first visit).
I will continue to dig, because rumor has it that my great grandmother, who married Great Grandpa David Crytzer (maiden name Clever) – also from the Kittanning area – is of Native American descent. Thanks to my most recent trip back to Kittanning, I know right where to go: the Armstrong County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society, where I photographed uncanny – ghostly? – images that may or may not speak to other historical events, these dating back to the 1700s. (If you haven’t checked out that post, I’d love you to weigh in).
The moral(s) of the story: sometimes it’s just nice to know where you come from. And sometimes, a bit of Internet procrastination can lead you back home.
For Writers: What does family mean to you? Is it more than a shared surname? Do you have a reliable family tree? Have you ever tried to find out where you came from? What did you learn? What resources did you use?
For Readers: Do you gravitate toward books with historical settings or significance? How far back in time does a book need to be for you to consider it “historical”? Can you think of any novels you read where genealogy or family trees were important?