The Internet makes it possible to create relationships beyond time and space. At Tribe, we often say that social media allows human connections without physical proximity. We can build relationships with people all over the world who share our same interests and passions. Geography — or space — is not an issue.
But how about bridging both space and time? In the past few weeks, I’ve been completely sucked into ancestry.com. The amount of information available online about people long dead and gone is amazing. Do a little digging, and you’ll find a treasure trove of WWI draft registrations, turn-the-century census reports, and even photos.
It’s one thing to picture your grandparents as they were when you were a kid (in other words, as old people) and another thing entirely to begin to flesh out the story of their lives. To see a federal census report from 1920, handwritten in fountain pen, listing my grandmother’s mother, Elizabeth Dezell Shepard, as head of household and a widow, her eldest Herschel as a secretary for a rubber tire company, other son Clinton as an accountant in an automobile company, daughter Grace as an accountant for the express company and my grandmother herself as a stenographer opens up a part of her history I’d never considered, before she was married to my grandfather and posed for portraits like the one pictured here.
Go back further and you find ancestors who came to the New World on ships, or fought in the Revolution, or were teenagers on the North Carolina Outer Banks in the years that Blackbeard and other pirates made those waters their home. Instead of names and dates, they become connections, even if part of their existence is extrapolated from the bare bones of facts and imagined in ways that might not be accurate, strictly speaking.
It reminds me that a friend who was a shrink once mentioned to me that human existence is a dance between the desire for intimacy and autonomy. For connections and independence. In a time when few of us live in small towns where we know everyone on the street, the Internet provides the sort of daily interactions that simulate those connections. We also live in a time when few of us have the continuity of several generations in one place. The Internet can provide richer connections with the ones who came before, as well.