Once upon a time, I decided to move to Milwaukee. So that’s how it started.
I lived in southern California in the early 1990s. My family and I are originally from Minneapolis, but we moved around a lot, and I grew up mostly in southern California. I was 21, and I’d had enough of California, and I wanted to leave. So I moved to Milwaukee.
The thing was—I’d never been to Milwaukee. I didn’t know anybody in Milwaukee. In fact, I had to look on a map to be sure where Milwaukee was (clue: It’s actually really close to Chicago. That’s how we get stuff from IKEA. We don’t have IKEA up here.) I’d lived in Minneapolis, though, so I figured it would be pretty much the same thing. Plus, I’d seen Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days. That was enough, right? Plus, if I didn’t like it, I could just move someplace else, right?
This is the way my brain worked when I was 21. I was completely fearless. I miss that girl.
So I moved to this strange town all by myself. It was a big adventure. Everyone should do this at least once.
My family is very small, but I had a distant cousin who still lived up in Minnesota. She was 90 years old when I moved to Milwaukee, and she wrote me a letter in which she told me that I actually had roots in Wisconsin. She said my great-great-great-grandparents had been early settlers in West Bend, Wisconsin (about 45 minutes north of Milwaukee), and that they were buried there. This was news to me. I thought we’d always been Minnesotans. I had no idea we had any connection to Wisconsin at all. Being alone in a strange place, I found this news oddly comforting.
My cousin died very shortly after she wrote the letter, so I never got to ask her more about these grandparents. I decided that I’d find this West Bend place myself and check it out. I looked in the White Pages (kids, that’s how we did things in 1992) and found the Washington County Historical Society. I called them and spoke to a little old lady, and I explained that I’d heard that my great-great-grandparents were buried up there. She said she’d call me back.
And she did. She called and told me where my grandparents were buried. Then she said this:
“You know, we have a whole file on them.”
And that’s the line that changed everything for me.
I made arrangements to see the file…which turned out to include the original, handwritten will of my great-great-great-grandma, and tons of other information as well. I spent the next several years’ worth of Saturday mornings at the library, doing research on my family. Later, I moved to Washington, DC, where I spent another two years’ worth of Saturday mornings at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. I joined the National Genealogical Society, and a bunch of other genealogical and historical societies. I was a serious researcher. Whenever someone asked what I’d do if I won the lottery, I said, “I’d be a professional genealogist.”
Then I moved back to Milwaukee, got married, worked my way up the HR ladder, and had two kids. I hardly did any research at all. I wanted to, but I always had a million other things I had to get done. Still, when someone asked what I’d do if I won the lottery, I said, “I’d be a professional genealogist.”
And then, when I stopped working, I started a blog…about job hunting, not family history. Because I’d spent the past 14 years immersed in hiring people, and it was easy. To go back and pick up my research again, after a decade away from it…that’s hard. To make a complete career change (especially to something that sounds so dorky to most people)…that’s hard. To leave behind everything I’d worked for for those 14 years…man, that’s hard. HR was good to me. It would be much safer to let it just keep on being good to me.
Here’s the thing though: the older you get, the harder it is. A lot of people wish they did something else for a living, but they never actually do anything about it. Those are the people who are angry and bitter at work, who are always bitching and whining and rolling their eyes, because they never had the nerve to make a change. I can’t stand those people. They suck. The older I get, though, the more I understand how easy it is to end up in that place.
So screw that. I’m making the change. I’ve stopped talking about HR, and I’m working on my research. Eventually, I’ll be a professional genealogist…or maybe something else. I don’t know. But I know I’ve made the decision to take a different road here, and I’m going to see where it leads me.
But what I really wanted to tell you was this: If you want, you can come with me. Within the next few weeks, I plan to start blogging again…not about job hunting, but about my new life, and about the process of making a huge life change, and possibly about ice cream (because my new life needs to involve ice cream, or we can just forget this whole thing). If you’d like to join me, you should subscribe via RSS or by email so you don’t miss it. You can also follow me on Twitter, or just check back here obsessively.
I don’t know if you’ll like it or not, because I’m not totally sure what all I have to say. But it’ll be an adventure. Like moving to Milwaukee…but…well, cooler. Or maybe not as cool. Whatever. Just come with, dammit. Geez. Don’t be so snooty.
(Oh, and confidential to my Milwaukee friends…I’m REALLY sorry about the reference to Laverne and Shirley. I know how you hate that.)
Photo by Noahg.