Even though the Westborough Public Library is not yet open to the public, librarians are back in the building catching up on collection processing and preparing the building for when we can open our doors again.
As part of these efforts, I have been working on a “special enhancement” to the new exhibit space in the Westborough Center that is going to significantly improve our ability to share information about Westborough’s history and culture. (I am going to keep it a secret to create some suspense for our reopening and to use it as an incentive for you to stop by when we do). I have also been busy adding the first batch of photographs to the new Photographer-in-Residence Program Photographs collection in the Westborough Digital Repository.
And every summer, I evaluate the activities of the Westborough Center and come up with ideas to try to improve what we are doing. I am in the process of carrying out such an evaluation now, and I am excited about some of my initial ideas to make the Westborough Center an even better place for exploration, creativity, and celebration of Westborough history and culture.
I can’t wait to see you in person once again and hope that you will stop in the Westborough Center to check it out once we reopen. And if you have any ideas for what you would like to do or see happen at the Westborough Center, send me an e-mail!
Photographer-in-Residence Program Photographs – The photographs of the 2018-2019 Photographer-in-Residence, Brandin Tumeinski, are now available in the Digital Repository. Once the library opens up again, stop by the Westborough Center to see an enhanced exhibit of his work.
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Continue Submitting Your Face Mask Selfies – I know, you are are probably tired of me asking, but the contributions so far have been so great and say so much about who we are during these strange times that I can’t help it. Become a part of history and submit your photo! Future residents of Westborough will thank you. (Just click on the link and select “Face Mask Selfie” from the drop down menu to submit yours.)
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Bending Lines: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception (online exhibit at the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library) – We tend to attribute notions of trust and authority to the maps we use, but they are just as prone to distortion as any other form of representation. I love the work of the Leventhal Map Center, and their latest online exhibit addresses the gap between physical reality and how maps and other forms of visual data represent that reality. Let’s hope we can see the physical version soon!
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
I started the Pastimes newsletter back in March in response to the closing of our library during the coronavirus pandemic. In that first issue I featured Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which is a collection of 100 tales that are all framed by the story of a group of ten nobles who each agree to tell a story a day during the ten days while they are quarantined in the countryside avoiding the Black Death.
Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is often discussed along with Boccaccio’s work because its collection of stories are also joined together by a frame tale: a group of religious pilgrims find themselves traveling together to Canterbury, England and each one agrees to tell a total of four stories to entertain each other along the way. But what also unites these two works is the specter of the plague. Chaucer’s pilgrims are traveling to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral after praying for his help during the spread of the Black Death. So while The Decameron starts near the beginning of the plague, The Canterbury Tales begins at its end.
Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims, we may have missed out on enjoying our April (and most of May), but now that we share with the travelers the emergence of spring and the beginning phases for ending our quarantine we should join them by getting outside and making some of our own “pilgrimages” around town (see the entries below for ideas)–and, if you were an English major in college and were required to memorize the opening lines to The Canterbury Tales as I was, recite some Chaucer along the way.
Make a “Pilgrimage” to the Burial Site of Our Town’s First Minister – Rev. Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery on West Main Street (between the Forbes Municipal Building and Westborough TV), and his gravesite is so elaborate in comparison to the others that you will easily find it.
Once you also finish wandering among the gravestones of other Westborough residents who lived during Parkman’s time, walk down the street to the Congregational Church, and, if you are lucky enough to find it open, visit the Parkman Memorial Chapel. The chapel has the same dimensions as Westborough’s original meeting house, and in it you can see Parkman’s Bible and stand behind the pulpit from which he gave his sermons.
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Celebrate Along with the Birds the Arrival of Springtime and Our New Limited Freedoms – Chaucer describes spring as a time when “smale foweles maken melodye,” so let’s pay attention and enjoy their songs. The New York Times has a nice set of seven tips to help those of us who have never engaged in formal birdwatching to become more attuned to the lives of birds. I, for one, plan to use it while sitting out on my back deck as the weather continues to warm up.
The weather this spring has generally been cold, windy, and dreary. And even though we have had a few warm and sunny spring days, I still find myself longing for an end to “winter,” both for my garden’s and our mental health’s sake.
But even if the weather and the coronavirus continues to keep us indoors, we can still enjoy a virtual walk in our community through the work of the Westborough Public Library’s Photographers-in-Residence. The first Pastime entry below has links to their work, some of which was before and some during the pandemic shut-down. In both cases, the positive spirit of our community shines through!
If you want to “get behind the camera” yourself, the other Pastime entries will give you some ideas and opportunities to do so. And even if you do not have any photographic skills, be sure to submit your Face Mask Selfie to the Westborough Archive! You can view ones that have been submitted so far to gather some inspiration.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
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Photographs of Our Community Before and During the Pandemic – View the latest work by the Westborough Public Library’s current Photographer-in-Residence (2019-2020), Adway Wadekar, at https://www.instagram.com/thewestborougharchive/. Many of his works currently posted show Westborough during more vibrant times and remind us of what we have to look forward to once the coronavirus threat finally ends.
Brandin Tumeinski, who was our Photographer-in-Residence from 2018-2019, continues to take photographs of our community. You can view his most recent work at https://brandintumeinski.instaproofs.com/gallery/#events/1731919/4013169. Once the library opens up again to the public, the Westborough Center will be offering an enhanced display of his “Westborough: Portraits of a Town” exhibit, and we will be looking forward to displaying Wadekar’s work in a follow-up exhibit once his current term ends.
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Submit Your Photographs to Westborough Connects! – Westborough Connects is collecting photographs and brief stories meant to capture our experiences and reactions to the coronavirus pandemic during the month of May. Even better, their fourteen different contribution suggestions are activities that we can do to break up the monotony, bring some joy to our lives, and/or get us out of the house and into Westborough’s fresh air.
The project is called “Together. Apart. Always. Stories of Connections and Resilience in Westborough,” and you can learn more about it by visiting the Westborough Connects website or by going to their special Facebook page for this project. Contributions will be collected into a book that the organization will sell as a fundraiser. So pull out your cameras or smartphones and contribute to this fun and reflective project.
(By the way, the book will be added to the Westborough Archive, so your contribution will truly become a part of history!)
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Become Involved in Photographing Westborough – Are you interested in photography? Do you want to connect with other photographers and help the Westborough Center document life in our town so that future generations can gain a better understanding of who we are today?
The Westborough Public Library will be revamping our Photographer-in-Residence program in the upcoming year. We do not yet know what this new program will look like (although we already have some ideas), but if you are interested in participating either with planning the new program or simply adding your name to a notification list for when it gets going, let me know by emailing me at email@example.com.
In last week’s issue of Westborough Local History Pastimes, I discussed the importance of collecting images, stories, websites, and other formats that document how Westborough is responding to the current medical crisis and what that collection may mean to Westborough in the future. But we can also look back in time to see how Westborough handled medical issues in the past.
This issue highlights ways for you to explore how Westborough responded to pandemics, disease, and other physical ailments at various points in its history.
Rev. Ebenezer Parkman and Eighteenth-Century Medicine – If we cannot diagnose Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister, as a hypochondriac* given the historical distance between his time and now, we can at least say that he was highly attuned to medical matters during his time. In the absence of modern medicine, who can blame him? Parkman actively chronicled both his own ailments and those of the people of Westborough in his diary, and he collected recipes that supposedly cured or provided relief to those afflicted with disease or illness.
Here are a few places where you can explore and learn more about disease and medicine in eighteenth-century America through Parkman and his writings.
Read about how diseases as various as measles, sore throat, and rickets affected Westborough in the eighteenth century by visiting this page from the Westborough Public Library’s online edition of Parkman’s diary: http://diary.ebenezerparkman.org/diary-themes-topics/.
You can find some of the cures that Parkman collected–such as “The Blood of a Pigeon is a most Excellent Remedy in all Wounds & Contagions of the Eyes”–in New England’s Hidden Histories’s online collection of Parkman Papers. Click the “Close and View Content” button in the bottom right of the page after visiting each of these pages:
Read more about Parkman’s medicinal recipes in “A Most Excellent Remedy,” a Beacon Street Diary blog post from Congregational Library and Archive.
* According to Leo Damrosch in The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (available as an ebook through the WPL with the Libby app), hypochondria in the eighteenth-century “didn’t mean wrongly imagining a physical illness; it meant suffering from a very real mental disorder, which was assumed to be linked to some bodily imbalance” relating to “blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile” (17).
Help Us Document Life During the Coronavirus Pandemic!
As we keep up our social distancing during the pandemic, I hear over and over again that “we are witnessing history.” Well, we are always witnessing history, but it is also true that some events have a greater impact on our lives than others. What we really mean to say is that we are witnessing a significant event that will perhaps impact us for years to come, and so people in the future will want to study and understand the ways that this event changed us.
In last week’s newsletter, I bemoaned the difficulty of finding articles on the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 in the Westborough Chronicle (more on that next week!). But wouldn’t it be great if we had an archival collection that documented how Westborough responded to that crisis? Such an archive could teach us how the people of Westborough in the past coped with their fears, made difficult decisions in an attempt to curb infections, and adapted to having their normal routines interrupted in the face of a public health emergency. By coming to understand their struggle, we might find solace in the fact that our town has already gone through something similar to what we are going through now, that we bonded together as a community, and that we came out of the crisis together to live another day.
Your response to the current pandemic is historic! Below are some ways that you can help the Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Center collect our impressions, our experiences, and our coping mechanisms for future Westborough residents. We are indeed witnessing history, and, as always, you are an important part of creating that history! Here is your chance to help us document this history and preserve it for generations to come.
Despite the stereotypes (or because of them), librarians are sometimes characterized as superheroes. People come up to the reference desk or send us an email with what they assume is an impossible question to answer, and within minutes, we are miraculously able to find the answer. How do we do that? (Email me or stop by the Westborough Center for History and Culture the next time the library is open and I’ll be happy to try to explain.)
But sometimes–probably more often than we want to admit–we make mistakes. After all, we are human (and not actual superheroes). And recently, I made a mistake. Well, sort of. In a past issue of Westborough Local History Pastimes, I said that I had conducted a “thorough search” in the Westborough Chronicle for any reference to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and could not find any. Well, since that time, I came across a search term that I had neglected to use before, went back to our local newspaper database to try it out, and was finally able to uncover an article about the pandemic. By all indications, this article should have come up using my original search terms, but for whatever reason, it did not. I must have made a mistake somewhere, or perhaps the quirks of the database eluded me.
Now it’s your turn. Read the first pastime entry below and try your hand at becoming a librarian superhero!
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
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Westborough and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 – The following article appeared in the Westborough Chronicle on October 11, 1918. To date, it is the only article I have been able to find on the topic in our local newspaper. Want to see if you can do better than I can? Explore our Westborough Historical Newspapers database, and let me know if you discover any more articles about this historical pandemic.
As of this writing, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Massachusetts has a 54.9% response rate, compared to a national average of 53.2%. (Click here to find out the updated number.) Filling out the Census is important, because it determines the number of representatives that we get to send to Washington and the amount of federal funds that will flow to our state and town. If we are undercounted, then we will not receive our full benefits and lose influence in setting public policy.
Because we own the government by virtue of being citizens in our democratic society (and more literally because we pay taxes), we also own all of the records that are produced by our government. That means we have access to all kinds of data that comes out of the U.S. Census Bureau. Even more, you can find loads of fascinating historical data, and even see Famous and Infamous Census Forms for people like Thomas Jefferson, Groucho Marx, Malcolm X, Emily Dickinson, and John Dillinger. I could spend hours exploring all that the Census website has to offer!
The exhibit chronicles how maps were used to shape ideas and attitudes towards our country’s westward expansion. Its addition of Native American viewpoints alone brings to relief how maps hold meanings that go beyond their seemingly neutral spatial representations. The content of the exhibit was so absorbing that I purchased the exhibition catalog to learn more. Fortunately, you can click on the link above to “visit” the exhibit and learn how important maps were to America’s nineteenth-century mindset.
After moving to Massachusetts from New Jersey in 1998, Patriot’s Day quickly became my favorite holiday. My enthusiasm for the day, though, had less to do with my ability to sleep in on that day and then meet up with another librarian friend at 11 a.m. during our day off to watch the Red Sox play–as great as that was. (Growing up as a Cubs fan in Chicago made adopting the Red Sox as my new “hometown” team rather easy given their shared futility on the field up until that point–it was an adoption that I was never able to stomach carrying out with the New York area teams despite living in that area for a number of years.)
No, my love of Patriot’s Day had more to do with the knowledge that we, collectively as people living in Massachusetts, had that day off while everyone else in the country had to go to work. When I bragged to family and friends back home how I was looking forward to my upcoming day off, they would quickly interrupt and say, “Patriot-what?” And then I could self-satisfyingly explain to them the “magic” of Patriot’s Day.
I have never woken up early to witness the annual Battle Green Reenactment at Lexington–I am not one to fight crowds, especially that early in the morning–and unfortunately, given the current crisis, no one else will be showing up this year to see it either. Nor will we be watching the Red Sox play. So why not mark the day from the comfort of your own home by exploring Westborough’s participation in the American Revolution through its historical documents, one of this week’s Local History Pastimes activities? And keep reading to discover other ways to “attend” Patriot’s Day activities.
Explore images available through the Digital Commonwealth of actual historical records held at the Westborough Public Library that document Westborough’s involvement in the American Revolution.
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Westborough Town Records, 1717-1781 – Want more? Continue your research of Westborough’s involvement in the American Revolution by reading our newly digitized town meeting records. Records for 1774–a crucial year leading up to the American Revolution–start on page 290.
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Virtual Patriot’s Day 2020– The Lexington Historical Society has put together ways for us to celebrate Patriot’s Day virtually. Through their website, you can view footage of last year’s Battle Green Reenactment, participate in some of their virtual events, and take awesome virtual tours of the houses they own (really, the tours are amazing, so check it out).
I often compare the value of local history to the experience of drinking fine wine.
Better wines offer a variety of taste sensations and a depth of flavor over the course of one sip that other wines may not possess. In the end, though, the enjoyment of fine wine really comes down to the mindset we bring to drinking it: are we paying attention to the way it smells in the glass, its texture, the changes of flavor as we sip it both on its own and as we eat food? No matter how fine the wine, if we guzzle it down like water we will certainly miss its subtleties. But if we slow down and apply a more mindful approach to the wine that we drink (or the food that we eat), we gain more enjoyment from the experience.
The same principle applies to local history. The more we strive to learn about the history of our town, the greater the enjoyment of where we live. The Arcade Building is simply one of many buildings that line the Westborough rotary–until we learn that it was the site of the town’s second meeting house, which was then sold and turned into a shopping arcade before being replaced by the present structure. And the Town Hall is just a place where we pay our taxes, renew our dog licenses, and attend Selectmen’s meetings–until we learn that it needed to be built once the second meeting house was no longer available and that the current structure is actually the second town hall to inhabit that spot.
Local history offers us a “depth of flavor” that enhances the appreciation of our daily surroundings by helping us see the layers of time that have gone into making our town what it is today. Now that the weather is warming, why not take advantage of the “Early Development of Westborough through Church and State: A Walking Tour” (one of the Westborough Local History Pastimes listed below) and add some new “flavors” to your enjoyment of Westborough?!
If you grew up in Westborough during the 1950’s, did you and your family move here during that time? If so, from where, and why did you move here? If your family lived in Westborough before 1950, what did your parents do for work? Why did your family decide to stay in Westborough?
If you live in Westborough today, did you grow up here? If so, why did you decide to stay (or move back)? If you moved to Westborough, where did you move from? Why did you choose to live in Westborough?
Just make sure that while you follow the tour on your phone that you maintain proper social distancing!
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Play some historical video games – The Internet Archive offers a wealth of public domain books, videos, audio files, and other free resources. It even has historical video games!
While your kids play games on their phones or on their Nintendo Switch, you can wax nostalgic by playing their early forebears, such as The Oregon Trail, Sim City, or Prince of Persia. The link above takes you to a list of games that can be played through your browser, but the “Software” navigation button at the top of the Internet Archive page can take you to other game forms (although some might require more advanced computer knowledge to operate).
As I try out some of these games I think about the truth of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”: it turns out that I’m still really bad at playing Pac-Man!
We often live out our daily lives unaware that in doing so we are necessarily participating in the process of creating history. By repeating everyday tasks, we reinforce modes and patterns of existence that define who we are, both individually and as a society. And because we take these actions for granted, gaining a true understanding of the “how and why” of what we do on an everyday basis poses the greatest challenge for historians, precisely because we leave behind so few reflections on the mundane routines that structure most of our lives.
But every now and then, our lives are disrupted by a big event that brings to relief how we collectively experience and participate in the creation of history. We tend to think of wars in this way (although recent wars have not engendered the same kind of social call that World War I or World War II did). Extreme economic events, such as the onset of the Great Depression, also jolt us from our historically reflective slumber. And the library’s archive of historical photographs are filled with images of disasters such as blizzards, the aftermaths of tornadoes and hurricanes, and major fires (while we have a dearth of pictures depicting everyday life from various eras).
When it comes to pandemics, we have to look back to the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 as the last time that this form of historically reflective disruption took place in the United States at the scale we are experiencing now.* The long span in time between then and now may have lulled us into a false sense of security, but history tells us that plagues are a part of human experience and have been from our beginnings. While our medical technologies might be able to mitigate their effects or extend the time between their occurrence, we cannot avoid them altogether. Whether we like it or not, coping with pandemics are a part of what it means to be human. We may not gain great comfort from this observation, but as I am holed up in my house with my family I think about all the times that people have been forced to do the same throughout history, and I suddenly realize that my experience is not unique, that I am not alone. And I now have better insight into what those people experienced and can gain lessons from how they coped.
Please take some time during this quarantine period to tell us about the aspects of daily life in Westborough that historians find so challenging to discover (see the first Historical Pastime entry below). I will be asking you to contribute similar reflections over the upcoming weeks.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
* By the way, I did a thorough search in the Westborough Chronicle for any mention of the Spanish flu and could not find any.
Last week, the Westborough History Working Group asked you to contribute reflections on how the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War affected daily life as part of its Westborough in the 1950’s Project. This week we are asking you to tell us your memories about the farms, orchards, dairies, and greenhouses in Westborough, both in the 1950’s and today.
Was agriculture important to daily life in Westborough in the 1950’s? Did you ever get the chance to enjoy Westborough-produced food? Did your family have a garden?
For those of you who did not live in Westborough in the 1950’s, how do you take advantage of the farms and greenhouses in Westborough today? Now that spring is here, what produce do you look forward to eating most? Do you tend a garden or are thinking of starting one, given our quarantine situation?
Learn about Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister. While Rev. Ebenezer Parkman served as Westborough’s minister from 1724 and 1782, he kept a detailed diary of his life and his interactions with other people. This extraordinary resource gives us a profound and unprecedented insight into colonial life in a rural New England town. The Ebenezer Parkman Project, a creation of the Westborough Public Library, offers access to Parkman’s complete diary and other writings, along with information about colonial Westborough and its inhabitants.
Did you also know that Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery across from Town Hall? (Walk down the middle sidewalk behind the fountain and it’s hard to miss.) Visiting his gravesite (and the other old gravestones that surround his) can offer a welcome diversion and excuse to get out and take a walk.
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Brush up on your Civics while playing games. The iCivics website, the brainchild of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, uses online games to teach civics in an engaging way. The 21 games on the site are geared to kids and adults alike and cover various topics, such as Branches of Power (“Learn to control all three branches of the U.S. government!”), Do I Have a Right? (“Run a law firm and test your knowledge of constitutional rights”), and People’s Pie (“Learn to control the budget of the federal government”). Sounds like powerful stuff!
Government can at times seem like an independent entity that works against us, when in reality we, as U.S. citizens, own it and have the ability to make it work in our favor. The more we learn about how our government functions, the more influence we can have on how it operates. Acquiring this knowledge is one of our main duties as citizens, and what better way to learn to amplify our democratic voice than to play games?!
Historically, when human beings have time on their hands, they tell stories. (See my last blog post where I discuss Boccaccio’s The Decameron.) The first local history pastime on my list below asks us to tell the story of how two big events, the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, shaped daily life in the 1950’s.
Time will tell how our experience with the coronavirus will shape our future, but I hope that any of you who lived during the 1950’s–or have an interest in this topic or time period–will take the time to share your memories or share your research on this topic and help us tell our story about what it was like to live in the 1950’s.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
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Westborough in the 1950’s Project. The Westborough History Working Group at the Westborough Public Library is teaming up with Westborough TV to create programming and an eventual film on Westborough in the 1950’s, and we need your help. Over the next few months, we will be gathering from the Westborough community photographs, memories, images of ephemera, and other information about what it was like to live in Westborough during this formative decade.
This week we are asking the question: How did the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War affect life in the 1950’s, either in Westborough or American society in general?
Whether you lived in Westborough during this time or not, submit your reflections by clicking here. If you were not alive during the 1950’s or were too young to remember, then perhaps you can use this question to interview someone who did or do some research to try to answer the question a different way.
In the coming weeks, I will be asking more questions about daily life in the 1950’s and pose other ways for you to contribute content to our 1950’s project.
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Research your ancestors (or other historical person). Until April 30, you can use Ancestry.com from home (normally, you have to be in the Westborough Library to use this database). Every time I search this database, I discover something new about my ancestors, so if you have never used it or haven’t searched the database in awhile, you will be amazed by the resources that it offers.
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Early Census Record. I recently received my U.S. Census form in the mail and filled it out online this weekend. Once you have submitted your form, take a look at an early Westborough census record: List of Males Over 16 Years Old, 1777. This census was used to determine and identify the number of soldiers that Westborough was required to send to fight for the American cause during the American Revolution.
By the way, your participation in the U.S. Census is important not only for its use in developing public policy and for allocating resources to our state and town, but also because it will provide key information for your descendants, who at a future date may be using Ancestry.com or some other resource to discover information about you.