Like a lot of people, I didn’t experience a curiosity about my ancestors until later in life. I knew many of my relatives on my mother’s side, as we would visit them often throughout the years, traveling by train to various places where they had settled across the country. So, I knew my Mom’s side of the family tree fairly well, and some of my cousins on her side had developed the genealogy of her family as they got older. I enjoyed reading through their compilation, putting names and often faces with stories I had heard when I was younger.
My father was career Navy and had left his family’s home at 17 to enlist. He probably returned to visit his family when he was in port near his home state, but it wasn’t until after WWII ended that he brought my Mom, my brother and me to meet his side of the family. I was 12 at the time and was in awe of all these new relatives and never thought of their ancestors or their stories. At the time, it was almost overwhelming just getting to know all of them.
Another one of my cousins on my Dad’s side, and who I met for the first time many years later, was deeply involved in genealogy research. She and her husband traveled all over the country combing through archives at court houses, visiting cemeteries and checking birth/death dates. She had been born and raised near my father’s family and actually knew all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins that I had no idea existed. She was a treasure trove of information and I was fascinated. I’ve been truly amazed and inspired by her efforts to reveal the history of our shared ancestors.
Genealogy websites make finding relatives easier
Most of my cousin’s research was done before the internet facilitated information gathering from the comfort of one’s home. Since then I have ventured into Ancestry.com and have built an impressive list of ancestors going back seven generations. Learning all I can about my ancestors has been such a wonderful journey into the past. I’ve had a glimpse into the lives of so many people I otherwise may never have known about.
It has been great fun to share images and histories of these otherwise long-lost relatives with my kids. They enjoyed learning about their parents’ and grandparents’ lives, not only as they knew them growing up, but who they were as individuals. Mom and Dad, Grandmother and Grandfather weren’t just those titles, but separate individuals with their own stories, hopes, and dreams. Enlightening, to say the least! We’ve had a lot of lively discussions at family get-togethers about great aunts and uncles and sharing what new tidbits we’ve learned in our separate searches into our collective past.
Moreover, I feel a sense of responsibility as the eldest living family member. I am the only one alive who has spoken to and remember many of these people, and to those who had connections to the ones I never met. As such, I am the connection to a time that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s as if I can reach into the future for those long gone and let their grandchildren and great grandchildren know about them and preserve important aspects of their lives for the family. Most of them worked so hard to give each generation after them a better life. By keeping their histories alive, all of their future generations will have access to that knowledge.
I haven’t sent in a sample for DNA testing, which returns to the user a genetic ancestry breakdown by where their ancestors lived. From what I read, this is getting more accurate all the time and more specifically able to correctly interpret lineage and location. Once I complete that aspect of this amazing genealogical journey, all of our family’s future generations will have access to their complete history to pass on to those who come after them.
Encourage kids to learn about your ancestors
My main regret of when I was younger is that I wasn’t more aware of the importance of hearing the stories of our family’s past from those older members who had been there and shared the experiences with my great aunts and uncles and great great grandparents. I encourage each of you to talk to your older family members and get their stories and build the history of your families for your descendants. You might be amazed at where your ancestors have been and what they’ve done through their lives.
Ancestry.com offers a free ancestry search (name and email required) and access to short video courses on genealogy searches. Free accounts also allow you to create, edit, and delete family trees; access their free databases; post to their message boards; and other interactions with other account holders. They offer a trial version of their paid account, too, so they make it easy to get started. When new information becomes available within their databases that might relate to your own personal ancestry, a shaking leaf appears inside your account. These shaking leaves indicate what Ancestry.com calls “hints” – related bits of information that can be accessed with the paid version.
Also, check out the amazing research tips, guides, and courses about genealogy at Family History Daily.
Have you looked into your past? Let us know in the comments!
Memory Photo Credit: Catkin/Pixabay