Do you enjoy jigsaw puzzles with lots of pieces? As you assemble the puzzle, you notice that it takes several pieces to compose a picture. Genealogy is similar to a giant puzzle with many bits of information required to paint a picture in words of your ancestors. Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies as more people are embracing family heritage. You learn about history and about your ancestors concurrently as they were living the history of our nation as well as of the homeland. They were the colonists, they fought in the Revolutionary or Civil War, and they struggled as peasants in Germany
or Ireland. Your immigrants made a treacherous sea voyage across the ocean seeking a better life.
Puzzles and crosswords keep our minds fresh and alive. Solving the mystery of your ancestry can be a marvelous mind exercise and at the same time be a gift for your family to treasure. You possess information about your family history that is priceless. Perhaps no one in your family has begun a history. Why not you? Easier than you might expect, it is a valuable legacy to your descendants.
Genealogy is fun and educational. You easily can become hooked on the research. Each new fact about your ancestors offers new leads to be investigated. You can research a large amount of information on the internet in addition to taking a more active approach by visiting courthouses, libraries (these generally provide access to internet sources), genealogy societies, and cemeteries. You may discover a famous person in your ancestry, but more importantly, you will learn fascinating accounts of the lives of those who came before you.
For example, while researching my family history, I was unable to locate the grave of my great- great grandfather as he was not buried next to his wife. The missing piece of the puzzle of his burial and the circumstances of his life after the war were discovered through his Civil War pension papers. Documents stated that he was buried at a state hospital for the insane as he had suffered greatly because of his service in the war. The pension records declared that he had chronic dysentery and that he served at some of the bloodiest battles: Antietam, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville. When he was discharged after three years of service, he was a changed man. The affidavits showed him to be morose, depressed, and solitary. He also saw Confederates everywhere. Eventually, he was placed at the asylum where he died and was buried in a numbered grave. My greatest accomplishment from my genealogy research was to have a government headstone placed on his gravesite giving recognition to his service. In addition, a consecration and dedication ceremony was held with the VFW and Civil War Re-enactors.
This is just one story among the enormous collection of stories about my own family. Once you begin finding information and putting the puzzle together, you can learn more than “just the facts” as Joe Friday would say. You can discover interesting stories that add life to your family history so that your ancestors become the real people that they were.
How to Begin a Family History
How do you start a family history? You start with what you know and keep moving backward in time. Begin with yourself and your siblings and continue with you parents and grandparents. This information consists of dates, names, and places for births, marriages, deaths, residences, and military services. Once this type of information is completed, you can begin with official records such as birth and death certificates, census records, wills, and marriage records. In addition you can search cemeteries, county histories, church records, and old newspapers. And don’t forget to speak with your oldest living relative who may have an abundance of recollections and information.
There are many websites available for searching your ancestry. You should be cautious regarding information found on websites placed by another researcher (particularly family trees) because it may not be accurate. Don’t assume that the information is correct. Always check the source. A great beginning website is Cyndi’s List which has an amazing amount of free information on a variety of subjects. There are “how to” sites listed, vital record information for each state, and sources for various countries. Ancestry is a paid site but worth the expense in my opinion as the information found there is fantastic. You can read the actual census records and view immigration records at this site.
Even though the internet has made life a bit easier for the genealogist, don’t forget to search at libraries and historical societies. The Family History Center of the LDS Church has filmed many records that you can rent for a nominal fee. These records may be viewed at local LDS history centers. If you still live in the area of your immigrant ancestors, you can explore cemeteries and courthouses for information on wills and marriages. Some records will not be found on websites and in local libraries. You may need to send for birth and death certificates. Each state has requirements which can easily be learned through Cyndi’s List.
Magazines devoted to genealogy such as Everton’s Genealogical Helper and Ancestry are available and local genealogical societies offer a connection to others who also are researching. You can share tips and may even locate someone who is researching your family line as a bonus.
Remember to keep accurate documentation including the source regarding the information found. Various record keeping forms are available on line at no cost. There are also other record keeping forms such as family group sheets available free of charge.
But most importantly remember to have fun. Enjoy the research. Perhaps travel to the family homeland. Various travel agencies now offer genealogical research tours that will guide you to ancestral homes. Imagine walking in your ancestor’s footsteps. It is a thrilling experience as I can attest. I was able to discover the area within ten feet of where my great- great grandfather’s company served at Gettysburg. The story of your family needs and is ready to be told.
Carrie Ten Boom once said, “The measure of a life is not its duration but its donation.”
As one of your donations, leave a legacy of family history for your descendants.