Family and History

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage-to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness and the most disquieting loneliness."
- Alex Haley

In October of 2008, in the frenzy of pre-election month, Newsweek published an article describing the ancestral heritage of both presidential candidates and their running mates. That same month, The New York Times published an article on oral histories and preserving personal and family histories for future generations. In July of that year, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society made headlines by giving its entire collection to the New York Public Library. Researchers were ecstatic, since the collection would be much easier to access there. In July of 2009, leaders of the LDS church presented President Barack Obama with five bound volumes of his family and history, and newspapers across the country published the story.

What is this insurgence of interest in family and history that has occurred in the last decade? As Margot Hornblower wrote in Time magazine in 1999, "Once the hobby of self-satisfied blue bloods tracing their families back to the Mayflower, genealogy is fast becoming a national obsession." Whatever the reason, the genealogy bug is sweeping the nation.

So if you want to research your family and history, where do you start? There are numerous approaches to genealogy, but here are some basics to get you started:

  • Gather what you know. Do you have any birth certificates, scrapbooks, or half-finished pedigree charts? Gather them together so that you can start compiling them.
  • Interview older relatives. Interview parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, or any older relatives who are still living who might know information about your family and history.
  • Compile what you already know into a family tree. Take everything you know about your ancestors and type it into a family tree program like Family Tree Maker or Personal Ancestral File. Once you've made a family tree of everything you know, it will be easier to see where the gaps are and what you need to research.
  • Then start doing original research. Once you've done these preliminary steps, you can start looking in census records and vital records for your family members, since you'll have a better idea of where to look and who you're looking for.
  • Get your family involved. If your family is involved in your research, it will be more rewarding and more fun.


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