Family Stories

This month I shared with librarians around the country my adventures in Family History. Where is your family from? How can your personal or family story impact others? People of all ages find inspiration from the biographies of great men and women who faced difficulties. What many people don’t realize is that within their own families are stories of great courage and resilience. I grew up hearing the dry names of people I didn’t know—dates and places—that kind of bored me. But I also heard their stories. THAT always got my attention. My ancestors include pilgrims, Mormon pioneers, and possibly American Indians. I’m preparing the second book in a series on ancestors who immigrated to America as children. My roots are South African, Swedish, Scottish, Irish, and English. I read that a young man in prison said (after learning about his heritage), ‘Had I known who I am—who I came from—I would never had ended up here.’ Knowing where/who you come from can change you.

To start go from the known to the unknown. Find your oldest living relative and interview him/her!

  • Prepare questions prior
  • Audio/video record it!
  • Take notes too (for unplanned questions—and technology backup)
  • Start with geography
  • Have fun being a detective!

Research ONE person at a time (but know a few family names, in case you stumble across Uncle Bob. Names are often repeated across generations). Know town, township/city, county, state, region, and country of origin (where possible. Sometimes towns disappear, counties split or merge, and countries’ borders shift—be sure any map you look at is from the correct era). Sometimes, just by Googling a name and place, you find gems.

Before governments kept records, they were mostly collected in:

  • Church records (birth, death, marriage, ordination, bar mitzvah, adoption, service, cemetery/headstones)
  • Family Bible, photo albums, scrapbooks
  • Family letters & heirlooms
  • Diaries/journals/biographies (DAR, DUP. Don’t overlook those of siblings, cousins, etc.)
  • Announcements, phone books, bills, organization directories

The best records are official (and can substantiate or disprove rumors)

  • City/county/national records: Census, military, Social Security Index, taxes
  • Certificates: education, awards, achievement
  • Wills, deeds, lawsuits/probate/court cases/jails
  • Immigration records, passenger lists
  • Business records/lists, hiring/promotions
  • Adoption/orphanage or hospital records
  • News articles, obituaries, event ads, museums
  • Bank/Insurance records, ledgers
  • Funeral/cemetery records (headstones too)

Historical & genealogical societies can be more helpful than city/county/state clerks. Find them online (also family tree-building sites):

Queries: It is NOT unusual for a stranger to happily search records—even headstones in local cemeteries for you (offer to cover copy/travel costs). Families often have official sites or Facebook pages, you can query those page owners too. Have friends or family in an ancestral place (you’re not in)? Ask if they’ll look up data/certificates/headstones for you. When all else fails, consider hiring a professional genealogist (or get free help at any LDS Family History Center. Ask for a tour. Become a volunteer indexer).

What do you do with the data?

  • Put copies of everything in your binder (pedigree chart, family group sheets, individual timelines, and a source/research log)
  • Share it on Ancestry.com and/or a specific family site (create one if you want)
  • Have a reunion to meet, swap stories, share data, and get emails for ongoing collaboration
  • Set up a family site/FB page
  • Publish it as an ebook and even physical book (for posterity—and even the world)

Dead men (and women) tell no tales. Document your own history. On a sheet of paper, write the year of your birth and then (a few spaces down) write the year ten years after that (add ten and ten … until the present). Fill in major events, and you’ll soon have a quick outline of your life. Here are some data ideas (also good for interviewing relatives):

  • Birth date/place, Christening/baptism
  • Siblings, education, special/funny experiences
  • Marriage, career, military, hobbies, travel
  • Affiliations, talents, accomplishments, volunteer work, church service
  • Children
  • Places lived (where died/buried)

If you’d like more info on publishing your story. There is a free audio here: KarlBeckstrand.com/Presentations

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Siblings

Where would I be without my brothers and sister? Dead, I suppose. Friends come in and out of view–and that’s convenient and fine–but siblings are eternal. They know your history (and often love you in spite of it). Being the youngest, I had brothers and a sister to try the hard things before me and show me they’re doable (or that it’s okay to fail). Sometimes I hated them. We were stingy with one another. I often got put down or left out. But they shared a great deal, including friends. My siblings saved me from being more of a geek than I currently am.

Yeah, they don’t behave the way I want them to (this is a critical lesson for coexisting with other mortals–I pity the kid who lives without a sibling). Who hasn’t wanted to write their family off at some point in life? My siblings have pulled me back time and again. When life got bumpy, Nels, Heather and Chris were my home. They’ve shown me that family is the supreme priority. They have shown me that the world will never satisfy a soul. They gave me new siblings in their spouses. They have saved my life.

My family is my connection to the human family, to all the good that my ancestors gave, to all the good that my siblings and I learn and share with one another. We have the best conversations–sometimes heated–but we learn from one another; and we know we will love one another long after we’ve forgotten any disagreement.

Family is jostling love. Family is forever.

Posted by Karl Beckstrand at 9/15/2011 4:05 PM