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):
- FamilySearch.org (free)
- Findagrave.com, BillionGraves.com
- Cyndis list
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
- Places lived (where died/buried)
If you’d like more info on publishing your story. There is a free audio here: KarlBeckstrand.com/Presentations