About twenty years ago I started working on our family tree. I used some hand written genealogy papers that an uncle had put together in 1973. I bought the latest and greatest software of the time which, by todays standards, wasn’t very sophisticated. However, it organized the information and allowed for editing. That was far better than paper and pencil. As genealogy software improved I would buy the new versions every five years or so, and luckily the powers that be came up with a universal data program that transferred easily from program to program.
Most of the best genealogy information comes thanks to the Mormons.
These folks may not have invented genealogy, but they sure have perfected it. They are also happy to share. In the early, pre internet days I would go to the local Mormon temple and go through the microfiche record files. This was mind numbing work. Hours would go by and I would be lucky to find one tidbit and then print it out. I went to libraries and wrote off to different states to order copies of records, hoping they would be relevant. I got information from relatives that was primarily based on memory. Written records were few and far between.
Enter the dawn of the internet and things got a little easier. There were the beginnings of genealogy websites where you could upload your data and share with people of similar interests. This was akin to mailing them a copy of your family tree, just faster. Data mining for records was in it’s infancy. As with everything else on the internet, genealogy advances have progressed geometrically.
There’s a new reality show on TV called, ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. It follows a celebrity each week as they go in search of their family history. Their system for finding their ancestral roots is fairly well done but a little impractical for us commoners. They fly to various cities and meet with professional researchers who bring them the faded copies of their ancestors’ time on Earth. I’ve commented to my lovely and patient wife as we’ve watched the show,
“Why don’t they just print it out off Ancestry.com?”
She gives me ‘the look’ that I’ve come to know and love and replies,
“And that would make for a fascinating TV show. ‘Oh look, Steve Buscemi is clicking his mouse! Look he’s clicking it again! Oh look!! His printer is running!!’”
I have to agree with her (dammit), it would not hold an audience. The show does make some good points and shows that researching your family lines not only reveals information about your family but it truly gives a sense of history.
I love reading old census sheets. I know you’re starting to yawn if you’ve stuck with me this far. But the old handwritten sheets tell a lot about our country and the changes it goes through. Where it lists jobs, you might see ‘telegraph operator’. In the 1930 census most of the column marked jobs say ‘none’ as employment at the time was rare. This is especially true of the wife in the family. There may be nine children in the family but her job is ‘none’. Raising kids wasn’t considered work. Later census entries list the wife as ‘housekeep’ or ‘keephouse’.
The early census records also show how many parents were born in other countries. As we argue about immigration, let’s remember that many of our grandparents (including some of mine) were immigrants.
One thing I’ve found lacking in many family trees online are stories. There is plenty of data about birth, death, marriage, immigration etc. but not many stories.
If you put your family tree up on Ancestry.com it compares your information to six million public family trees and pops up a little leaf icon next to the person when it finds some ancestor that may match yours. (Living people are not included in the search, so relax.) I have browsed hundreds of peoples’ family trees and have found the human interest stories few and far between.
This is our chance to flesh out some history and leave something behind for grandchildren not yet born.
Instead of slogging through libraries, frustrated and ignored, future generations can read and see little glimpses of people gone by. Stories of everyday life that may seem mundane today become history tomorrow. These anecdotes will be here for a very long time.
So here’s my challenge to you. Start gathering up some family stories.
Especially the ones your Uncle Adoniah keeps repeating that drives you crazy, and write them down. Better yet just record them in Uncle Adoniah’s own voice. The Ancestry.com site let’s you upload not just the facts, but also pictures, stories, audio and video. This may sound like an ad for Ancestry.com but it’s not. I don’t have any association with them or get anything from sharing this. I just think it’s a cool site!
and and download as much research as I can and then cancel. (Don’t forget to cancel at the end of your month, or your next month will automatically be charged.) They make it very easy to start and stop your monthly subscription. A month’s worth of time will give you fodder to work for several more months. Then when I’ve gone as far as I can with what I’ve got I buy another month’s worth.
When I used to mail off for records, I’d spend far more than that in fees just to get a few records that may or may not have been correct. I’d also have to wait weeks for it to arrive in the mail. Now I can instantly read the original document on line and decide if it’s a match. It’s also good to go back every 6 months or so because they scan and index thousands of new records each week. So if it what you need isn’t there today, it may be there in 6 more months.
Another great feature is the “invitation”. Once you get started, you can invite your cousin, sister, friend, or uncle to view or contribute. You just e-mail them from within the program and decide how much control you want to give them. They can be a ‘guest’ which means they can just view it or all the way to ‘editor’ which gives them full rights to add or change information and also to see living people’s information. The tree can be set as public or private, too.
All this is FREE!. So get out there and make some history!