Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Did Your Family Tree Grow?

Now that you have time for hobbies, you might consider finding your family’s roots. I started while still home schooling, intending to spark interest in history. It began when an elderly relative bequeathed some antique hymnals to us. One had a name written in a child’s hand. We did some detective work and found that the little girl was a 4-great aunt who was born in Canada in the mid 1800s and died young.

With that discovery, we dug deeper. Our family’s story paralleled America’s story. Missionaries came from Leiden to Plymouth. Advertisements written by William Penn drew persecuted Quakers and war-weary Germans who cleared the land and established farms, towns, churches, and schools. Familiar names like Alden, Standish, Adams, Crockett, and Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, kept cropping up. Family members served in each of our nation’s conflicts, starting with King Philip’s War. Uncles and cousins fought and died on both sides of the civil war. As the nation grew, our people followed the Westward Expansion. Perhaps the most interesting discovery I had was my husband and I are 12th cousins, both descended from William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the Mayflower.

My fascination with genealogy continued after my nest was empty. Family anecdotes of the Dust Bowl and the English civil war inspired published short stories. Someday I hope to organize my material into a history of the United States.

If the genealogy bug bites you, you can get started by gleaning as much information as you can from family members. With your parents’ names and places of birth, you can find their birth, marriage, and/or death certificates. On these will be data about your grandparents. With that information, you can find great-grandparents and so on through many generations. My tree goes back to the 1580s. My husband’s goes back to 1066.

A good place to begin research is at your public library or the historical society in your hometown. Also, there are free online sites such as Family Search which has a huge data base. The USGenWeb Project covers every state and many counties. It includes census, land and cemetery records, history, bios, and picture galleries. Ancestry.com is excellent and has a free fourteen-day trial offer.

In many areas, like-minded people have formed genealogy societies where they share methodology and trade data. But a disclaimer. While this hobby is exciting and rewarding, it is also highly addictive.---Quinn

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