Building on my last post I wanted to share information on becoming an amateur genealogist of sorts. I have had the pleasure and delight to work on family trees of some of my close friends, telling them about ancestors they had never even heard about and sharing information based on what I discover along the way.
Why is genealogy important?
This is of course, my own personal philosophy and take on the matter. Connection to the people before can benefit your life in many ways. There is a phrase Sankofa which basically means to go back and fetch it. It simply is a way of saying, in order to know where you are going, you have to know from where you came. Looking at genealogy records allow you the opportunity to track your family back as far as records allow, putting a name to the people who gave you your eyes, your smile or that insane sense of humor. Sometimes you will discover patterns of behavior, patterns that may be apparent in your own life! Building your tree and using the chart from the last post can answer questions about why your parents may have acted the way they did or why they are silent about their pasts. You can sometimes find in the documents a record of your ancestors strengths, weaknesses, characters, beliefs, talents, passions; again you might find uncanny similarities between their lives and your own. Practically speaking, death records can provide you a medical history which is definitely a game changer in the way that you approach building a healthier life knowing what ailments you may be predisposed to. Quite frankly, and this is probably my nerd flag flying high it actually brings history alive when you discover a family member who might have lived through some important periods in history.
How do you begin?
It begins with you! The simplest way is to speak to your family members. Ask your parents, grandparents, close family friends…the older the better. Ask for anecdotal stories, family legends….some will be false but others can be substantiated via records. Try to dig into their personal stories, their likes, dislikes, favorite foods, information about their personalities, temperament and really try to connect to these people in any way that you can. In some cases, you might notice resistance to even sharing the information, there is a story there. Most likely a painful one, prepare yourself for what you may find.
If that information is unavailable to you in any way then you can start with your own birth records. Vital records (birth, death, marriage certificates) hold key information. You can find your parents on your birth certificate and the place where you were born. If you are an astrology fan getting a certified birth certificate can even help you with creating your own natal chart. If your parents are not alive their death certificate will list the names of their parents and you can go backwards using that information, most importantly you can also see the causes of death, which as I mentioned before can be very helpful. Marriage licenses can sometimes hold the names of the couples parents as well.
Another source of information is the census. That hands down will give you a glimpse into the family structure, any siblings, how they lived, where they lived, occupation and sometimes finances. Censuses can also help picking up leads on dead ends because if you are unable to track your direct descendant or if they disappear off of paperwork or move to another state having a list of the other family members can help you get back on the trail and identify that it is your family record and not another person with the same name. A census record can hold a wealth of information and using sites such as ancestry.com or familysearch.com can potentially give you downloadable copies of the information you find so that you can create your own little family tree book to be shared with your family or passed along to the next generation in your family. Ancestry has a paid membership plan, but family search is free, just sign up for an account.
DNA testing is a new more exciting avenue, if you choose to use ancestry.com, they sometimes offer discounted testing for $69. You will find offers on groupon or just through their email alerts. On the ancestry site, you will be linked to 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins, some will add to your story others will want help with their own. There is a great community of amateur genealogists on there that can be helpful.
I will be adding additional information, I welcome questions so that I can provide specific advice and help as much as I can.