Monday, November 12, 2007

There's No History Like Your Family History

This is an image of a clock that once belonged to my 5th great grandfather, Enoch Shrigley, in the late 18th century. It is now in a museum.

How many of you know your family history? Do you know where you came from? Can you name anyone in your direct line beyond your grandparents?
I can't express enough the importance of knowing your genealogy, and it isn't very hard to get started.
Here is a very quick lesson:
Ask questions:
1) Talk to your parents or the siblings of your parents.
2) If they are still alive, talk to your grandparents (or siblings of).
3) Find out the dates of births, marriages, and deaths of not only your direct line (grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents, etc. - your uncles and aunts, no matter how far back, are not your direct line), but their siblings as well, and their place of birth, marriage, and death.
4) Find out the occupations of your line.
5) Find the maiden names of the women in your line.

When you have gotten as much info as you possibly can get by asking questions, then locate the birth, baptism, marriage, and death certificates of all in your line. This will confirm much of what you have been told. Plus, many times the maiden names of your multiple great grandmothers can be found here. Also, if a family bible exists, you would do yourself a great favor by locating that as well.

Now, this is where a little money and possible travel will come into play. This is also where the real fun begins.
I'm not going to get into how to locate your ancestors in the census, but, if you are able to head to a large city library, most will have access to the census across the United States, and sometimes into other countries. The folks working at the library will usually very happily help you learn how to use the census. Also, many of the libraries will have old city directories available as well as old newspapers announcing births, marriages, and deaths. Through this procedure, I was able to get a description of my great grandparents wedding and reception - including the weather - that took place in 1902!

There are some wonderful books available, most reasonably priced, to guide you down the path of your family history. You would do yourself good to search them out on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, or Borders.
A little advice, however:
Learn the stories of your ancestors, but remember that they were human, too, and may have made (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes. That's all part of the fun.
Don't look for gossip. Just get the facts (I was able to find out from two separate lines with a common ancestor that my great great great grandfather, a poor farmer who lived in mid-19th century England, loved to eat cheese sandwiches for his mid-day meal).
Please please please do not embellish the stories and make your ancestor what he or she is not - i.e. I was told that the above mentioned g g g grandfather was a knight - NOT! He was just a poor farmer, but, by taking in boarders, scrimped and saved enough money to cross the Atlantic in 1870 with his family in tow. Now that's a story to be proud of!
Unless you have proof, do not believe a word. When you hear a story about a long-dead ancestor, for example, from multiple family members - especially from those who had never met each other - then you can conclude that it is probably true.
But, most of all, have fun - enjoy yourself. I know your ancestors would appreciate not being forgotten.

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