Learn your family history!

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     Summer is almost here, time to relax, hang out with friends, and catch some sun. Among the things you do this summer with all that free time, why not take a genealogy vacation? If nothing else, you’re sure to rack up some major points from the family.
     Genealogy, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the study of your family pedigree, but it can be much more than that. There’s a good chance that even if our ancestors weren’t famous, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in our families past that we don’t know. The time and effort you spend on researching your family will also be time spent understanding who you are and where you came from. In school we spend so much time learning about other people’s histories, why not learn about our own?
     Tracing your roots can be a grounding experience, in which you learn many things about yourself and your family’s past. You will however, “have to be prepared to see the underbelly, if it’s there and be honest with yourself about it.” warns Anthropology Professor Lori Slicton. Your ancestors may have been heroes, or criminals, you won’t know until you go looking.
     Few hobbies offer as much gratification as tracing your roots can. As you play detective, your individual search may lead you to places you’ve never been before, including your families homeland. In this way, you may also meet people you’re related to and would have never met before. The information you get and the people you meet may have an impact on the rest of your life.
     Not convinced yet? Another reason to study your family history is to find out what you inherited from your ancestors in the form of genes. We can learn much about our medical future by learning about our medical past. Many of the factors that determine which illnesses we may contract, we inherit from our ancestors. Recording your family health history can help prevent or minimize illnesses, now and for future generations.
     A basic rule is to start from what you know and work towards finding out what you don’t know. Most experts recommend using a theme like religion or location to tie the research together. For beginners it’s usually a good idea to start with one side of the family. Whether you choose your mother or father’s side is entirely up to you. Something to consider here is what older relatives are still living? If, for instance, your mother’s great-grandparents are living, but your father’s are not, it may make sense to start with your mothers line, as those great-grandparents will be able to supply a lot of necessary information and stories.
     The next thing to consider is how to document all your research. While you can document everything by hand, on 3×5 cards, if you have access, it makes more sense to use a computer. The use of a computer will make it easier to record and retrieve your research. Share your information with others. And you can print everything you need and back up everything on a disk. There are many genealogical programs out there for you to choose from. These programs can be free or can cost you well over a hundred dollars. You can use one of many genealogical programs online like Family Tree Maker, Family Origins, or Legacy.
     Whether you choose to hand write all of your information or use a computer, the more important thing is that you document everything correctly. Make sure you copy the title of the book, page numbers, author, publisher, and whatever else you think is important. Also, keep track of where and when you got the information. For example did you get it from your local library, national archives or another family member? All this is important information as you try to verify what you learn about your past. Sometimes you will run into discrepancies, and the documentation you have may help sort out what is the truth. As Slicton notes, “Rarely does anyone in the family agree”. She also stated that disagreements about history were more common regarding secrets within the family.
     It is unlikely that you’ll find your family tree somewhere online, all ready to download. Finding your roots is work, and each new bit of information will send you in a different direction. There is no one place that has all the answers, rather a combination of sources that will help fill in the blanks. Our family trees are as individual as we all are, so finding your family heritage will be a unique experience of self-discovery.

     Information provided by Genealogy.com