Bringing History to Life through Genealogy

My mom is the keeper of our family tree. When she is not chasing after grandchildren or cooking an amazing meal in the kitchen, I often find her hunched over her laptop uncovering yet another secret of our past.

When we visited my parents over the summer, my 13-year-old daughter started to get excited about genealogy as well. She and I spent hours at my mom’s computer tracing our lineage and learning about ancestors we never knew we had. It was fascinating to discover family members who sailed on the Mayflower, others who rubbed shoulders with founding fathers and presidents, and quite a few who fought for our country in wars we read about in history books.

I took some time during our New Year’s visit this week to interview my mom and daughter about their interest in genealogy.

Why did you first start studying your family’s history?

Mom’s Response

“I’ve been interested ever since I was first married. When I went down to visit Aunt Ruby, she started telling me some stories about my family. I thought, I’ll just start writing this stuff down. For years I kept it on paper. Eventually, I put it on the computer and bought the Family Tree [software] program. When I learned about a free trial for online, I signed up, thinking I could do everything I wanted to in a couple months, and I got hooked.”

My Daughter’s Response

“I’ve always like history, and it’s fun to know who your ancestors were, what they did, and where they came from.”

How has learning about your family’s past helped you better understand and appreciate history?

Mom’s Response

“Oh, it gets me more involved in it. Sometimes when I find someone who’s done something [notable], I go in and research a little of that time frame or the area. When I’m doing family tree history and happen to be reading a historical novel, I can connect the two and realize “This is how it was for this ancestor.” I was reading one that was about the depression, and it really gave me perspective about my parents.”

My Daughter’s Response

“It’s nice to know that some of our ancestors were memorable people in history and were a big part of it even if you might not learn about it in school.”

Tell me something interesting you have learned while doing genealogy?

Mom’s Response

“On the Thorn side, I found out that in Chester County, they were into politics and fairly wealthy. I actually got a hold of a whole tree someone did of the Thorns, and my family was in it. So I helped him add to his tree, and he added a lot to mine.

“I learn history, and sometimes I run into recipes. I ran into a barbecue recipe while doing genealogy.”

My Daughter’s Response

“I’m related to William Brewster! And John James Beckley was one of my ancestors. He was the campaign manager for Thomas Jefferson. Also, some of my ancestors immigrated here from Sweden.”

What resources do you recommend for someone getting started?

Mom’s Response

“First, ask your family. That’s where I started I depended on my family to help me get started. All those conversations with my aunt, grandma and father-in-law… is the best [website], but you have to pay for it. We get the full deal and it’s about $300 a year. MyHeritage starts out not charging, but if you store enough information on there, they charge you. Others are fine when you first start out, but when you get past a certain number of ancestors, they charge you for it.

Wikitree is a group of volunteers; people who do genealogy a lot can volunteer and be part of that group to help people. I kind of like it but don’t do much with it because I use ancestry and find a lot of people that way. You can check graveyards with Findagrave. Sometimes if you know a name, you can just do a Google search and find information that way.”

Learning Family History

I will admit it; I enjoy genealogy as well. It’s always a fun challenge trying to piece together stories from bits and pieces of information like a birth certificate, draft card, or marriage certificate, many of which are available through paid genealogy sites. I am not ready to dive in and pay for a membership to those sites since I do not often have time to do the kind of research necessary to justify the expense. While away from my mom’s, I use a free account to follow along with information she uncovers, although I cannot access the primary source materials required to do extensive research on my own. But whenever we are at “Grandma’s house” my daughter and I take full advantage of Mom’s paid membership to see what new information we can uncover.

I may consider having my daughter complete an independent genealogy project for a high school history credit in a year or two since she enjoys it so much, and it helps her learn more about history.