The internets (to use Dubya’s term) has changed many aspects of our lives but one area I didn’t come to appreciate until recently is genealogy. The changes are, like so many other e-changes, revolutionary.
Genealogical research used to involve going to various government and local offices to sift through birth, marriage and death records. Then you’d take that data home and write up a little chart that you would distribute to everyone in your family. And that was it, until you or someone else in your family picked up the ball and went to the next government office to try to decipher the next link in your family chain.
Now many of those government records are online. But even more importantly, all that work done by diligent families over time is also on the internet. So if you can stretch your family a generation or two into the past, you can connect with all this work that people have already done.
That’s how I figured out in the last month or so that I am related to one of the original members of the Jamestown colony. He arrived in Virginia in 1608. As a result, history has really come alive for me and now I’m pouring over Colonial history to see what my relatives were up to in the 17th and 18th centuries.
I did much of my work on ancestry.com but just googling surnames I’ve come across a motherlode of information. Here’s one of the coolest things I’ve found, the graves of my maternal great(x6)-uncles who fought for the Rebels in the Revolution. They later settled in Illinois:
Incidentally, the website I found these pics on is pretty cool in and of itself, http://www.waymarking.com.
So get out there and find out where you come from!
Here are some suggestions from a novice:
1. Compile everything you already know. Talk to your living relatives. Everyone has somebody in their family who’s already been working on the family history. I’ve got a couple in mine. Gather all these tidbits in one place. I started with an Excel spreadsheet but there is good genealogy software out there.
2. Get on familysearch.org and/or ancestry.com and see how what you already know connects with the work people have already done.
3. Now the hard work begins. Start with one branch and search, search, search. Google your family names & surnames and the names of husbands & wives, especially the oddball ones. One of my google searches uncovered a diary that describes the 1834 migration of one of my relatives from Virginia to Illinois. It’s the earliest information I have on that branch. I’ve discovered Captains, Quakers, Tories and Rebels, frontiersman, and pioneers. It’s not that just I’ve found cool relatives — whatever I found out would have been cool because this is my tribe. (There will be bad things, too. No doubt some of my relatives were slaveowners. But that’s American history, you take the awesome and inspiring with the shameful.)
I’m making great progress. I’ve nearly filled out six generations of my family tree and made it much further in several branches. But I still have a long way to go. I’ll keep you posted.