Welcome to my A to Z journey through family history. If you’ve ever been curious about your own family’s story perhaps this will tempt you to get started – or frighten you off entirely.
A is for ANCESTORS
The starting point about doing family history is to learn who our ancestors were, their names and where they came from.
Quite often oral family history breaks down over only a few generations so that some people may not know the names of grandparents who perhaps died young, and few will know the names of their great-grandparents.
Many of us start out wanting to know more about these shadowy figures from whom we descend. As many of us descend from immigrant families, we are often curious about the countries of origin for our immigrant ancestors.
Contrary to a popular advertisement, you do need to have some sense of what you’re looking for, otherwise you might well have your ancestral ladder propped up against the wrong tree.Traditional genealogy trains us to follow backwards in a line from ourselves to our parents, their parents and their parents in turn, confirming each linkage based on the evidence we discover rather than simply plucking suggested leaves from others’ trees or program suggestions.
Building a genealogy is like building the foundations of a house – get it right and you’ll wind up with a solid ancestral line. However, there’s more to each of us than simply our dates of birth, marriage and death. There are innumerable sources we can investigate to explore the lives of our families: where they lived, what were their social circumstances, how did they earn their daily bread etc. This is what we refer to as putting “flesh on the bones” of your ancestry. I call it exploring your family history.
A is for ARCHIVES
These oft-neglected gems are an Aladdin’s cave of riches for family historians. Having moved beyond the basic biographical data, this is where you’re most likely to find all sorts of delights to reveal more of your ancestor’s lives. Don’t let anyone tell you this is all online already – I can’t imagine that ever happening despite the exponential growth of online records in recent years.Nor will a genie appear offering you an instant solution to your search.
Archives can be challenging, mysterious and downright frustrating, but like a lot of our research, there’s nothing like adding some more shading to the family stories. Fortunately they are now more responsive to family historians and often have guides, flow charts and other handy tools as well as the google of archives – the archivists themselves.
Come along on the journey with me for the next month as we explore how we track down our ancestors and their stories. Feel free to ask questions as we go along, either in general or in relation to a specific topic.
If you’re interested in taking on this ancestral journey it comes with two warnings:
- You never know what you’ll discover so be prepared to be tolerant of what you discover
- This hobby obsession is addictive – many of us start on the journey little realising that years later we’ll still be sleuthing away looking to solve one more mystery or find one more detail.