October 12, 2017

Knowing Your Family History: Is It Important To You?



I will admit that I am not terribly interested in my family's history. I come from a small family, not a lot of nieces and nephews, aunts, or uncles. I'm not excited about tracing my family tree back through many generations. Even when we lived in Salt Lake City, home of the nation's largest genealogical research library, I wasn't moved. 

My wife is more involved than I. Her family is large, with lots of branches on her family tree. A few notebooks are crammed with the kinds of details that serious seekers of family history love. At one point, I remember a distant relative did visit us to share letters, birth certificates, and other official-looking pieces of paper with Betty. She joined one of the on-line sites to help her with her explorations. While the interest is still there, her family searches have been relegated to a back burner for now.

In doing a little research for this post, I ran across Genealogy In Time Magazine. One of its articles presented answers as to why someone would find all of this interesting or important. If you want to read the full article, click this link.   In summary, some of the reasons include validating family stories, tracing medical  conditions or land ownership, finding birth parents and any links to famous people or historical events.

Frankly, I hadn't considered some of these reasons for engaging in family research. Since I like exploring things on the Internet and am naturally somewhat curious about things I don't understand, I see this whole area in a somewhat different light. I have been told there is a connection somehow in my family to Daniel Boone but have never validated it. 

I remember reading at one time that Barack Obama was related to Dick Cheney. Now, there is an odd couple. Mr. Obama was also linked with George Washington and Rush Limbaugh. See, it gets stranger by the minute! 

Maybe that's the trigger for people to get hooked by family history research. Besides Daniel Boone, maybe I share some blood with Abe Lincoln or Al Capone. Maybe I don't want to know that.

What about you? Are you interested in all the twists and turns of your family's past? Do you have old documents that trace your ancestors back to some historical event? Or, like me, do you prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. You aren't particularly motivated to learn about all that?

I am quite interested in what you have to say. Maybe the challenge of using the Internet to trace my side of the family back a few hundred years would be fun. Maybe not. What you have to say may inspire me, or help solidify my current status of someone not all that fascinated.

Frankly, I will be paying very close attention to your thoughts. 


52 comments:

  1. I was mildly interested in my lineage because there was always talk at family gatherings that we were related to John Smith and Pocahotas. As a child, I thought that was cool. As an adult, I was dubious. However, my husband has been working for years to trace both sides of our family on Ancestry. He still gets clues about his family even prior to their immigration the the U.S. in the first half of the last century. He was able to trace my family all the way back to the mid-1500s all still in the U.S. with no new clues in years. This one fact makes me wonder if maybe the "rumor" might be true? He LOVES spending time on the computer looking for clues, so I leave that to him. Maybe someday we'll know for sure if my family story is true! Regardless, it's fun to share the original rumor and that there at least MIGHT be some truth to it.

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    1. The thrill of the hunt is what might change my mind about this subject. Of course, what if I find out Daniel Boone and I don't share a love of coon-skinned caps?

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  2. I was born and raised Jewish. My parents didn't practice our religion, but we identified as Jews. My grandparents on my father's side immigrated in 1905 from what is now Poland. My father told me that any relatives still in Poland were killed during the Holocaust. Recently, through the myheritage.com site, I was contacted by a grandson of my grandfather's sister, who died during the Holocaust. The sister had sons that escaped Germany for the Soviet Union and then Israel. I found it fascinating that another branch of the family exists.

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    1. I was born and raised Catholic. Imagine my surprise when I discovered in my fifties that my father's mother was Jewish, an emigre from Poland! She had worked as a secretary for my Irish-American grandfather at the turn of the 20th century, and their marriage resulted in her converting to Catholicism, her family disowning her, and her origins becoming a deep family secret. I think it's terrific to have an entirely different genetic strain in my background, and I never would have known if I hadn't been curious about our family history. I wonder if a DNA analysis would have uncovered this as well...

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    2. What a fascinating link between your stories, Rick and Lydgate.

      As I noted my family was small, but maybe a missing link somewhere would show a lot more Lowry's out there, like your experience, Rick.

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  3. My mother traced fifteen generations back of our family as well as having articles and information about many of them, and I am now doing the same for my husbands side of the family-its fascinating and a topic I plan to write on more on this. I find it fascinating.

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    1. What sources do you find best for your research? I know there are dozens of choices, but before investing time and money, could you steer us beginners toward the ones that offer the best value and have a easiest interface?

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    2. Well, my mom did it in the old days with the old ways. She visited libraries and searched microfish and looked at church library births and deaths-she did it for 20 ears and I am ashamed to say that I wasnt seriousl interested while she was living.

      My primary source is the internet and Ancestry, where you can find all kinds of record, I just found my husbands great grandfathers draft card, for example.

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    3. I know Betty has used Ancestory.com before.

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  4. I'm not particularly interested, I focus more on looking forward than back. That said, there is a book that was published by a relative in the 1940's that traces our entire family back to the original settlers (his name was "Fritz", and he was my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather). I've never spent any time looking through the book in detail, other than the page on my namesake, "Fritz". If it interests you, explore a bit. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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    1. The exercise of writing this post and some of the responses to this point have sparked an initial interest in learning a little bit more about how one goes about this type of deep family research. Whether I pursue it is an open question.

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  5. I did a lot of research on my mother's family as a gift to her when she was quite elderly. Her parents died when she was a child and she always wanted to know more about her family history. Although that is why I started I ended up finding it interesting how current events intersected with their lives and as a result learned a lot more about world history in a way that resonated for me. I pretty much stopped the research though once I had gone as far as I could easily and she was happy with what I found. She was a history buff so the stories/info about links to major events were of great interest to her. The other piece that was meaningful to her was finding the medical cause of her father's death which she had not known.

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    1. Now there is a spark for me: an insider's view of world history through a family's involvement. I would find that fascinating.

      What a nice present, by the way. That showed real love and sensitivity to your mom.

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  6. I find it fascinating and I also heard my family on my Dads side was related to Daniel Boone. Please tell your wife, if she doesn't already, to watch Finding Your Roots on PBS. He highlights famous people and the best part is their reaction to all they never knew...often very emotional. It's a fabulous show.

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    1. OK, I will look for the availability of Finding Your Roots on our local PBS station or streaming options. She would probably like it.

      Another Daniel Boone link? Interesting.

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    2. I just watched Finding Your Roots last night...fascinating!

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    3. Was it Carly Simon, Christopher Wailken or Bernie Saunders and the comedian that mimics him? Both excellent! episodes! On the PBS app, you can probably view the previous season, but he has done this show for several years

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  7. I am more interested in the psychosocial history and how that has affected family dynamics. Like my MIL's family who immigrated from Ireland, where they were "poor, poor, poor...and when we got to (the US) we were poorer". One thing that has always excited me is the fact that my great grandparents had homesteaded on a NE quarter of section 27 in South Dakota. I now live on a NE quarter of section 27.

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    1. Wow...a real link to the land.

      Like you, if I pursue this subject it would because of the challenge of completing some of the research, and to have an insider's view of history and social situations. To just have a long list of names connected on a family tree wouldn't excite me.

      Thanks, Mona.

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  8. Your topic hit home with me as I am applying for dual citizenship with Italy. By law I am already an Italian citizen I just have to prove that the blood line, jure sanguine, is unbroken back to the most recent (usually male) ancestor born in Italy. I have been gathering certified vital records for my grandparents, parents, myself, ex husbands and my children.

    For the marriage and birth records of my grandparents I had to write small towns in Italy in Italian. Thankfully there is a very helpful Facebook group called Dual Italian American citizenship. In a few years it has grown to over 5000 members. So far I have learned that my grandfather was not born in the town listed on his naturalization paperwork, I have made friends with a woman with relatives in the same town who is also pursuing dual citizenship. I sent her materials to help with her language learning and when she was at a family search physical location she found my grandfathers birth record. This will be a huge help if the town says they can’t find it.

    On the flip side while doing a free ancestry tour I looked at my Dads non Italian side and found his yearbook page. He was born in 1929 and listed the thing he was proudest of in high school as getting up at 4am every day to do his homework and working after school. He went on to be a family doctor. I also noticed that someone had linked his mother’s family tree to a newspaper article I wrote about him when he turned 80. I had seen the Tree years ago and since my grandmother died when my dad was 14 days old I was greatful for the tree as the only source of info about her line. Well this time it gave an email for the woman who built that tree. So I emailed her to say thank you. It turns out our grandmothers were sisters and she lives about 5 hours from me. I think technically we are grand cousins and will meet this winter. She has a photo of our great grandmother Ellen and my name is Ellen...it was my grandmothers middle name. My parents did not know about my great grandmother but I still got her name!

    All this said I would never say I was into genealogy but WOW what a ride! And this is the short version. The whole dual citizenship thing is another story as to why: sentimental reasons, free healthcare, documenting the path so if my grandchildren want Italian citizenship they can get it and work in the EU and also if certain drugs are available in the EU but not here family members could use citizenship for that too.

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    1. That is an absolutely fascinating story, Ellen. The dual citizenship issue is something I know nothing about; you had to complete paperwork in Italian...that is amazing.

      What you have learned is priceless. Thank you very much for sharing all this. What an inspiration to some of us who aren't convinced of family research's value.

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  9. I enjoy your blog. Like you wife, I got into genealogy intensely for awhile but now am content to check for new leads just once or twice a year. I was originally motivated to validate a family story that my last name would have been different if my great grandfather had not decided to adopt his mother’s maiden name.

    He changed his name because he was active (off and on) in the US Army which displeased some of his relatives who were active in Irish independence movements in the late 1800s. I was able to verify through documents that the story was true and was surprised how much else I was able to learn about him. I ended up self-publishing a short biography on him.

    I also found it interesting to see how my family migrated from the East Coast to the West Coast and the various occupations they had (listed on Census reports). Learning your past doesn’t change who you are, but perhaps it does generate more empathy for the varied paths all of us immigrants to this country have taken!

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    1. So, you learned your last name might have been completely different. Did that give you two paths to check on...your "original" last name and the one dad chose?

      I like the idea of bringing immigrant stories to light. Particularly at this time in our nation, immigrants are being pigeon-holed in ways that don't reflect reality or their contributions to our country over the past nearly 300 years.

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  10. I had someone who was doing THEIR research on family tree contact me via facebook last year.. it was a bit disruptive to my peace of mind,actually. I was also sent a TEXT message with a photo of my Biological father's gravesite!! YES! I opened this up during a lunch date with a girlfriend: A tombstone of my bio Dad!!!!! By someone ELSE searching family tree!!!!! I have never met or had anything to do with my Bio dad. I come from a colorful family background and some of what's back there in the past , is best left there, in my opinion! I enjoy the family I have in the present and just have not had the big urge to go backwards.I was also raised by a kind "step" Dad.. hate that term! No STEP about it. From age 6. My Bio Dad never looked me up. My bio Dad and my Mom separated when I was 6 months old. My step Dad moved us to a beautiful suburbs, took in my grandmother with us (I say he "married" all 3 of us,Me, Mom and Nan..) So, I had a good life.. Now,why would I go searching?? I think I am in the minority but I love the family I have created for myself and that's good enuf for me!! I don't go borrowing trouble. And I don't like some kinds of surprises.I believe family is who you live with and love.. so that means your friends are family too!!

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    1. Thanks, Madeline, for representing a very common viewpoint on this subject. I don't think you are in the minority at all.

      Looking backwards can distract someone from living in the present and anticipating the future. With your family's history, I completely understand your reluctance to delve into all the nooks and crannies. You had a good childhood, filled with love and support. Your adulthood seems to be pretty good, too, from what I know.

      That is success.

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    2. Madeline. I understand that this was difficult for you, and I probably would not contact a non family member. Having said that, part of my research is, but necessity researching other's family trees and I have, through Ancesty.com contacted other folks who had other relatives in a distant and I have emailed those folks and gotten information-for side trees or more information whatsoverver.

      I do understand the difficulty. My 37 year old daughter has neither seen now heard from her birth father since she was six-I dont even know if he is still living, so she considers this family tree hers, and fortunately there are ways to do that.

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    3. I just don't give it any energy-- but when other people do and plop their searches down in front of you..well... the internet surely has disrupted our privacy that's for sure! I do understand how some people would want to know more. I did know my feisty Aunts and Uncles when they were alive, and I have cousins I stay in touch with-- I just don't go any further than that..

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  11. A cousin on my mother's side did a fairly intense search and created a large family tree that we all got copies of some years back. It had to be printed on plotter pager it was so big. (I have 63 first cousins.) My mother's ancestors came from Finland and apparently somewhere back in the lineage one of the guys left a family over there, came to the US and started another family like it was nothing. (Well, I guess I don't know that...) Anyway, my mother and her sisters were able to connect with cousins and others in Finland and one of them even came to visit. Beyond that, I don't have a particular interest in digging more. There is enough craziness in the immediate past generations. Ha!

    I agree with Mary...Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS is absolutely fascinating. We are hooked!

    --Hope

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    1. I will add that show to my must-see list.

      63 first cousins is enough for 7 baseball teams!

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  12. Growing up I was intrigued by my father's mention that "a full blooded Cherokee" was on his Mother's side of the family. Other than that, I've lacked any interest in family history. I did 23andMe genetic analysis, however, and I found it interesting to see my genetic composition, which included percentage of Neanderthal. Because that analysis is based on maternal DNA though, it offered no information about Native American genetics. That information would require that my father be tested, so that his maternal DNA could be analyzed. Alas though, he is deceased. Occasionally people notify me through 23andMe that they are possibly a distant cousin, four or five times removed, but following up on that has no interest to me. I do think having a 23andMe type of genetic analysis for "heritage" is interesting though. Your "haplotype" is determined, and it is possible to know at precise historical times when that haplotype appeared and where it predominates.

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    1. Actually, Betty and I were given one of the DNA test kits. We sent off our spit and 7 weeks later got back a rather generic report that confirmed what we aready knew about our heritage, except for a small percentage of eastern European representation, that was a bit of a surprise.


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  13. I always have had a fascination with learning about family.As a child I would collect photos of everyone. (Yes, I was an annoying photographer even at age 10! I also used to interview people in my family. I have a great tape of my father's voice talking about working in the coal mines in WV, being in WWII, and just everyday life. I think it's nice not only to have a written history but visual and audio. Our youngest daughter gave Bob and I DNA tests for a Christmas present. I'm getting excited again to get back into it! Our granddaughters needed some artifacts from GreatGrandparents for Girl Scouts. I was amazed at all the special things I've saved from my Great Grandparents on down. I suppose I should record these stories for generations to come.

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    1. Hello, dear wife.

      As you know my mom recorded her reading a kid's book to our very young daughters. Finding that tape and book a few years after her death was quite moving.

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  14. My husband was very interested in having his DNA test, and he bought it for our sons, too. They weren't quite as interested but, sent it in anyway. Nothing terribly intriguing came of it, in my opinion. I was told my paternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Unfortunately, she was one on the trail of tears and there's not way to document that story. So, I don't feel compelled to waste money on the DNA test.
    b

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    1. As I noted above, I didn't learn much. The company was more interested in selling me all sorts of extra services.

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  15. In my family’s messed up life, looking back had a bit of a feeling of another shoe dropping or another skeleton in the closet. With the DNA testing available I thought I might want to learn what nationality I am but haven’t been curious enough to do it as of yet. Finding out just doesn’t seem to serve any purpose for me. Knowing where my family originated won’t change who I am or make me a better person so I speed my time on other hobbies. My husband is however interested in his family background but he has a cousin who has done all the research and passes it along.

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    1. Up until now I have been in your camp. I just wasn't that interested. But, frankly, I may be changing my mind. Doing family research is something Betty and I could do together.

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  16. My ancestry has been traced back to 1150 in England. The family name has been knighted twice why there such good records. The first knighting was for heroic actions during the siege of acres during the third crusades under Richard the lion hearted. That was sir Robert Lawrence. Interesting stuff

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    1. Absolutely! What fun to learn that kind of fact.

      You reminded me that when we were in England we found one of Betty's ancestrial castles. Montgomery Is her maiden name and that is a well-connected name in Englad.

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  17. I love history in general, and had a periodic interest in tracking my family's past. Using various online sources, I was able to find members of my family who had participated in almost every major event in America's history, making it all more "real" in a way. It's also given me stories to share with my students who are studying to take their citizenship test to become American citizens, my most important volunteer activity. The hurdles they face--language problems, religious bias, prejudice--are the same ones faced by earlier generations of immigrants who persevered and built our amazing country, and it gives them a little more hope. Lots of people look for nobles and famous people to hang on their family trees--I am proud to be descended from hundreds of years of worker bees who helped build New York City and farmed the Midwest instead.

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    1. What an important comment and reminder of how all of us and our families have had a hand in building this country.

      I think is also important to remember that there were people here before us. Their fate should not be forgotten or overlooked.

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  18. I have the diary my family kept on their journey west on the Oregon Trail in 1854. The hardships and tragedies they endured makes me feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude-- and I honor their courage and sacrifice.

    I have traced my family back to Switzerland in the year 1524. Looking at what they faced day to day.... I really don't have many problems.. and if I do, they are minor in comparison.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. That diary would be a great read. What a treasure.

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  19. My dad's sister traced the family back several hundred years to a little town on the French Belgian border. I find that fascinating. Wish I had a similar history on my mom's side. Lately, I've been thinking about doing a DNA test. Just for fun. Maybe there will be a surprise in there!

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    1. Betty and I didn't learn much from our DNA tests, but give it a shot. I had a very small percentage Scandinavian ancestory. Who knew?

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    2. If I ever get around to it, I'll let you know if I am surprised.

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  20. I know it may sound odd to bring up, but I also have not done the DNA testing-- mostly because I believe it is not good to have your health markers in the hands of a third party! I am sure there will be some way insurance companies find a way to get your information and refuse to cover certain people with genetic markers for some diseases and disorders.. and who knows where else that info will end up!?? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that info should be as private as it can be.

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    1. I don't believe the tests sold online are that detailed, but better safe than sorry.

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  21. My mom has always been the keeper of oral histories about our family. I grew up listening to her stories about family members as far back as my great grandparents and their siblings. She talked about where they came from and where they settled, what they were like as people, and major events in their lives. Although I found the stories interesting, unfortunately I never paid really close attention, and now have forgotten most of the details.

    Her younger sister, my aunt, is very interested in geneology. She spends hours researching the family tree and has traced certain branches of the family back many generations. I can’t see the point of it myself. I just don’t have any interest in it. The stories are what are interesting to me.

    Jude

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    1. Some of the comments on this post got me thinking about some family research. It seemed like a fun project. But, like you, I just can't get excited by it all. Knowing a story about a relative from a hundred or two hundred years ago would be interesting. But, I tend to be more present day and futuristic in my concerns. Building a family tree wouldn't light my fire.

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  22. The further back you go the more of them there are. That tends to dilute the excitement that you may feel when you discover anyone of great interest or importance. I do find the historical aspect interesting, but always feel somewhat guilty to admit that the dead relatives seem more interesting than (most of) the live ones!

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    1. Ha...that's funny. Distance or time does make the heart grow fonder, I guess!

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