Genealogy Begins With You
We all have stories that have been handed down to us about our origins. We may have been told that we had an ancestor who was part Indian, or one who came on the Mayflower, or fought in the Revolutionary War. Maybe Grandpa told us that his family came from came from Ireland during the Potato, or that you come through a certain Scottish Clan. Sometimes a famous family line is mentioned such as a Royal line, or maybe Chief Massoit [he met the Mayflower]. We have a legend in our family that we were related to Germany's infamous von Hindenburg, [not all stories are happy ones]. When we hear of a famous ancestor we immediately want to prove the connection [or disprove it] and we try to jump back in time, skipping over ancestors in the process.
This is generally not the best way to search for your ancestors. My grandpa would say we are "putting the cart before the horse."
Genealogy begins with you. You begin by putting together what you know about yourself and then you get it into a format that makes sense so that you can share what you have with others. No one will be in a better position to record your information than you are in right now. After you get yourself recorded you can begin to move back in time from the known to the unknown.
You need to stop at each ancestor to collect what you can. Sometimes there is not much available, when this happens you research the other people in their lives, like siblings or neighbors. Neighbors are often kin, but in any case if you can find out about them, you will know what life was like for your ancestor. By solving the little puzzles along the way, and gathering the history you can better understand who your family really is.
As you record what you know about yourself, your parents and grandparents, if you were lucky enough to know them, make certain to give a physical description and a bit about their health. I recently found my husband's grandfather's World War I draft registration card. It stated that he had light blue eyes. We now know where the light blue eyes came from that my husband, son, and several grandchildren have, and more importantly they know. I also like to record a cause of death, which can help you track patterns of illnesses that may be genetically linked. This becomes more important as new helps for genetic problems become available. The men in my father's family all died in farming or horse related accidents, which I guess also tells me about what they were like.
Remember to reach out to family members who are still living and glean what you can from them. My biggest helpers recently have been the distant cousins that I meet from time to time. I recently received a photo of a great grandmother from a newfound cousin.
If you gather with family during the upcoming Holidays you can start the ball rolling by telling your remembrances. You will soon find other people chiming in. You may learn some bits of info that you hadn't known before.
Make sure you pass on what you know to those who come after you by recording either on paper or video what you learn. At Thanksgiving I like to tell my children and now my grandchildren about their first ancestors who came into this country, what they went through to get here and why we are grateful for them. We had some who were at the first Thanksgiving, but we also had others who came at different times and from different countries and their sacrifices were no less real and no less important.
As you move back in time and history, you may find out that you are related to Abraham Lincoln, or came through Spanish Royalty, but you will also find that the "regular" people in your lineage are just as interesting as the "famous" ones. Enjoy the Journey!