Starting Your Family History

When I was a kid, I was always fascinated with the stories my great-grandparents shared (via my mother – they didn’t speak a lot of English). My mother was close to her grandparents. They lived with her family for a large part of her life. She still occasionally talks about things she learned from her grandmother. When my brother got married last month, my mom pulled out some old recipes and started cooking and baking. She said, later, that when she made the coffee cake, it smelled just like her grandmother’s kitchen. That branch of the family immigrated the the United States during Word War II from Ukraine. So far, oral history has been the extent of my information.

My dad’s parents had a lot of stories about growing up, too. After they had been married for quite sometime, my grandparents discovered, through my sister’s family history project for school, that my grandfather was the one who had dipped my grandmother’s pigtails in the inkwells in school and spilled ink on her brand new dress. It took them 50 years to discover this! On further digging, they realized that my grandfather had also delivered newspapers to my grandmother’s house. Their lives had been intertwined all along! This side of the family is German, and my grandfather was the first generation born in the United States. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I hoped I would eventually find them in Ellis Island records.

When my first child was born, I started researching genealogy and how to keep track of all that information. I interviewed my grandparents – my grandmother had breast cancer at the time, so there was a sense of urgency. I had asked about their lives all the time, so I knew a lot of what she was telling me, but it was nice to do it with a purpose, instead of just hearing the stories.

I got books from the library. I downloaded forms from the Internet. Ancestry.com was just getting started and everyone was uploading their family trees. Nothing was available for free – well, nothing that was easy to find, anyway. I wasn’t able to find a lot of primary source records to verify the information I had, but it didn’t stop me from trying.

I had a blast interviewing my husband’s family. And everyone was very helpful. I felt weird asking for copies of birth certificates though, so I never did get any primary documents there either. I was thrilled to discover that other family members had done some research already, and they willingly shared their reports with me. The information went back 150 years! It was more than I had for my family.

I am happy to report that thanks to countless hours and effort of the Family History Centers, many of these documents are now available online – for free! I have been able to validate and correct over 150 years worth of family history on both sides (except for Ukraine) thanks the FamilySearch.org, sponsored by the LDS. I also found that once I downloaded a software program and started inputting information, I was better able to view the whole picture. I have filled in a lot of blanks (100% of 5 generations, and names into the 8th generation) thanks to websites like FamilySearch.org, and I have also found a lot more questions. I have over 320 individuals that I am tracking through census records, birth records, marriage records, and death records. I also search Google Books quite often for different names. I lucked out once with a phone and address directory that listed, not only the residential address of the person I was looking for, but also the business address and his business partner. The best part was that the phone directory filled a huge time gap I was dealing with. (I later discovered that the names had been misspelled in the census records, so I did confirm their whereabouts with census records.)

I hope to share my research with you so that any expert genealogists out there may be able to help me out, but also so that beginners may find some answers here.

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