Curious about the Past? Research Your Genealogy

Article excerpt

Byline: KATHY MARSH

"We've uncovered some embarrassing ancestors in the not-too-distant past. Some horse thieves, and some people killed on Saturday nights. One of my relatives, unfortunately, was even in the newspaper business." - Former President Jimmy Carter.

Family reunions can be a great place to jump-start the study of your family's lineage. One thing is certain; there is something special about being in a roomful of people who are all related to one another. It is the perfect place to climb the family tree and do some amateur genealogy. Author Gail Buckley said, "Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future."

I was invited to a family reunion in 1997, where I met my birth mother for the first time. Having been adopted as an infant, I had little information on my background. Imagine my surprise when I learned, through a newly discovered cousin with an interest in genealogy, that my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was John Hart, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

If you're attending a family reunion, think about talking "genealogy." Ask everyone to bring photos and try to identify any that are not labeled. It's a great way to get everyone talking and recognizing family features, like Uncle Louie's nose, or Aunt Helen's chin.

Fleming Island Library associate Joyce Bak, in charge of Genealogy and Local History, suggests a book titled: To Our Children's Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come, by Bob Green and D.J. Fulford. Acting like a conversation sparkplug, it lists questions children could ask relatives. Family elders are a priceless source for family history and they all have stories to tell. A few good questions for grandparents are:

What was your mother's father's name? What did you call them? Where were they born? Why did they move to this country, state, etc.? Did they know people here? What did they do for a living?

Did they have brothers and sisters? Names, married names, names of their children.

Where did you go to school? Did you like school, favorite subject, etc.?

Bak has found that most people don't really know where to start researching their family history. She has been asked questions like: "Where can I find the book on my family's genealogy/history?" Unless someone in the family wrote one, there isn't one.

And "how can I pull up a birth, marriage or death certificate on the Internet?" No vital records are online unless you write for them, and prove relationship to the person.

Bak offers these suggestions to get started: Always, start with yourself and work backward. Use pedigree and family group records from the very beginning of your search; this will keep you organized and focused on what you have and what you need.

She suggests joining a group to gain assistance, share information and make connections. …