Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

Digging Up Roots


I see dead people.  Online in databases, documents, newspapers, city directories, and census, military and vital records –  and buried in cemeteries with headstones, sometimes surrounded by family.

Although I’ve been working on my family history off and on for 40 years, in the last months I’ve found myself helping coworkers dig a little into their histories.  Looking up new names, ethnicities, time periods, and geographic areas has been refreshing, rewarding and lots of fun.  My friends think I’m brilliant which is carrying it a bit too far, but this is definitely something I enjoy doing and I’m happy to share what information I have.

I’m also doing a presentation on getting started with genealogy later this month for the library staff.  We have these monthly “spotlight” presentations and I’ve been dreading having to dream up a work project to talk about.  This, however, will be fun to do if I can figure out how to rein myself in from talking for half a day.

One thing my colleagues and I discovered in the last weeks is how every new bit information (a name, event, location, occupation) will jog memories and bring out even more information.  We learn stories from our parents and grandparents when we are small but often have no reason to remember things like the place Uncle Joe worked during World War II, or the fact that Great Aunt Margaret collected antiques.

Those odd bits make the stories come to life.  Our families were more than just names on a census sheet, will, or tombstone.   And the things that make them real and interesting are the bits that don’t get written down unless we do it now, either in writing or in a video or audio interview with relatives asking simple questions about life when they were growing up – and to sit down ourselves with a bunch of those questions so the things that make us who we are aren’t forgotten.

Even if you’re not interested in digging up past generations, I encourage you to at least write down what you know and can find out from talking to living relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings).   Ancestry.com is a paid site with a limited free option for data access – but they do have some great free resources and tutorials on getting started.  Take a look at their Family Group  Sheets and Ancestral Charts.  They will give you a framework for writing down what you know.  You can then set it all aside for later, including a child’s request for information for a school project.

The other thing you can and should do is go through your pictures, especially older ones of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., and be sure you record who they are and when the pictures were taken, if you can figure it out.  You can’t actually write on digital pictures and scanned images but you can set them up in online folders labeled by person, and be sure to back them up regularly.

Want to know more?  Check out Cyndi’s List for links to a whole world of genealogical Internet resources.  It’s da bomb.

2 thoughts on “Digging Up Roots

  1. I loved hearing about this and talking with you last night. I need to check up on people’s blogs more often. It’s just crazy with work and at home. I don’t think it’s going to be any better any time soon.

    I love “I see dead people” line too! 😉

  2. I love that I came across this today as I was organizing the 62,000 blogs in my bookmarks. I made a joke on Facebook about my father not remembering his grandmothers’ Christian names. Within minutes, my cousin had not only gotten them but posted a photograph taken of the thirteen children in his father’s family that was taken before he was born — WITH THEIR NAMES!

    You guys are really amazing.

    And you look so happy in your photos! It’s contagious and inspiring.

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