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Getting Started - Part 1

More and more people are expressing an interest on finding out how they got to be who they are and where they came from. It is one thing to know you are Irish-American or German-American or African-American. It is all together different to know the people behind the title.

Who was the first to come to this country? Did they come alone? Why did they come? Who did they leave behind? Once they got here, where did they go? Who did they contact? What brought you to be in the place you're in this very day?

That's what tracing your ancestral roots, or your genealogy, is all about. Did you know your great-great grandmother loved to garden just like you do, or that you get your green eyes from your uncle? You've read about hundreds of historical events from wars to discoveries to scientific inventions. What was your family's role in any of these things? "What did you do in the war, daddy" takes on a whole new meaning when it applies to many countries, many decades and many people.

We are very lucky to have some wonderful resources available to us to help us trace our roots. The first choice is also the simplest. Face to face conversation with living relatives and their friends. Don't assume you know all there is to know about your living family. Remember, if grandma remembers anything about her grandma, you're now talking about your great-great grandmother.

And definitely don't assume they would have told you if there was anything to tell. The subject doesn't always come up, and if everyone is making the same assumptions you are, the story will never get told.

Sit down for a one-to-one with any family member who will talk to you and ask some very simple starter questions. Then sit back and listen to the amazing story unfold. Basic starter questions are things like this:

  • "Did you always live in this city?"
  • "How did you meet your spouse?"
  • "Where did your parents meet? Live?"
  • "Did they have siblings? Who are they?"
Follow-up questions become obvious. Just be sure you're getting everything down. Maybe the flow of conversation would be better with a tape recorder going then note taking. That's up to you.

Be sure and take photographs of your relatives, young and old alike. Mark each and every photo with a full name, place and date. Of course you know that's a picture of your Mom last Christmas, but help out future generations and make sure they know, too.

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