Archive for March, 2010

Family History Research – my beginnings

March 30, 2010

I never cared much for history in grade school or high school – to me it was just a bunch of irrelevant events, names and dates. That changed when I started to research my family history. All of a sudden, it was relevant and interesting. I was hooked, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My interest in genealogy began in 1998, when I scanned a few pages from our family Bible. It contained names and dates of many ancestors, some I knew of and others were unknown. Mom had often talked about her family, and the various places that her ancestors came from, and what a group of “Heinz 57” people we are. Dad’s family came from Italy and Germany, and he knew about only some of his ancestors.

I attended a few seminars to learn how to do more thorough research. Beginning with the names in the family Bible, I did my first searches on the internet, and through “beginners luck” ran across a website belonging to a woman who had researched these ancestors already. The information I found there allowed me to fill in several gaps that existed in my own research. I am indebted to her for getting me started with such a huge amount of information on one branch of my family tree.

Since I was a professional graphic designer when I began my research, I had access to computers and some good digital scanners and printers. My family had several boxes of old family photos that I took to scan and digitize (and I am still in the process of doing so). Problem was, very few of the photos were labeled with names and dates. Some of the faces I recognized, others were a mystery.

My frustration got the better of me, and I wondered how to solve this family history “puzzle” with some of the pieces missing. Through trial and error I learned how to create web pages, and put together a personal genealogy website. And thanks to RootsWeb and their free site hosting, I uploaded the site and began my “fishing expedition.” My dad once asked me what I hoped to accomplish with an incomplete website. I told him I was “fishing for relatives,” and they would help me fill in the blanks. Over the years I have “caught” more than my limit of relatives and friends.

I uploaded some of the digitized images to the website as well, and asked if anyone recognized the mysterious folks in the photos. I also created a searchable family tree and uploaded it as well, and if anyone was looking at it, asked if they recognized any names, places, dates (and errors if they found any).

Twelve years later, I am still learning about genealogy. DNA research has opened a new door to finding relatives and proving relationships (or not). My family tree website has grown, but I still have a long way to go (genealogy is never really finished). I have a lot of people to thank for random acts of kindness, and only hope I can return the favor.

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Genealogy Comes Full Circle

March 6, 2010

I just finished watching a new series on television called “Who Do Think You Are?” It is similar to another series on PBS titled “Faces of America.” Both are about people doing family history research for the first time, with some amazing results.

The people in the shows are famous, but the premise can apply to anyone. If you do enough research and know where to look, you can come up with interesting ancestors with some remarkable stories.

I think the point of these “reality” TV shows was to get more people interested in genealogy, especially those who don’t know where to start or don’t care who their ancestors were. For people like me, it is just “preaching to the choir.”

When I was in school, I could care less about history. I felt it wasn’t relevant to me, as I did not know much about my ancestors or what role they may have played in history in general. Then, I discovered genealogy, and my whole attitude towards history took a different direction. I was hooked.

So now it seems that family history research has become more popular than ever, probably having to do with the enormous amount of family and history information online. I can’t imagine doing research when there was no internet – all the hours spent in libraries, courthouses and cemeteries, writing letters to supposed relatives, sometimes with nothing to show for it. Wasted time and energy. But no more. There are many family history researchers such as myself who put the bulk of their research online for everyone to share. I call it paying it forward. After all, much of my research is due to the generous effort of many researchers (relatives or not) who have put their knowledge online to share with me.

Here are links to the TV shows:

Faces of America (PBS)
http://video.pbs.org/program/1397337072/

Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC)
http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are/

and a link to my genealogy website:
http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~unclejoe

That’s it for now.

Joe