Is there anything more fascinating than your own family’s past? A few years ago, I started doing a little genealogy. I say a little, because I thought my family tree would be pretty simple, but the branches really, well, branched. I notice that whenever I pick up the thread of my family’s history, my imagination runs wild to fill in the blanks lost to record. Instead of coming away with answers, I always find myself with heaps of questions. I guess it’s our nature to look for the why, especially when there’s no one left to ask.
In fact, I’m working a mysterious separation from my own family’s history into my current novel. I changed some details, of course, but I’ve come back to that question so often in my life, I find I can’t leave it alone in my work, either.
If you’d like to dig for ideas in your own genealogy, here are some easy ways to start:
- Photos! Dig through those old, crumbly photos. So many faces have lost their names. Give them a story.
- West Virginia has an online archive of many records, and your state will, too. Just search for ‘public records by state’. You can find birth, death, marriage and census records online, often in the individual’s own handwriting. My maiden name showed up misspelled a lot (More questions! Was it because my family couldn’t spell it or the clerk didn’t bother to get it right? We were farmers, after all…) so be creative in your search.
- Family Search has a massive database of free records. You can search by individual, location or collection. This blog post will guide you as you get started.
- The Find a Grave website has photos and info on millions of grave locations (and possibly one of the most chilling domain names…). Save yourself a road trip — or inspire one.
Genealogy is easier than ever before, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in for some online investigation. I guarantee you’ll feel inspired by what you discover, and humbled by the knowledge of what families were able to overcome. You may even end up writing the saga of your own family’s past.
What’s the most amazing genealogical discovery you’ve made?