Start with what you know

Many people tell me, “I don’t know anything about my family. I wouldn’t know where to start.”  It is a common condition that families don’t always share information about their families. Families today are much more transient than in the past. Because of this children don’t always have the opportunity to spend quality time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I didn’t grow up near my extended family, but when we were together, I asked lots of questions about the past. Because of being adopted at an older age, I had an insatiable need to fit in, to belong.  You would think that I would have learned much about my adopted family. Yes and no. My father’s family was an open book. My grandmother, Lena, loved that I wanted to know, so she would get out family photos and we would talk for hours. On the other hand, my mother’s family was closed up. My grandmother, Iris, was open to some discussion of her family, but it didn’t go beyond her immediate family.  My grandfathers, M.R. And Don, weren’t excited to sit down and talk about their childhoods.  M.R.’s parents had divorced when he was a young boy and his mother was bitter.  No doubt he didn’t see his Dad that much and his mother’s bitterness made talking about the past uncomfortable.  My granddaddy Don just wasn’t much of a talker to begin with.  His father, too, died when he was young. His family struggled to make ends meet.  His mother, Ida, tried running the farm as best she could with two young and growing boys.  There wasn’t much help from other family for her. 

Even though it didn’t seem like I had much to go own for my mother’s side, my father’s side was poured into me. My Dad’s grandfather had written down his family genealogy back to the original Young who came from Bristol, England.  My Dad’s sisters made sure everyone got a copy of that book.  I was thrilled! His sisters also went on a genealogy vacation one year traveling along the roads of their mother’s family’s past.  They made everyone copies of what they were able to find out. There was one terrific piece of evidence on my mother’s side.  Her grandmother, lovingly called Mom Olson, had filled in the genealogy pages of her baby book.  Mom Olson was a first generation American.  Her father and mother, the Swansons, as well as the Olsons were immigrants from Sweden. The names of the towns in Sweden where they were born was written in the book.  Thanks to Google Earth, I have been able to find those villages and tour around.  How cool is that?!

So where do you start on your quest for your family history, start with what you know.  Write it down in a notebook.  Ty to recount the stories you’ve heard, names, places, etc.  Keep in mind that you will probably discover that some of what you’ve been told isn’t true, but accept it.  Learn from it.  There probably isn’t a family in the South who hasn’t been told that they have Ntive American in their blood.  Many are sadly disappointed when DNA tests prove that’s either untrue, or too far back to find.  It’s ok.  You may find another relative who is far more interesting.  The key is to take what you know and work from there being open to whatever or whoever you discover.

Why should you do it? That is simple, too. We are who we come from.  You only have to watch a few episodes of Who Do You Think You Are to know that we often resemble those of the past.   We need to know about those who have influenced our lives, so that we can pass that on to our children and grandchildren.  That gift helps them to feel a part of something larger than themselves.  It helps to create a deeper family bond.

It is my goal to help people with putting their family histories on paper.  If you are interested, let’s talk. Email me your contact information


One Comment on “Start with what you know

  1. Very true statement: “There probably isn’t a family in the South who hasn’t been told that they have Native American in their blood.” In my own family lore, my maternal gg-grandmother was supposed to be “half Indian.” I reasoned that, if she were half Indian, then her mother must have been the Indian since, in those days, white women rarely mated with Indians, but men, being what we are, would not have passed up any opportunity that presented itself. Since I descend from this gg-grandmother in a purely maternal line, then my cytoplasm would be inherited from her Indian mother, so a maternal DNA test would prove or disprove my Indian ancestry. When the results arrived, they were just as I expected – no evidence of Indian ancestry. Another myth busted!

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