So, you would like to learn more about your family? This is an absolutely fascinating pursuit, as the stories emerge and people talk and you find new documents. If you are going to start your family tree, then you will need to find the following for each person if possible:
- Birth date, location, and any unusual circumstances (was there a twin?)
- Addresses for home
- Parents’ names (birth, adoptive, maiden names, stepfamilies included)
- Emigration/Immigration and Naturalization records
- Marriage and divorce records, including location, spouse name, etc.
- Education history
- Any formal titles and the reason for the title
- Medical History (Major illnesses or disabilities)
- Military history (branch, dates of service, discharge, burial)
- Legal history (ie jail time and any conviction)
- Work history (type and location of work)
- Death date, location, and cause, and burial or lack thereof
- Significant hobbies and interests (gardening, airplanes, cruising, clubs, memberships, etc.)
- Siblings’ names
- Spouses’ names
- In-law’s names
- Children’s names and birth years (including any duplicates if one child died and another got the name, this was common back in the day…)
- Any history of adoption or name change for any reason
- Religious preferences, birthright to adult choice
Genealogy is not an exact science. Always there remains some mystery around people, as they lived their own lives. And inevitably, there are the stories that were suppressed in the past and do come to light.
Some families are sensitive about anything from a change of faith or an illegitimate child to the reason for a death. The important information is still there and should be recorded. History has already happened, and should not be judged for perfection, nor should it be ignored in the name of sanitation. As the state- issued poster puts it, go ahead and shock Aunt Petunia!
But seriously, working the trees backward and sideways can increase your sense of community, and of family you did not realize you had. Our ancestors survived plagues, foul weather, sea voyages, primitive medicine, etc., and we are all still here. How did we get here? What can we learn?
By Shannon Lefebvre