Several years ago I started searching for my family history. History was always my favorite subject in high school and I always jumped at the chance to interview older people around our small town for school projects. I was fascinated by their history and it seemed a natural extension for me to learn mine.
My first search was at the public library and I was surprised to learn that two very distant cousins, who were brothers, were both governor’s of the state of Tennessee. They were in opposing parties too. A few years later I joined Ancestry.com on a trial basis and then joined with a paid membership. It did become cost prohibitive for me after a couple of years, because the cost to subscribe kept going up. It is currently $155.00 for the year to search US records only, and $299.40 for world records and US records. They also offer one month and three month memberships, but the best deal is the annual membership once the cumulative cost is considered. I am at a point of needing world records but no longer have the time due to work constraints to use the membership to its fullest value. Before, I was a stay-at-home mom with a lot of time on my hands. Now the few hours I have at home is spent writing or doing the household chores that would have gotten done had I been home all day.
One side of my family is German and I have not had an easy time gathering information because I wasn’t raised by my father and did not get to know those in the family who could tell me anything. Through Ancestry.com I was able to find out that my father had passed away, but I was also able to find my relatives, including siblings who I did know about but had never met, and an uncle (and his wife) and an aunt (and her husband). The two direct siblings to my father have since passed away also, but I was able to use the services of Ancestry.com to find out that in 1930 orphanages in Iowa served as homes for those who were displaced in the Depression, because my father, his brother and parents lived in one. I learned that with their help because I was having trouble finding them in the 1930 U S Census Database. One has to know something of where their relatives were in order to use it.
I did find my mother’s parents in the Census Database and my step-father’s family. It was a lot of fun for me to find that information.
My mother-in-law has family members (my father-in-law’s siblings) who have done extensive family tree searches and they were able to forward me a copy of the report that goes back to the starting of Harvard University and several generations prior. I found a site with her family by searching online with information she gave me and it led to a site from a distant of relative who had pictures of her family when she was very small. The information led back to France!
Several of my mother’s sisters have worked on their family tree and they sent me the ‘tree’ on my grandfather. My grandmother is part Cherokee and that has not been easy to track down, especially since I have been unable to get to Tennessee to check the archives that the Cherokee Nation Cultural Center may have. I understand the tribes were not real big on keeping written records that long ago though so it may be pointless. I would love to get hold of my grandmother’s family Bible to see what may be written in there. Family Bibles often have a section for one to write down the family tree and as it is handed down from generation to generation more are added to it as they are born.
To me a family tree is nothing but a graphic with everybody’s names on it. A family history, however, includes the family tree, but also has stories of the family handed down from generation to generation so that those in the future know where they came from and what type of people they are from. Those are not easy to come by either, especially since I grew up away from any extended family. I have been able to get quite a history on my father-in-law who recently passed away, and I have a great-uncle (my grandfather’s youngest brother) who is slowly feeding me stories on their family. My aunt forwarded to me something my mother wrote in 1954 the other day, in pencil. I immediately transcribed it to the computer and printed it off so the fading pencil marks wouldn’t be lost forever. It was only partially fictitious! They tell me that is where I get my love for writing.
I am keeping the record for my kids in case they are interested or their kids are interested. Somewhere down the line my research will be wanted by family members and it will be available. Maybe they will be able to go further back than I was able to; at least they won’t have to start from scratch.