Wednesday, November 09, 2011

How I got started in Family Genealogy

I am usually asked how I got started doing family genealogy and my quick answer is "I caught the genealogy bug".   This bug has been fairly virulent and hard to get rid of.  

As a child, I was a little bit different growing up (according to some sources, with questionable intent).  I had loving parents and grandparents and 2 younger brothers.  

How exactly I caught this "bug", can be traced back to about 1975, when I was 10-11 years old.    Fortunately, I was held back in kindergarten, because I couldn't color within the lines so in the fall of 1975, I was starting 5th grade.   At that time, we were living in North Dakota, which is VERY close to the north pole than most would think!

Like most 5th graders, my interests were diverse:  I liked riding motorcycles & snowmobiles, building forts, watching cartoons on Saturday, playing sports, astronomy, archeology, math and the general sciences.

My curiosity about my origins was also somewhat skewed, probably because my folks sometimes joked I was adopted, simply because I had blonde hair, and the rest of my family had dark hair.  Well I have no doubt I am my father and mothers son, but this might have had something to do with why I wanted to know more about "who I was". 

In the spring of 1976, we moved to Kentucky, where I finished 5th grade and started growing more interested in collections, like coins, stamps, and books.  We lived in Kentucky for more than a year and in the summer of 1977, we moved to Colorado.   

My "bug" was becoming more infectious, as I started interviewing my grandparents about my history.   I would write down questions, about each ancestor, and then do a regular interview with a living family member, while recording the interview.  Even today, the digital recorder is by far an invaluable tool to collecting stories about my past, and it helps when you are on the move, to have it on, because memories can often be triggered by something indirectly that you might miss.

By 1977, before personal computers, I had amassed a good deal of information on my families past, and was considering how to best put this into a format that would help people see it.  That same year, Roots came out: a TV mini-series about Alex Haley's family history and I was enthralled with the story and how he was able to trace his family back so far.   I had only traced my line back to the mid 1800's and the details about those grandparents were very sketchy at best.  

In the fall of 1977, I started 7th grade in Colorado and likely because of the Roots TV mini-series, one of my teachers had all of us do a family tree.   I couldn't wait to get started and worked on it for several days.  My "family tree" was hand written on butcher block paper showing all the connections, that ended up being 16 feet long, by 3 feet wide (and wider still with an extension in the middle).  I had over 300 names, going back 5 generations, with over 33 hand written double sided 8x11" biographies of each person.  I still have this family tree coiled up in my archives.  Needless to say, I was fully infected by the "bug" at this point.

Today, I still have that same passion to pursue my family roots.  It is very rewarding and certainly helps me understand more about who I am.  I also find a lot of my family through the wonders of technology, when they happen onto my website, at   In fact, I have made connections with 5th and 6th cousins through facebook even!

If you are interested in finding your own roots, you just need to be a little curious.   Ask questions about your family from those people in your family, such as your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  It is also important to record the stories about who your ancestors were, not just the dates, as they can help guide you.  Personally, I have many family stories that are part fact and part fiction, so it is up to you to determine the truth, but finding it is half the fun!

You may be the family genealogist in your family, and just don't know it yet.  If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact me for advice through my website.  

Until the next post. 

Your likely cousin, a few times removed.

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