A Month of Family Tree Work

Ancestors - Family Tree

My great great grandparents & their children.

For many years I’ve wanted to start building my family tree. For the month of April 2012, I decided to finally start doing it.

I’ll try to avoid going into excessive detail about my own tree here, but let me briefly explain the photo that you see above. My great great grandparents are the man and woman on the far left & far right (born in the mid-1800s). Their two youngest daughters (front row) died at age 17 (heart problems) & age 21 (tuberculosis). Their oldest daughter (2nd from right) died at age 33 during a cosmetic nose operation. Their remaining daughter (2nd from left, white blouse) lived to be 103 – she was my great grandmother.

A bunch of dates & ages, a bunch of health problems, a few stories… who cares? Why does it matter?

It might seem strange, but knowing the facts & stories about these people, seeing their personalities through their faces (or thinking I can), and imagining how we’d get along if we could meet each other helps me to understand a bit better who I am and how I fit into the world (although I don’t think it’s wise to define oneself by one’s relatives… did I just contradict myself?).

The people in that photo is just a tiny part of my tree of course. On another branch there are Holocaust survivors… and many who didn’t survive. And on another there are families in the 1700s who lived in England and were adventurous enough to sail across the ocean to spend the rest of their lives in North America.* I find it amazing to know that I came from these people.

When I started working on the tree, my plan was to dedicate 1 hour per day to it, which would work out to 30 hours for the month. I usually found it hard to quit after 1 hour though (I’d be on a roll) so I’d often end up doing 2 or 3 hours of work at a time and taking more time off on later days.

The first thing I did was join Ancestry.com (great decision!). Rather than explaining all the features & info that Ancestry.com has, I’ll just say that it was an invaluable resource to me. Without it I’d have accomplished only a fraction of what I did. I highly recommend Ancestry.com. Well worth the price.

Another great decision was starting to work on my tree now, rather than putting it off for another few years or decades. Luckily I still have living grandparents who can fill in a lot of missing facts & stories. At some point in the future, the opportunity to extract information from their brains will have passed.

If I’d put off this family tree work, I might still have somehow come across that photo above, but would never have known who was who, or any of the stories that I now know about those people. And I never would have had anyone to show me the still-existing stone house that my great-great-great-great-grandfather (a stone mason) built for his son, and the well where that son’s daughter (my g-g-grandmother in the photo above) used to walk to get water when she was a little girl.

There were many more fascinating discoveries that came out of this month, including some distant living relatives I discovered and spoke to, but I’ll spare you the details. I’m sure you’re far more interested in learning about your own family tree than you are in learning about mine… so start working on it!

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Credits: I must mention that once I started working on the tree, some other members of my family jumped in and started doing their own research and work on the tree. I also received assistance & information from some of the distant living relatives that I discovered- they were very helpful. Not all that was accomplished during and after this month was my own work!

Update: As I write this in August 2012, I’m not regularly working on my family tree (wish I had the time)… although I do intend to dedicate more time in the not-too-distant future. I’m still quite satisfied with all the work that has been done so far.

* I haven’t officially confirmed those 1700s England folk yet through census records and such, but other Ancestry.com members whose trees overlap with mine lead back to those people. For now I’m assuming that their trees are correct.

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