I’ve been working on my family tree for close to a year now, and as you can tell by my previous entries (or my Facebook photo and news feed) I’ve really taken an interest in genealogy.
It’s a really fun, interesting project for me and I am glad for all it’s brought me: connections to some new-to-me family members, a better understanding of where we came from, and a peek into life as it was years ago.
But if you’re researching your family tree? Prepare to become a bit of an oddball….or at least be perceived as one.
This hit me as I was reading a newsletter for a genealogical society I belong to. One of the board members described a mentor who inspired her to do research: “All we knew was that my uncle was an oddball who took photos at cemeteries.”
I mean, it IS kinda weird if you think about it, if you’re looking from the outside in. (Now I understand those odd looks my family’s given me!)
Some things must look odd to non-genealogical types:
Obituaries. I don’t know how to say this any plainer: I collect obituaries.
Why? Well, obituaries are (outside of the Census) the easiest documentation to get regarding a relative or ancestor. With some research and a little knowledge about where to look, you can find obituaries dating back to the mid-1800s. (More official documents, like birth and death certificates, require more substantial proof from you that you’re related….which is often what you’re looking to prove with the document you’re ordering!)
They’re not always 100% accurate – it’s only as accurate as the source that provided the information – but it’s often a great place to start building a framework.
I’m certainly not celebrating anyone’s death, and I wish I would have met or been able to talk to these folks. But I’m really happy when I find this information.
I recently found an obituary on a great-aunt that I’d spent months trying to locate. That ONE obit literally brought down an entire brick wall to reveal the names of her children, and I learned about an entire family I didn’t even know existed before. Two libraries helped me find that obituary and other related articles to complete the picture.
NOTE: That’s one of a million reasons that all of us should support our local libraries – not just with dusty old books from your basement, but some cash dollars to help sustain them and all of the wonderful work they do for the WHOLE community!
Graveyards. Yeah, cemeteries are certainly not Party Central. Most people want to stay away from them (we’re all headed there someday) and only go when needed or obligated.
I’m a bit queasy about it myself. But I have to admit: Sites like FindAGrave.com have been really valuable in helping me bridge a gap when obituaries haven’t been available or easy to find. Knowing a date of death or where someone died is really helpful – to find out about them, as well as finding out more about their ancestors or descendants.
History geek. I admit it; I’ve become more of a history geek than I ever was before. I used to roll my eyes at those people who would do Civil War reenactments. But truth be told, I’m only a few degrees away from there!
I did well enough in my History classes at high school and in college. But I was always the 70s and 80s pop culture kid; out with the old and in with the new. So this is quite a 180 for me in my thinking. I’ve become interested not only in my own history and my family history, but also about how that fits into a bigger context (our state and our country).
I’ve posted before about the working conditions that my ancestors lived through. Enough men on both sides of my family died in the mills and mines to have started their own union. One man had his head crushed by the claws on a crane. That’s enough to put your stuck-in-traffic, bad Monday morning into some SERIOUS perspective.
So, yeah, OK. I get it. It’s all a bit odd. But only just a little bit. There are far stranger and more socially awkward things to do. You’ve seen Hoarders, right?