Today is Thanksgiving, a great time to catch up with your family. While many of them will fall to sleep watching the football games, you’ll undoubtedly have a few “hopped-up” on sugary treats that are more than willing to talk. Now is the perfect time to pounce and pry some family history from them.
There are no set rules on how to document your lineage. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to to establish names and birthrates of grandparents and great grandparents. I mentioned before that the latest available United States Census is from 1940. Since that leaves a gap of nearly 70 years, many times the only starting point we have are these verbal records. It’s true that memories are not always perfect but even educated guesses are better than nothing. Once you have this information, you can turn to some of the free sources on the Internet to start building your tree.
By the way, remember to write this stuff down. Better yet, buy an inexpensive digital recorder. Better to get it right the first time than forget and have to start all over again.
Anyway, once you’ve pumped grandpa dry of dates and names, ask him about his life. Heck, do the same with grandma, too. Try and get a sense of what it was like for them growing up. What did they do for fun? Was anyone involved in the military? Who were their friends? If your family lived through a historic period of time (which we all have), what did they think? What about the Great Depression? Did they have to wait in food lines or panhandle for money? All this makes very interesting conversation and helps establish your family in the moment. Besides, everyone has differing perspectives on history. Just because it’s written in a history book does not mean it happened that way.
Once you’ve gathered some information, you can go back and begin to piece together your history. I think you’ll quickly see how important your family is and how you fit into that continuum. You, like them, have something to contribute.
Share this story with your other family members. Most likely you’ll gain some insight that they never knew. You’ll be educating them and, with luck, they’ll want to participate. Help them help you build an entire picture of life as a Smith or a Jones or a Cole.