Friday, June 10, 2016

Why Trace Your Family’s History?

Photo from author's personal collection
People have many reasons for tracing their family history. The reason for tracing my family’s history is most likely different from yours. When I was growing up in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana paternal line relatives lived nearby our family. We visited aunts and uncles whom lived nearby, however; I did not know until I was an adult, that those were my Lee relatives. Our parents just didn’t talk about their families. When I retired and became interested in family history research, I wanted to learn about maternal relatives, and learn how the relatives who lived nearby our family in West Carroll Parish fit into our family. Therefore, I had a mission that became a hobby – tracing my maternal and paternal family history and find out who they are and where they came from. 
Regardless who you are and where you are in life, there are some reasons why you should learn about your family and become passionate about their history.

What are your reasons for tracing your family’s history? Maybe you would like learn about your family. You may be asking who they are or where did they come from?  Where do you fit into the family? Maybe you want to teach your children about family. Then you may just want to connect with living relatives. There are folks who want to learn about health risk so they delve into family history research for health reasons. There are various reasons people trace their families’ history.

Learn about family:  If family is important to you, then you may want to learn who your family is and where they came from. Perhaps there is a family story that you would like to know if it is true or not. The story that was told in my family was that, “Daddy’s father was Uncle Johnny Edwards.” When I started my journey to learn about family I didn’t set out to prove or disprove that story. I had recently retired and needed something that I would enjoy and that would keep me busy. Genealogy/family history filled that need.  You might want to know if some of those family stories that were told about Granny were true or were they just folklore. On the other hand, you might want to know who the Edwards folks were who came from Alabama to visit your family, and were given special treatment while visiting? Who was the aunt who came from Texas to visit and when she came, would bring clothes for the children in the family and would cut the girls’ hair? Daddy told stories about an Uncle Bob Lee and he talked about how he loved him.  Who is Uncle Bob Lee? Who is “ol Tack Lee?” Whatever questions have been nagging you, the answer will never come if you don’t start looking. The answers to these questions are out there you have to start at the beginning and work to find them.

Teach your children:  It doesn’t matter how old your children are tracing family history is an important way to teach them about family, where they came from, their roots, and their heritage. Teaching children about family strengthens family relationships, encourages family relationships and bonds the family. When you teach your children about their family’s history, it becomes personal for them. If you have a family member who served in the military during a war, tell the story of that person’s experience. If the family member was drafted share the draft registration papers with the children, and explain what the draft was during that time, or if enlisted share the enlistment papers. This makes the stories more interesting and personal.

To connect with living relatives:  I have connected with living relatives that I haven’t seen since I was a young girl growing up in West Carroll Parish. The family photo is one that a double first cousin that I reconnected with after about sixty years shared with me. Tracing your family history can open you up to a whole other family you didn't even know existed.  The further back in time you research, the more cousins you will discover.  Not only can you connect with new relatives and form new relationships, but also you might even discover that someone you've known your whole life is - in fact - related to you.I have two new found cousins in the local genealogy group. My husband has learned from tracing his Colvin lineage that most of his classmates in school and most of the folks who were his neighbors in Unionville, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana were in fact relatives.

For health reasons:  Maybe there are certain diseases that seem to run in your family.  That seemed to be the case for my mother-in-law’s Colvin family. There were several family members who had died from cancer. I collect death certificates on my aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone else where the information is pertinent to do a medical history. and to tract certain diseases in the family line. I have started a medical history on my family for my children, grandchildren, and me. The reason that some people choose to get involved in genealogy is health reasons and to trace their medical history.  That is possible now with DNA testing.  The cause of death is listed on death certificates, sometimes obituaries and funeral home records.  By tracing your family history, you might discover a pattern in the cause of death for some of your relatives.  The Colvin family members were diagnosed with cancer in the forty to fifty age ranges. Cancer as the cause of death would be something to look for on a death certificate. Learning that several of your family members died from a specific form of cancer or a rare disease might make you more inclined to stay on top of those physicals or seek out a specific screening test that you otherwise wouldn't have taken the time to get done.

The reasons for tracing family history vary from person to person. Knowing your family’s history gives a sense of accomplishment. It is a feeling of being connected to you family from the past, it may improves family relationships, it may mend family ties, and gives you a feeling of knowing your family and a feeling of belonging. 

Tracing family histories is so much easier now with the massive resources available online; however, there are documents and records in courthouses just waiting for the dust to come off, to be digitized and to be put online. Therefore, in your quest to trace your family’s history use those online resources, but make a research trip to courthouses also. And do get involved in an indexing project. That to is a rewarding hobby.  

By all means, start your journey into family history research. It is a rewarding hobby and future generations will love you for it. 

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