You never met them, but without them you wouldn’t be here. They’re your ancestors; those long-forgotten people whose lives were so different, yet so similar, to yours today.
Why study these people who are long gone and buried? Well, think about it. If just one of the thousands of your direct ancestors didn’t exist, you wouldn’t either. If your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother never met your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, your significant other would never have met you because, well, you wouldn’t be alive.
Besides honoring the significance of your ancestors, studying your family’s genealogy can just be plain fascinating. There are so many things you can learn, such as why you or your parents grew up on one location or another. For example, if one of your ancestors was a Hessian soldier used by the British to fight the American colonists, you might find some relatives living in Pennsylvania, which had a large population of German-Americans, many of them Hessian soldiers who deserted the British and later fought for the Americans. Many of their descendants later moved to Ohio.
You can also learn why certain first names pop up in your family tree or even your family’s original surname before it was Americanized. Many names were not easy to pronounce by immigration officials, who changed surnames on documents as immigrants were processed. Finding your true surname can also be a clue as to your ancestors’ occupations, as many surnames were taken according to the person’s livelihood, such as Tanner, Baker, etc.
Learning about your family’s genealogy can also aid in learning about medical conditions which may be passed on genetically. Did your ancestors have heart conditions? Were they prone to cancer? Was there a large incidence of auto-immune disorders in your distant past? How can you learn about medical conditions of those long past? Sometimes stories are passed through generations, but, in the absence of that, you can research death notices in old papers, which often times detailed the cause of death. Knowing the cause of death of your ancestors can help you make decisions about your health today. If there is a preponderance of certain cancers in your family’s past, you might want to be more mindful of your eating or smoking habits. Perhaps this knowledge would compel you to participate in genetic testing.
How do you get started in genealogy research? Luckily there are numerous avenues on which to begin. If your community has a genealogy library or association, you could start by joining a group or visiting their offices. Often times genealogy associations have numerous research materials to aid in your search. Southern California has an excellent genealogy group, the Southern California Genealogical Society, located in Burbank (818-843-7247). You can visit their library, as well as attend the yearly “Genealogy Jamboree” sponsored by them. In fact, if you go to your favorite search engine and put in “genealogy jamboree” you’ll find other genealogy jamborees located around the country. The Jamborees are great because you can discover different genealogy groups in your area, as well as purchase the latest genealogy publications and software.
The internet, of course, is also a place where genealogy enthusiasts can find a treasure trove of information, either through access to research materials, or through connecting with distant relatives through genealogy forums.
Ancestry DNA is also a tool which can help the budding genealogist. Ancestry DNA, or genetic genealogy, is simply discovering your ancestor’s origins by testing your DNA, which is performed with a cotton swab inside your cheek. With these tests you can discover what part of Africa from which your ancestors originated; what Irish clan your ancestors belonged to; if you have any Native American ancestry.
Once you get started with genealogy research you will get hooked. Not only will you be able to discover things about your ancestors, but you may find you can discover more about yourself as well.