Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Family History?

 Do you have a sense of purpose and fulfillment?  

I believe that a connection to our ancestors is vital to our personal growth. The same phenomenon that occurs when you unclutter, clean, or rearrange a room to function better , shows up when you put your
ancestors in order and focus on the hidden gifts they left for you.

Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami Waves March 11, 2011
In the wake of natural and personal disaster I automatically think about families and how they are affected. What are the stories of the individuals who were lost? How much do the surviving loved ones know about the lives that were lived? Can we find some motivation to stay connected with the living and use our time better today to learn more about our past? And can we find a way and a reason to leave a more complete record of our lives for future generations?

"Wisdom Tree Grey Old"
People start doing family history research for many reasons. Maybe you want to know where you came from for medical reasons. Some of you need a better sense of who you are because you were adopted. Perhaps you don't know why you're drawn to search for your roots. But something has been pulling you back to the past with all of its mysteries. No matter the reason, once you start a whole new world will open. Literally!

I caught the family history bug one day back in the 90's when I was wondering where my grandfather was. I was married with three children and hadn't seen nor heard from him in about 20 years.

The last I knew he was still living in San Louis Obispo where my sister and I had met up with him and his 3rd wife to travel up and down the West Coast one summer. I wanted to find him to tell him how sorry I was that we'd been ungrateful teen aged girls, and that I loved him.

Carl Kenneth Carlson "Grandpa Ken"
But I didn't know where to start looking for him. The very next day my mother called. It blew me away! She had a pair of my brother's cowboy boots from Grandpa Ken and wanted to know if I wanted them for my children. Yes, I said, but I really wanted to find Grandpa Ken. She gave me some ideas, and within two weeks I received a letter from my uncle in Seattle, Washington.

Ken was in a nursing home. I'd found him, but he had Alzheimer's and I was on the East Coast anyways. I never got to say sorry or I love you. But it was enough that I'd tried. So many families have a similar story. We lose touch with living relatives for one reason or another. Family history research has reconnected me with so many relatives who are excited to send pictures and information and just to email or talk on the phone for fun!

There are two things I believe that drive me in my passion for family history research:

1. Everyone has a place .

2. Everyone has a story.

First, everyone has a place. No matter how we feel about someone, they are one piece of the puzzle we call a family. We can't delete them or unfriend them or ignore them into oblivion. They've existed and deserve to be named and studied. No matter how anyone lived his or her life, it was a life that affected the whole, for the good or bad.

Skeletons in your closet, too?
Someone told me once while we were just starting out with her research that there was no desire to learn about one side of her family. She believed that their influence would be just as bad in death as it was while they were living. And their legacy was one that she didn't want her children to inherit. It took a while for the light bulb to go on. But she eventually acknowledged that she couldn't rewrite history, and her family could learn a lot from it.

I'm not threatened at all by the skeletons in my family's closet. I respect and honor every life lived. There are reasons for every one's choices. I just ask myself what I can learn from the past. But first I have to find someone and put him in the right place with as many facts as I can find about him that will make him come "alive" to me.

Which brings me to the second part of my passion, every one's story. When I start talking to someone about family history there is either fire in the eyes or there is boredom.

Why dead people, some ask? Many people feel no desire or

 see no need for a connection to their ancestors.

But when I start creating a real life from details found on documents and photographs or family stories the excitement builds. Gradually an emotional connection is made. Physical, emotional, psychological, and occupational similarities are found. Every time, without exception, someone will say that so-and-so reminds them so much of one of their living relatives, a son or daughter, or sometimes of themselves. And another heart is turned. I love it!

All of us walking this planet are significant and unique. No one has our story to tell. And all of us were born, will live a life, and will die. Each of us will leave a legacy of faith to later generations. Our posterity will learn more about themselves by knowing about us and how we moved forward through success and failure.  And likewise our lives are enriched with the knowledge we gain from our ancestors.

There may be a million other reasons to connect to your past. Those are mine. In the twenty plus years that I've been working out the kinks of my family history research I've created a simple system that will get you started and keep you and your paperwork organized. So if you work on your research for 15 minutes or 15 hours a week you'll be able to use your time finding and recording data instead of trying to figure out where you want to start or if you have the energy to start again!

Click here to get My Family Files Box Instructions
4-Generation Pedigree/Family Group Worksheet
I love what I do. I have a passion for organizing data and REALLY want you to have fun and get all the knowledge and joy waiting for you as you delve into your family history.

  The key is desire. Begin with what you know. Then begin taking steps into the unknown. It will all start to fall into place bit by bit. Obstacles taught me the most. Frustration combined with desire is a great teacher if you are open!

The next few posts I will write will be helping you to begin. Here's a sampling you can look forward to reading and using in the next few weeks:


  1. Betsy, I have started and stopped so many times! Thank you for the inspiration. I had been looking for my Grandfather for years. I always looked for Joseph...didn't realize that thats the name he went by in America. His real name is something like Gesipio...spelling is wrong but I was so happy to learn that by communicating with relatives because I don't think I would have ever found him. I probally would have eventually gone to my Grandmothers grave and seen it but not realize that it was him. Thanks! Cool Beans! Jessi

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