Genealogy is essentially the study of family trees. On a personal level, genealogy is learning about your family and heritage and solving the mystery of where you came from. This study has become more popular as a hobby in recent years because information is easier to access. What used to be something left to people of the royal line is now a common activity.
Aside from the fun and entertainment of playing history detective, genealogy holds many benefits and deeper meanings. One of the biggest benefits of learning about your heritage is an increased understanding of your genetic health risks. Your family medical history and your cultural heritage can clue you into what diseases you might be at higher risk for and even let you know which foods you’ll react best to.
Another reason to study genealogy is to find a deeper sense of purpose, identity and belonging. Knowing the events that lead to you coming into the world can help you place yourself in time and feel more connected to history.
Tracing back years of family history might seem like a bit of a daunting task at first. There’s a lot of information you’ll need to find and piece together. And you’ll need to figure out how to keep track of all this information. It can be hard to get started, so here’s a brief guide.
You probably already know a good bit of your direct family history. All you need to do is compile everything you know and make as detailed a family tree as you can with what you have. You’ll want to make a tree that you can add to and grow as you research, so pen and paper probably won’t cut it. Using a family tree software, like Family Tree Maker, can help you keep track of your findings without tons of paper records. These programs let you attach records to people in the family tree and share your findings easily online.
Once you’ve logged everything you know, it’s time to start asking around. Asking your family members about what they know can help you grow your family tree and get more information.
You probably know your direct family tree farther back than your kids or grandkids, but you can still get more information from siblings, cousins or friends of the family. Asking younger members of your family about genealogy is still helpful, though, because they can help with research and may know things you don’t. Also try to find out if anyone has family heirlooms that might be of help. Finding a family genealogy book made by an ancestor is a gold mine, but other items like a locket with a picture of a great-great-grandmother or a watch with a dated inscription can all be pieces of the puzzle.
Eventually, the amount you can learn from family members will max out. This is where the real detective work starts. You’ll have to use records to try to piece together the complete story and then use that to find more information and so on. The best way to access these records is through a site like Ancestry.com. Using a database service makes everything easier because you can look only at records that are relevant.
Companies that analyze DNA samples and trace their ethnicities to specific regions have been emerging over the last decade. When you buy their services, you send a DNA sample, usually a saliva sample, to the lab, and the company sends all the information it finds about your heritage. These tests can be beneficial because they provide a detailed analysis of what diseases you’re genetically susceptible to, which can help you take preventative measures. These services will sometimes also connect you with surviving relatives if they sent in a sample and agreed to let their results be part of the services database.
If you want future generations who are interested in genealogy to have an easier time finding out about you, consider leaving a legacy of information. One of the best ways to do this is to write a memoir with details about your life that you want your descendants to know. Your memoir doesn’t need to be too flashy if you don't have much time to devote to it. A simple log of big events in your life and information about your family will make future genealogists’ lives easier. You can also make sure your genealogy findings get passed down by saving them to a flash drive and asking your children or another family member to be responsible for giving it to the next generation.
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