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Discover your family tree

November 26, 2011
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader


Times Leader Staff Writer

Every family should have one: someone who is tapped as the official family historian.

Article Photos

Photo provided
A formal parlor photo such as this one taken in 1906 of the Sturm family in what was Viropa, West Virginia, can be shared digitally with friends and family around the globe. Each little item included in the original photo can teach latter generations facts about life at that point in history.

The select person need not be someone passionate about history, or who is particularly good at talking to others, or someone noted for their wondrous powers of recall or attention to fine detail.

Of course, it also helps if anyone working on gathering family history information is the type who loves to work puzzles and who seldom, if ever, walks away from the daily crossword puzzle without completing it-sometimes in pen.

Should a young family member decide they want to step onto this path, a true love of cell phones, the computer and a willingness to possibly have to spend hours wandering through the labyrinth called the Internet are all helpful to have in abundance.

The ability to be swept up by a sense of wonder when something unexpected turns up is a trait which can prove helpful to anyone considering jumping into pursuits likely to lead toward a day when their information gathering efforts give root to a tree of life: a family tree.

Reaching back into history in search of genealogical information can quickly prove time consuming, but seldom, if ever, will it be seen as boring.

Family historian is not a job for the faint-hearted or those without an ample supply of patience.

The technology of today found in most homes literally puts just about all the tools one needs to mine the gems of their family's genealogy within easy reach and without automatically creating too big of a paper trail mess.

The ease of using devices like cell phones, digital recorders, basic computers, internet access and digital cameras makes the information seeking, gathering and sharing process something done without making others feel they are being interviewed for the national evening news.

Gathering information, checking it, recording it and then deciding where it will lead you-what path will it direct you toward in search of the next bit of family history knowledge-these are all part of what can easily turn into a family and friends style scavenger or treasure hunt of sorts.

The annual holiday season is the perfect time to consider dusting off any intentions you had a year ago of really getting started on activities to give your family tree a very healthy start so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

What makes the holiday season one of the best opportunities you are likely to have to truly gather information about genealogy is directly tied to the traditions of the season: festive family gatherings-often easily bringing three and sometimes four generations of one family together in one place.

This is not the time to be shy about asking others to share a few minutes of their time with you to make sure the family tree continues to be kept healthy and is nurtured, so it can continue to grow.

Not sure where or how to get started on this adventure? Pick a favorite relative, download a free voice recording app to your smartphone, and start up a conversation.

Tell family members what you are trying to do and you are likely to become overrun with volunteers wanting to tell all sorts of stories about events and family members now long gone.

You just might be surprised how willing those around you will be to share memories and related details.

If you are worried about picking the right person to interview, first the best answer may well be deciding on striking up a conversation with a favorite aunt or grandparent.

Questions do not have to be complex.

Keeping things simple as you begin such a project can go a long way toward reaching a point where you can look back and see tangible proof of your efforts.

Questions can encompass topics like: childhood, where someone was born, the circumstances of their birth whether at home or in a hospital, where the family lived then, where did someone grown up, how many brothers and sisters they had, what church they attended, what schools everyone attended, what careers they each pursued as adults, if anyone was in the military, what kinds of things were children expected to do to help out at home, what one thing was special about each person.

If old family photos are available, take pictures of them with your digital camera or phone.

If family Bibles, birth records, marriage certificates, diplomas, baptismal certificates and the like are easily available while visiting a relative, plan to dedicate at least a little time for taking digital photos of them and of things for which they can provide personal insight.

Time is never a friend to efforts aimed at gathering family history information.

The resources available today via computer can give a person ready access to credible information sources and programs to help manage what can become a mountain of family history information.

This is where the digital management of any family history can help keep the project one enjoyed by all it touches as it is a simple way to keep most all the information in one place.

Local and regional libraries, including those in Belmont and Jefferson counties, offer access to genealogy information and management classes to the community on a regular basis, generally at no cost or for a minimal fee.

Both library systems also offer internet access to historical societies and databases, with little more needed for computer time than signing up for a selected time slot.

Points on your family history search map that might prove good places to start can include the county historical or genealogical society and the related state level organization.

The single greatest store of genealogical information can be accessed through the Internet connections to the LDS or Latter Day Saints Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Looking for a gift for the person who has everything? Consider purchasing one of the many programs designed to help bring a family tree to life visually, such as the easy to use and upgrade programs of Family Tree Maker.

If you have a budding genealogist in your family, consider getting them to the local library for basic information about how to get their project off the ground the right way, so they will be well prepared to begin their search for untold treasures hidden amidst the many stories, memories and reflections that are as much a part of family gathering traditions as the holidays themselves.



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