It’s safe to say that most people are curious about their ancestors, but thanks to the Internet and several family history and genealogy TV shows, interest in this type of research has soared. With today’s technology and resources, information is more readily available than ever before.
Like many others, for Donna and Murrel (“Sonny”) Myers, their personal quest started with shows like “Finding your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS. “We watch a lot of PBS and found it interesting that the people who were profiled were not at all what their family lore indicated that they were. … Then came the ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ series. It made researching your family tree on your PC seem easy,” Donna says.
The Search is On
Sonny’s relatives had already done significant research, and after attending a family reunion, Donna and Sonny decided they wanted to learn more. “So we joined the site [Ancestory.com], and Sonny started his research,” Donna explains. “For two baby boomers whose parents are gone, it was [addictive]. I knew nothing about either side of my family. I then started on mine. Well, those little leaves started popping up all over the place. Click, click, click, like a video game of research.”
All genealogy searches come with a few surprises. “The most interesting part is that family lore is often just what people want to remember or want someone else to know,” Donna comments. “The dirty truth is that life was tough, people struggled. … We all know about the Great Depression, from what our schools feed us, but when you put a human face on it, someone YOU know and love – very eye-opening. It is surprising who you will find that you are related to back in history. Did your relatives come over on the Mayflower? Were they in the Civil War? Were they famous or infamous? The records from back then have been scanned in by the National Archives, census reports and all. … Amazing information. It is like a big history lesson…”
Tips for Success
“Ancestry.com supplies links to the data on the web in one convenient place,” Donna says. “The site also puts you in touch with other members of your extended family that are looking for the same answers. If you pay attention, you can see where the information is coming from and research directly on that link for more.”
Ancestory.com was one of many sites that helped Donna and Sonny on their research (see the link below for more helpful sites).
“Like Wikipedia, you need to apply logic to what you are finding and look at the source,” Donna says of genealogy sites with user-generated information. “It is also very addicting – once you get digging, you can get lost! Work on one line at a time,” she recommends. “Don’t expect to find old photos online. They won’t be there unless someone posts them. If you have them, put old photos on the site with names so that other people can find them. Use maiden names. Back in the day, women often used their maiden names as a middle name.”
“Also know that you will need to go back and check often,” she says. “All the information is not magically there all at one time.”
Donna also recommends talking to older relatives who are still living. “Make a book of memories for your kids,” she suggests. “You have the tools to put it all together – just do it!”
15 Great Websites for Genealogy Research – AARP.org
Genealogy: Connecting the Familial Dots – AARP.org