Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hook 'em While They're Young

My Great-great-grandparents
I began researching my family history when I was 13 and developed a lifelong love of genealogy.  The trigger was a junior high school assignment to list four generations of my ancestors.  But the seeds that blossomed at that time had been planted many years earlier.

From the time I was a little girl I grew up hearing many stories about my family from my mother and her mother.  I heard names of aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, even close family friends who weren't really related but were almost like family.  I heard about birthdays, anniversaries, death dates.  I listened to stories about growing up in New York, Baltimore, Miami.  I was told that my great-grandfather's original name before he came to this country was Gorodetsky and that he came from Kamanets-Podolsky, and that my great-grandmother came from Kreuzburg.

My mother also told me about my father's side of the family -- my grandfather and grandmother, more aunts and uncles and cousins.  My family had strong roots in rural New Jersey and had English ancestry.  I had relatives in New Jersey, Florida, Minnesota.

And the photographs -- birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, vacations, military, studio portraits, casual settings.  And almost always being told who was in the photo and what was going on -- "This is my Uncle Willie in his uniform during World War I."  "This is the wedding of my Aunt Ruchel.  The whole family was there, including all four Esther Leahs."  "This is my parents' engagement photo."  "This is your father working on one of his cars.  See, there's your uncle hanging over the engine watching him."  "Here's a picture from when your father and I got married."

So when I took my first steps into research, I didn't think of my ancestors as dry names and dates on a page.  They were people I had heard about all my life.  They were real to me.  They were my family.

So many people start researching their families when they've retired, after their parents have passed away, often when they're the oldest family member left.  They regret that they didn't ask more questions of their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles while they were still alive.  But often those members of the older generation didn't take the initiative either and didn't tell their children stories about the family, didn't give their children reasons to be interested.

Those of you who have children and other younger relatives, tell them stories about the family.  Let them know who their ancestors were and are.  Show them how interesting their history is.  And if you still have older relatives to talk to, call or visit and ask them about their lives.  You never know how long you'll have that opportunity.

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