This past winter, I joined millions of others in watching NBC’s program “Who Do You Think You Are?” I was fascinated by the family stories and details that folks like Spike Lee and Brooke Shields were able to unearth. And like millions of others, it inspired me to start researching my own family history.
What began as a mild curiosity quickly became an obsession. I spent more hours than I probably should have digging through records to find information about my family. One day as I was reading census records, it dawned on me that I spend all day at Legacy.com working with one of the best sources for genealogical information – obituaries. Obits include many tidbits that make it far easier to locate other public records: maiden names, dates and locations of birth and marriage, parents’ names, etc. And they include information that you won’t find in public census records – for example, names of ancestors who were born after 1930. I searched Legacy.com’s database, and found obits for many of my great aunts and uncles. Suddenly, I had dozens of new names to add to my family tree. And through those names, I was even able to make contact with one of my dad’s long-lost cousins and reconnect them.
My Grandpa Ekhardt always told us, “don’t shake the family tree too hard, you never know what might fall out.” I still haven’t found what he was worried might fall out, but I’ve learned some surprising things along the way: I’m as much Irish as I am German; my family didn’t arrive in America in the early 1900s as I’d always thought – my mom’s family first came over on the Mayflower and some of my dad’s ancestors arrived not long after; I have ancestors on both sides of my family who fought in the Revolutionary War & the Civil War; and one of my ancestors was the first woman hanged in America (after she killed her young child, likely due to postpartum depression). Oh wait…maybe that last bit of info is what Grandpa Ekhardt was talking about. After discovering some of the tragedies my family has endured, I understand the source of my family’s strength & resilience. And I have a greater appreciation for how truly easy and good my life is.
If you’ve always been curious about your roots, now’s a great time to start researching – October is Family History Month, after all! And if you’d rather look to the future than the past, take some time to record your own family’s stories, recipes, and photos so that future generations can enjoy them and learn a little bit more about you.