Family history has always been an interest of mine, but I had never put anything down on paper until 1977 when I watched the TV miniseries “Roots“, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. At the end of the series, the author talked about how he had traced his ancestry back thirteen or fourteen generations. That’s all it took to get me hooked.
I went to the bookstore and bought a book called “Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy” by Emily Anne Croom, read it, and started delving into my new hobby (I still occasionally refer to this book). I didn’t know of anyone else in the family who was doing this, so I was going to have to pioneer my way through it.
Once I had written down what I knew, I started talking to my parents and a couple of my aunts and uncles, asking for full names and dates as well as occupations, military service, hobbies, autos owned, etc. One Saturday afternoon, there was a family gathering, and I was able to get several of my father’s brothers and sisters in the same room at the same time. I turned on my tape recorder and started asking questions.
Before too long, the questions weren’t necessary. They just started volunteering information and telling stories, like the wedding reception that lasted three days, and the car that my father and uncle converted to a truck, and the fact that my Uncle Tom was listed as missing in action during WWII and spent 18 months in a German POW camp, although he didn’t want to talk about the experience. That went on for over an hour. It was great! I was able to take the tape home and add a lot of info to my records.
Since most of the people I have on tape are no longer with us, sometimes I’ll pop that tape or one of the other tapes I made, in a player and voices from the past come to life again.
There will be many family gatherings over the next few weeks, what a great time to sit your family down and start a conversation about your own family history. Be sure to record the conversation and/or take lots of notes. You just might find that there are a lot of interesting things you’ve never heard and maybe you too could become a family historian.