Many families are like mine, with stacks of heirlooms and photographs dating back multiple generations scattered about different relatives’ homes, along with numerous family artifacts. After two years of experience with National History Day and the Indiana Historical Society, I began to wonder, “What is my history? What is the interwoven story of my family?”
Unraveling stories like this requires lots of research and a multitude of hours to analyze what you find. My NHD experiences have acquainted me with scanning through documents and discerning the best story from them. Without the items my family had collected over the years, I would be at a loss on where to start. Eventually, I was able to uncover information on my great-grandfather as well as several great-uncles. They all served in the armed forces.
As the realm of history continues to advance and evolve, people without large pools of heirlooms or who do not know much about members of their extended family may be able to conduct similar research starting with genealogy. Genealogical research is not inherently new. Tracing back your ancestry and heritage was first systematized in the early 19th century, and even earlier, historians have discovered elaborate family trees created for royal families to track their histories. As modern technologies continue to grow, digital archives of complex family trees are allowing families to rediscover their roots.
With genealogy, people can build a connection to the past while still developing a future. Ancestors you find using your research often come with a set of documents and personal records that are now at your fingertips. Getting started with your genealogy may seem really complex but there are a few simple steps to take:
So why does this matter for history overall? Once you have all of this information and know where to find it, passing your findings along or taking a critical look at your heritage becomes much easier. Unraveling the past may be a reward in and of itself for some. By uncovering the stories of your ancestors, you build a bridge between the forgotten stories to the next generation of individuals who will remember them. Genealogy is promoting a resurgence in uncovering a personal history, and the impact it has on future generations could be monumental.