Genealogy is good for the soul
Genealogy is a recorded history of a person or family’s descent from an ancestor or ancestors. Soul is spiritual or emotional warmth, force or evidence. These combine well: knowing your roots and connecting with family are good for the soul.
Genealogy is also a great hobby for people of all ages, one you can stop and restart at any time. The experience can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and as fulfilling or frustrating.
Research choices include concentrating on one surname from a specific area, collecting old pictures, joining a local and/or national genealogy society, and collecting documents to place in a binder. You can travel to do research at a library, cemetery or birth place of an ancestor. You can use the Internet to place surname queries or create a Web site.
How do you start? Here is a trade secret: if possible, contact the oldest female sibling on either side of the family - she usually receives family memorabilia when parents pass away. She will also be able to distinguish fact from fiction. Record or write down as much as possible of the conversation.
In the mid-’80s, I had dinner with my dad’s oldest sister. She pulled out the family Bible. Notes were transcribed of the names of the villages in Hungary the grandparents had come from, and the maiden names of my grandmother, and my grandfather’s mother.
Years later, I joined a local genealogy club to learn to do overseas research. The Western Reserve Historical Society Library became a destination along with the Mormon Library in Kirtland, Ohio. A national genealogy club, with membership specializing in Eastern European countries, was next. I joined two local ethnic genealogy societies specializing in Hungarian and Polish research.
I later started on my spouse’s family. One of her parents was of Hungarian descent; that was easy. Her German ancestors were more difficult because her grandfather was illegitimate. But, we had his birth record and it listed the village. Initially, we hired the wrong person to do our research, but we later found a good one.
Now, 15 years and 2,000-plus names later, information is stored on a computer program and in binders containing historical documents. The family tree is public on Ancestry.com.
One project I loved was collecting wedding pictures and family group pictures of my ancestors and mounting them on the wall like a family tree. But some of the pictures were missing. Remember the trade secret? I wrote to my wife’s cousin – the daughter of the oldest female sibling in that line. A surprising reward soon arrived: a great wedding photo from 1899.
Be prepared to spend money, to hit dead ends, and to be disappointed by relatives who don’t care about family history. You will be rewarded when you least expect it. Other researchers enjoy helping beginners. Genealogy has become an industry, so be careful when hiring someone to do research. Use referrals and check references.
Happy researching as you reward your soul!
Allan Kuntz is a 37-year resident of Cleveland Heights, who is enjoying retirement.