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Tracing Family Histories
One of the most fascinating, and most rewarding pastimes you can engage in is tracing family histories. By delving into the past of your family and the families that have joined together to form that family, you can learn about yourself, your parents, your ancestors, and the many people who have been born, wedded, had children, and eventually ended up creating that unique entity known as you. As well, you can learn much about what those people did and the places from which they came.
Tracing family histories can often be a difficult task. However, the best place to start is by tracing genealogy. Without names to go on, any family history is almost impossible to create. Thus, a full family tree should be formed and formatted in order to figure out just who these people were, when they lived, and where they lived.
Once you have figured out names, the real digging begins. You need to find as much information about these people as possible. Anything in the public record is usually the best place to start. Legal papers can be a wealth of information about the people from whom you are descended. Such items as deeds, real estate papers, and loan papers can tell you a great deal about the names on your family tree. If they bought land, they must have worked it. If they applied for loans, they usually gave a purpose for the loan. These are the meat of any family history. With a few little details, you can start filling in a whole lot of blanks.
As well, old letters are very useful for tracing family histories. Though letter writing is something of a lost art today, people would often keep letters they received, especially love letters. These can provide fascinating glimpses into the people who have gone on before you, as they will often not only speak of their love, but they can also provide interesting asides about where they were and what they were doing. The addresses will tell you where those letters went. Return addresses will tell you where they came from. They often told each other where they were and what they were doing at the time. These are not just pieces of paper, they are windows into the souls of your ancestors.
Family Bibles are akin to the Holy Grail for those tracing family histories. As these were often large, decorative, sacred books, they were almost never discarded. Thus, people often used them to store important documents. It was like a large safe. Simply put those loan papers at Numbers 12, and they were safe. As well, people often listed ancestry and descendents in these books. The front page often contains a family tree that can be used to find relations that are not in one's family tree. And as the Bible was passed down from generation to generation, it was filled out that much more, creating a complete history of the family.
However, the most important resource for tracing family histories should not be overlooked. That resource is, of course, family members. Surviving relations are a wealth of information. They want to talk about what they did, where they went, how they felt about things, and what was going on at the time. They can call up stories that they have not had the chance to tell, and they will sometimes remember things they forgot they knew as they tell their stories. Do not forget to ask your family members about the family. They will be more than happy to help.
Tracing family histories can provide wonderful scenes, compelling dramas, and stories that are too strange to be untrue. When you compile the history of your family, remember that you are learning about people. People who were just as full of life and vitality as you are. So feel free to tell their stories and don't forget to enjoy the fact that you are letting your ancestors live their lives all over again.
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