Tracing the family tree reveals people's roots - and it also teaches that while wars, fashions, customs and governments change, other things are eternal.
Love, pride in children, devotion to country, sadness at the death of a loved one and joy at the success of a crop or a job - these, according to an article in the current issue of the Hearst magazine Country Living, remain the same.Genealogy is rewarding because it yields immediate results. It is guaranteed to draw you closer to your relatives, give you a greater appreciation for the history of America and the part your ancestors played in it and provide you with a sense of belonging.
Every family has its keepsakes - old photographs, fragile aged Bibles, bundles of letters and documents. But too often the photographs are unmarked, the information in the Bible's pages is scanty and the letters and documents are untied to the larger picture of a family's history.
All that is needed to become involved in genealogy is a resolve to find out more about your family. You are the newest "twig" on the family tree, so simply begin to record all the vital information about yourself and your immediate family. Begin with yourself or your children.
Work backward, from the known to the unknown. Obtain pedigree charts and family group record forms from a local genealogical society or by mail, and always write in pencil until you are sure of your facts.
Talk to your parents about their earliest memories. If they are no longer alive, ask surviving brothers and sisters. Keep moving backward.
It is never too soon to start. Relatives, especially older ones, carry pieces of history that are often lost because no one thought to ask. Filling out perfect charts can wait, but talking to family members cannot. Paper keeps. People don't.
While names, dates, places and relationships are the building blocks, don't forget to ask about personal characteristics, hobbies, special skills, traits, family secrets. The more you know about your family, the more interesting it is.
Collect family photographs, Bibles, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, baby books and letters. Offers to share all research often lead to cooperation. Much information can be compiled through letters and visits to relatives. Be sure to find out if anyone else in the family is doing or has done any research. There is no use duplicating efforts.
When you have exhausted your family's resources, it is time to go to libraries with genealogical collections, historical societies, state archives and local, state and national records.
The first U.S. census was taken in 1790 and records are available up to 1900, when the Privacy Act took effect. In most of the country, registration of births and deaths was required about 1890 to 1915. Marriage licenses were usually kept from the time of the establishment of the country in which the nuptials occurred.
Visit county courthouses if they are close, but most genealogical research is done by mail. Unfortunately, some records may have been destroyed by fire or flood or never filed to begin with. Often records are confusing and even misleading.
To obtain guidelines on the National Archives, Country Living suggested writing the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nearly 800 Family History centers nationwide plus its main library in Salt Lake City. If there is no Family History Center in your area, contact the Family History Department, Dept. P, 35 N. West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.