By Brandi M. Seals
I got starting researching my own family's genealogy for a college course, the History of Love, Sex and Families. What I found, was that I liked doing the research. Everyone in my family kept asking me if I had found anything new. I had, I was finally able to prove that I was part Native American. My maternal grandmother's great great grandma was part of the Ottawa Tribe.
It amazes me how quickly facts and even people get lost from memory. Having a book that details back who people are will help every family remember its history. With some research, anyone can start filling in the details of where they come from.
Start by interviewing those that are still alive. Talk to your oldest living relatives. Find out the name of their parents, their grandparents (you will be shocked at how many do not even know the names of their grandparent, and their siblings. These people hold the keys to your family's past. Interview them for stories from their past. Find out how far they made it in school, when they got married, the names and ages of all their children.
What really shocked me when I began researching my family's history was how many people I did not know about. I would have thought that my maternal grandfather only had 3 or so siblings. In reality there are 6 of them. Things like that will pop up and shock you. I found out my paternal grandmother's mother worked in a factory during the depression and helped unionized the workers. She and the others refused to leave their positions and let new workers come in. When they would go into the factory yard they were pelted with lead balls. It is stories like this that tell the character of your relatives. I really encourage you to find out more then just people's names and date of birth.
I suggested seeing your oldest relatives because not only are they a fountain of information, they are most likely to remember those who have come before them. This is important, since many free search sites only document those that have passed on. Anyone living is simply listed as living Seals or living whatever your last name is. That makes it impossible to research back. You will need to know of at least someone who is dead.
You could use pay sites to document your family's history or you can try a few free alternatives first. Use the family search function on the Church of Latter Day Saints' website. I do not know if it is true, but it was once explained to me that if you join the Church of Latter Day Saints it is like everyone in your family prior to you is retroactively a member or saved. Therefore, they have extensive records and it really do have a great search engine for those looking for more information.
Rootsweb (www.rootsweb.com) is another good starting point but it is almost always the exact same information that can be found for free from the Church of Latter Day Saints. However, if you want to pay for supporting documents like census records, Rootsweb will direct you to them through another site.
Not all census records require payment. Those that are several decades old are viewable for free. You can find a number of census websites. Census Finder (www.censusfinder.com) is just one of many options.
I find it helpful to collect obituaries of my relatives. I often find in the listing information about female family members. For example, no one might remember great Aunt Lucille's married name, but an obituary of her mother will probably list Lucille and her husband's names.
If you live where the family grew up, check out the library for supplemental information. Otherwise, visit the local newspaper's website and check out archives. You could also use a search engine to search for any information about any family member. Simply type their name inside of quotes. For example, "Brandi Seals." That will eliminate all the extra matches in which the names are not linked.
If you have fun researching your family, you can offer to do it for someone else. However, I have learned my lesson on that matter. Two years ago I offered to research my then fiance's (now husband's) family. I am still working on it today thanks to a line of royalty that supposedly eventually goes back to Adam and Eve's son Seth. Clearly at some point it goes mythological (as he's also suppose to be related to the Norse god, Njord) but I have found 128 documented generation for just this one side of his family. At most you usually find 10 or so generations so do not be that scared to give it a try.