Today with the popularity of the Internet, t seems quite simple to figure out an individual’s personal history. Social networking sites, virtual phonebooks, personal websites … with all of this information you can learn not only where someone lives but even what he/she had for lunch yesterday!
But the globe has not always been connected by the worldwide ties of the web. In fact, if we travel back just one or two generations, we find that it may be considerably more difficult to decipher an individual’s personal history.
Because of this, many people find that they are uncertain of their family’s history and origins. Perhaps all you have is an old shoebox filled with sepia-toned photos, crinkled hand-written letters, and a few treasured family heirlooms. Your family history can seem like an undecipherable puzzle.
Fortunately, it is not impossible to piece together your family’s roots. You do need a little bit of time and patience.
Here is how to get started:
(1) Begin with those treasured family photos and heirlooms.
Collect as many birth certificates and other family documents as you can. Wills, land deeds, and immigration records can be especially helpful here. Always check the back of photos for names and dates that may be written.
If you or a family member have old books that have been passed down through generations this is a great place to look for important information as well. In Europe as early as the 1500s it was very common for families to record births and deaths in the front of an important family book, such as a Torah or Bible.
If you are borrowing important documents from other family members, make sure to either keep them in archival safe storage or just make a copy for yourself and leave the original with your family member. Try putting all of your documents and photos in chronological order. This can be a crucial step in figuring out how your family moved from one area of the world to another.
(2) Take the time to interview your relatives.
You can do this in person, over the phone, or by email. Start with your parents and move up from there. Make sure you record each relative’s answers in writing. Some sample questions you may wish to ask about are:
Where and when were you born?
Did other family members live in the same area as you?
How did you come to live in that area?
Did you have a phone/electricity/running water/etc.?
The answers provided will help to guide you to new questions. It can be fun to ask about favorite pets, foods, chores, and the cost of treats such as candy and toys.
Don’t be nervous about speaking to distant relatives such as a great-aunt with whom you do not frequently correspond. Especially if you do not have a lot of living blood relatives this will be a very necessary step for you. This may sound cliché, but it is important for you to speak to relatives before it is too late. I am certain that he or she will understand this and be happy to oblige.
(3) Begin to construct your family tree.
This is where you will begin to see the pieces of your family puzzle come together. Your goal is to be able to lay out your family history in a chart, or what we more commonly refer to as a tree. To access a free Family Group Sheet and Pedigree Chart, follow this link: http://genealogy.about.com/library/lessons/blintro1c.htm There are also some good directions here on how to use these resources.
(4) Focus on a specific surname, individual, or family.
Focusing on an entire genealogical chart can be rather overwhelming. So once you have pieced together your family tree, you may want to pick one surname or individual on which to focus.
For example, if you were able to gather the most information about your great-great-grandmother, allow yourself to trace her path. Now don’t forget that political boundaries have changed over the years. So even if you find that your great-great-grandmother appeared to have lived in two different cities, it may simply mean that the name and/or boundaries changed during her lifetime and she was living on the same piece of land.
(5) Visit the place where your family lived.
Sound impossible? It’s not! Deluxe Kosher Tours can help you do it. Combining a DKT trip with your genealogical research can be an absolutely rewarding experience. It gives you the chance to check out cemeteries, synagogues, and courthouses that may be relevant to your family history firsthand. Bring copies of your research, your camera, and plenty of pencils with you because your learning experience will continue on your trip.
To find out when DKT is traveling to your family’s native country, check out our tour schedule now.
Visiting the country where your ancestors lived can be an extremely exciting and rewarding experience. You’ll have the opportunity to walk the land where your ancestors walked and visit many of the very same places. You may even have the opportunity to find your family name in a Jewish cemetery. It’s an amazing way to bring yourself closer with your family heritage.