Have you ever wondered where your brown eyes come from or why you love to cook when your parents don’t? Have you ever sat in a history class and wondered if any of your family was involved in the events you were studying. You might have a favorite historical hero, athlete, or author and not even know you’re related. Genealogy can help you find out all sorts of amazing things about yourself. Everyone who was born into your family before you played a part in deciding who you would be.
In history class I learned that the American Civil War was a brother against brother war. Then my dad told me that in my family, that was literally true. Kentucky, where my ancestors lived, was a border state and people fought on both sides. Some families even sent one son to each side to increase the likelihood one of them would come home alive. After that, when my teachers talked about the war, I paid closer attention. That war affected my family in important ways.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, has just launched a new website to help teenagers learn how to trace their family history. Since it’s meant for teens, it is a little more fun than many of the serious adult sites. More will be added in the future, but right now, you can find a lot of tools to help you get started.
David A. Bednar, a Mormon apostle, gave a speech on genealogy for teenagers. He pointed out teens have great typing skills from texting and using social media and chat. He asked them to put those skills to good use by doing their family history and also to teach older family and neighbors how to use their computers to do genealogy. This new website can help you learn how to do it so you can help others, including your own friends, to get it done.
You have to register for the account if you want to put your genealogy online. However, you can watch the training videos and read the articles without registering. Right now, while the site is still small, there are videos showing you how to get started on your history. Then you can learn how to help others get their family history done and share your own experiences to motivate other teens. Watch some videos or read some comments by other teens who are doing a little online time travel through their family.
The first person whose history you need to look into is your own. Write your story for others to read someday. Put all your information into a chart and then ask your parents for their information. Next go to your grandparents and ask them. Once you run out of living relatives, your older family members can probably tell you about the next generation back. From there, you’ll be able to search online for information on your family. Remember what you learned in school though—verify your information. Some people post genealogy online that isn’t accurate. Look for records and make sure it’s right.
You’ll find that even some of the official records aren’t accurate. For instance, census records are fun to look at because they give you a little snapshot of the family at that moment. But the information is only as accurate as the person who gave it to them—and sometimes it was a neighbor who gave it. When I check census records, I find the names spelled differently and sometimes even different names because the census taker wrote it down wrong or someone started going by his middle name. In one family, a woman decided to tell the census taker she was five years younger than she really was and in every census after that one she was five years younger. If I hadn’t kept searching until I found her birth record and census’ from when she was younger, I’d have had the wrong date.
Sometimes genealogy can seem a little boring, but remember there are real people behind those names and dates. They lived real lives and had real feelings. Sometimes I put their lives into a timeline to get a feel for how their life worked. Then I start noticing things I didn’t see before. For instance, in one family, the father died when the children were very young. Then the mother died. Now they were orphaned. I started wondering how they felt and where they all went when the last parent died. Some were raised by siblings. How would you feel if your older brother or sister had to become your parent? How would you feel if you had to raise your little brothers and sisters alone? Now those kids were real to me. When I read about what happened to them, I try to imagine how they felt about it. I also like to read about famous events that happened in their lives and imagine how those events affected their lives.
Don’t waste any time getting started. The sooner you start, the more older relatives there are to help you. Try to collect everyone’s life story while they can still give it to you. You’ll get a better understanding of who you are and how you got that way.