In honor of Black History Month, established in 1926 and celebrated in February, here’s a roundup of resources – websites, blogs, repositories and more – to help you learn more about your family. Each resource listed offers more links to additional information.
Today is also the birthday of African American baseball superstar Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron, born in 1934. A major league baseball icon, Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. Read more on Aaron.
For many black families with roots in the Southern US states, research can be frustrating. Although African American genealogy research can get back to the 1880s and much earlier, it is difficult for most researchers. Researching their family trees has been almost impossible, as their ancestors' original names were literally erased. Slaves' African given names were replaced by English names and their surnames were those of their owners.
With the advent of new databases and technological tools, research has become much easier. A growing number of individuals are preparing their family stories and discovering images of their unique history.
In the back of a high closet shelf, in the basement, in your attic, you have some kind of a container.
It may be an old metal box that held cookies a lifetime ago, an old shoebox or hatbox, a modern plastic container with a snap-on lid, or even a handy-dandy sealed plastic bag stuck in a drawer.
The contents may include dried flowers, holiday and life-cycle event cards, and many old photographs. If this is your personal collection, you'll likely know who the people were and when the image was taken. That's good.
However, these treasured possessions may have belonged to your great-grandmother. She, if you are very fortunate, may have written lightly in pencil on the back. The lady in the strange hat is Cousin Helen, you learn, but you've never heard of anyone with that name.
If you are even luckier, the inscription may indicate that it's a holiday gift from "your dear brother in London." You've never heard of anyone who had a brother in London.
If your relative was somewhat obsessive, he or she may have recorded the names, dates and places on each photograph. In this case, your genealogy colleagues around the world will congratulate you on your good fortune!
My colleague Javier showed me an article in the Spanish magazine Zankyou, which discusses marriage as the merging of two family trees, and therefore the perfect occasion to honor our ancestors.
The article suggests some very original ways to not only think about those relatives who have passed on, but actually incorporate genealogy in our wedding celebrations.
One way is with jewelry. Some people choose to wear a special family heirloom, like a brooch, others use their ancestors' rings as their own wedding bands.
Artist Ashley Gilreath takes it one step further. Ashley specializes in creating pieces that fuse heirlooms with their story, and like the necklace below, with genealogy.
Family history is important to us and, as a reader of this blog, it's probably important to you, too!
While family history is a fascinating subject, with more and more people getting involved than ever before, sometimes the desire to research our family history also runs in the family!
Some of us have family trees that have been passed down through the generations. Others are inspired to find out more via the stories our relatives share with us.
We want to know if researching family history runs in your family? Did your parents and grandparents research their family history? Were you inspired by their research? Alternatively, are you the first of your relatives to catch the genea-bug?
Let us know in the poll (or comments) below:
How do our surroundings, our homes, impact our families, our thoughts, our history?
Isn't this what our pursuit of genealogy helps to reconstruct? To make sure that our family history remains alive and known and preserved?
In a poem by Leib Borisovich Talalai, a young poet whose family was from our ancestral village of Vorotinschtina, Belarus, and who was murdered in Minsk (1941), he writes about his family home in the village, "If the walls of this house could talk. ..." When I found two of his slim books of poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, it was fascinating to read his words.
Do you have an address book? Have you inherited an old address book from your parents or grandparents? This is almost as good as discovering an ancestor's journal.
Will Kenny, wrote a post for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) - Address book is a family history, bound by tradition - in which he writes:
....And this annual ritual recently reminded us of a big difference between pulling out a physical, paper address book and pulling up a contact list.
These days, if you keep your contact list on your phone or your computer, you live very much in the present. When you update an entry in your electronic contact list, you just edit the information. You replace the old with the new.
And when people are no longer connected to you, whether you somehow lose touch or they pass away, you merely delete them from your list, and from your life. At the same time, you delete a piece of your own personal history.
Diane Richards wrote a great blog post in Upfront (the National Genealogical Society blog) on her own use of these hand-written resources for family history, who writes that she is on her third one (begun in December 1998). Earlier ones now live in her "memory boxes." She also shows examples from her latest address book.
Do you have a genealogy mentor? Someone you can turn to and have your questions answered? Someone who can guide you through the problems and pitfalls or help you break through brick walls?
The genealogy community worldwide has always been very helpful to newcomers.
Someone once asked me why genealogists were so friendly. My answer was that we never know if the next person to ask a question might hold the “missing link” to our own research!
We are also reminded of the concept of paying forward help we ourselves received in the past. As we are helped, so we attempt to help others.
We're delighted to announce the release of MyHeritage app version 2.0, our free mobile application, packed with exciting new features. Now you can build and edit your family tree, add more information to it, and take your heritage with you anywhere you go.
Our mobile app is available for iPad, iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets, in 32 languages, and has been optimized for each platform using cutting-edge HTML5 and SVG technologies. Download the new app now, for free, from Apple's App Store or Google Play.
Journals and diaries are excellent resources for family history research.
Don't you wish your ancestors had recorded their daily lives and thoughts in a format that has come down to you as a treasured keepsake through the centuries?
I know someone whose ancestor left a journal written several hundred years ago. The writer describes the family's everyday life in difficult new surroundings, how they celebrated holidays, the writer's wishes for her descendants far in the future and much more. It is as if the writer knew it would be treasured and passed down through the generations, as it has been. It is a priceless heirloom.
Put yourself in the shoes of a great-grandchild who finds your journal. What do you think will interest him or her? What is happening in your life now that you want future generations to know about? Do you want to include advice for future generations?
As a New Year begins, offering us a chance to jump start our research using every available resource, we are reminded that family history researchers need skills, according to MyHeritage's US genealogy advisor Schelly Talalay Dardashti. We may already have those skills but - more likely - we learn on the job!
Genealogists are strange creatures.
We live for the dead or the missing. We practically vacation in cemeteries - if we can discover where relatives are buried. We hope for the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of visiting “old country" ancestral towns and villages, wherever they might be.
We revel in bettering our investigative skills, similar to those used by detectives, lawyers or police, while piecing together the most complicated of puzzles, analyzing and dissecting clues, theories, stories.