Finding Peace with the Past: Genealogy 101

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"Who are you?" Researching your genealogy is a great place to start answering this question. Beginning with names and dates of significant life events like birth, baptisms, marriage, and deaths is essential, but this isn't what makes family history fascinating. It's the "dash" between the dates that attract millions of people to discover the story of their origins. The mystery of who we are and where we come from lure genealogists worldwide to spend significant amounts of time searching for answers. But where does one begin? Follow these five steps to self-discovery.


Five Generations: Type in "Five generation pedigree chart pdf" into your browser to bring up several free, printable charts. The form will have a spot for full names, birth and death dates, and location for each event. This step is an exercise in defining what you know, so start with you. Once you have filled in all that you can, reach out to family and friends to flesh out the rest.


Genealogy Preservation: Now that you have all the hard facts, it's time to make sure it is never lost. The best way to accomplish this is to sign up for a free or paid genealogy preservation site. You can open a free trial account at or For a completely free account, go to These sites will take your information and make it available to others. Data on living persons is never shared. You will also have access to searchable records like the census, military service, and vital statistics. These records will allow you to delve beyond information found in living memory.


World History: Dates give us a peek into understanding the time in which our ancestors lived and how those events affected them. For example, between 1939 and 1945, WWII was raging. This was a period of insecurity and scarcity. Everyone knew someone that was off at war --many were acquainted with the grief of losing a loved one. Was PTSD a factor for any returning from service? How did this affect the dynamics of your family? Such trauma can have lasting effects. Learning about the times will give you a level of depth in understanding what your family went through.


The Interview: Interviews shed light on individual life experiences. These stories explain why people moved from one country to another, chose specific careers, or were happy or unhappy. How they have lived has affected your life and can explain why you think, act, and live the way you do.  Interviews are not interrogations. They do not have to be lengthy or too personal. You want to make those whom you interview feel comfortable with the moment. Explain to them why you want to do the interview and what you plan on doing with the information. Have a recorder going. There are many free recording apps available. Begin with the following 25 questions and add to them accordingly:


1. What is your full name?

2. When and where were you born?

3. What did your mother put in her cookie jar?

4. How did your family come to live there?

5. What is your earliest childhood memory?

6. What did your family do for a living?

7. Was your family religious? Are you?

8. Tell me a funny story about your family.

9. How did your parents meet?

10. Is there a recipe that your mom or dad made that you still make today?

11. Did you have a nickname as a child?

12. What are your parents' and siblings' full names and birth/death dates?

13. What was your favorite subject in school?

14. Where and when did you get married?

15. How many children did you have together? What were their names?

16. What was the funniest thing you can remember that one of your children said or did?

17. What would you consider the most important inventions during your lifetime?

18. How is the world different from what it was like when you were a child?

19. What wars have been fought during your lifetime?

20. What was the biggest trial in your life?

21. Have you ever met any famous people?

22. How do you feel about the choices you made in school, career, spouse?

23. What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited, and what was it like?

24. What advice would you give your posterity?

25. What is the single most memorable moment of your life?


Once you have completed the interview, thank them for their time and information. Upload the recording to your genealogy website. 


Finding Peace: The work of genealogy research is never truly done. But the experience will always leave you with a feeling of satisfaction. Perhaps the most critical question to ask afterward is, "How would I have turned out if I had faced the things my ancestors faced?" This question puts things into perspective and helps explain why things turned out the way they did. Knowing your family history offers a source of peace with one's past, allowing the future to be less burdened with unanswered questions. So, who are you?

Contributed by Angelica Mecham