and a half ago. I admit my curiosity was sparked by the NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, which aired on Friday nights (I know, I'm a party animal!) If you aren't familiar with the show, each episode basically follows one celebrity as he/she "researches" a particular side of his/her family. I use the term "research" loosely in this case, because they always had professional librarians, archivists, genealogists, war experts, etc. to do the legwork for them. Honestly, I would have been a fan even if they didn't use celebrities. Dork, I know. Anyways, even though it ran for several seasons, the show was evidently not popular enough among the masses so it was cancelled.
The show was heavily sponsored by Ancestry.com, so, several commercials later, I went online and checked it out. Oh look, I can get a free 14-day trial? Great, sign me up! My strategy was to download as much info as I could find in those 14 days and then cancel the subscription. Ha! Fourteen days turned into several months. I started making family trees for my and my husband's family with the information I did know (or with what I could get from my parents and aunts and uncles). The nice, yet time-consuming, thing about Ancestry.com is that you are able to link your ancestors with other people's family trees. I was not lucky enough to find anyone out there who had researched my family tree, but my husband's side was a different story. There are several branches of his tree in which someone (a distant cousin, perhaps?) has gone back hundreds of years to document ancestors. So, it took a while to link up with all those trees while at the same time trying to find and download birth, marriage, military, and death records, census schedules, newspaper articles, etc. I bought a month-to-month membership which I probably kept for 4-5 months. Then a couple months ago, I reactivated my membership for 6 months and picked up where I left off (Ancestry.com does not delete your tree or any info you collect if you cancel your subscription, so you can always go back and reactivate.)
While Ancestry.com is the genealogy site that usually gets the most attention, there are several others that I have found VERY helpful in my research. The Church of Latter Day Saints maintains excellent genealogy records from all over the world. The records are kept at their headquarters in Salt Lake City, but they are continually adding digital copies to their website FamilySearch. It is FREE to access their database, which contains some records you cannot find on Ancestry. (One example is death certificates, which are extremely helpful in the research process - more about that later :) The other site that I currently use is GenealogyBank, which is a searchable database of newspaper archives from all over the country. This one, like Ancestry, you also have to pay for, but the rate is only about $6 a month. Has been helpful in finding obituaries, - more about those later, too - engagement/wedding announcements, and general articles about family members. Before joining this one, though, make sure they have newspaper records from the town/area where your ancestors lived. I have found a lot of stuff about my family on this site, but virtually nothing from my husband's side because they don't (yet) have the newspaper archives from western Ohio.
There is another site called Fold3, which has mostly military and war records, BUT it also has U.S. citizenship and naturalization records (another thing Ancestry.com doesn't have). You can do a seven-day free trial of this site, which is plenty of time to download what you need and be on your way (as long as you know who you are looking for).
So, you may ask, "Why spend the money to find out stuff about dead people?" I tell my husband, "I don't have any other hobbies (aside from a random knitting project here and there), I don't get mani/pedis or buy many shoes (We'll "thank" Mother Nature for that one, I guess.), so I'd like to use some money for this research." Plus, I feel like it's worth it for my kids' sakes, just so they have a sense of where they came from. I know I've always found history more interesting if I learn it through reading biographies and learning about the PEOPLE that made the history happen. When my kids are older and complaining about how history class is SO BORING, I'll show them all this stuff about THEIR family and hopefully that will make it more interesting to them. Maybe...
©2012, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder