Today, social media dominates the landscape of human connection. People take to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to get updates on their growing family trees. Everyone’s life events and daily moments are chronicled on the Web, allowing current and future generations to easily stay connected to loved ones. Feeding the same desire for information, it is becoming increasingly common for people to use the Web to connect to a more unexpected familial group: their ancestors.
“I think there is a hunger in our country for our past, before it is lost forever,” says genealogist Michael McCoy. “We want to know our true origins. It’s no longer a matter that we are all Americans – it’s now a matter of regaining our original heritage that brought us to America in the first place.”
Ancestry.com is perhaps the most well-known genealogy website, but the monthly membership fees may be a deterrent for some. McCoy suggests checking out free sites, including familysearch.org, genealogycenter.org and heritagequestonline.com.
“Most of the information that will come to you will be public information, already available as a public record,” he says. “Slowly, you can proceed backwards in time.”
McCoy also suggests joining a genealogical society and subscribing to genealogy magazines to learn more about how to trace one’s lineage. These resources can provide valuable tips when digging through the archives becomes troublesome. McCoy says poor record keeping, secretive relatives, pandemics and closed adoption records can all contribute to a difficult search. There is also a chance the records have been destroyed, as was the case in 1921 when much of the 1890 federal census burned in a fire.
“You will run into gaps in information, where you will be stymied with either too much information – such as too many Smiths – or too little information,” explains McCoy. “So you must be willing to be patient, a good sleuth and ask for help when necessary.”
McCoy says to approach the search with an open mind. As the secrets of the past get unveiled, surprising and even upsetting information could surface.
“Family history is full of stories, twists and turns,” he says. “Such things as natural disasters, murders, multiple marriages, illegitimate children, land grants, court records, wills, probate records, et cetera, are all parts and parcels of family history that become buried with time.”
The unanticipated information, though, may be what helps people get a clear picture of how they came to be.
“Gaining knowledge about our familial past helps us to understand our way of thinking and even helps us to understand others who may have opposing views,” he says.