In my church, genealogy plays a very important role. The more common term we use for genealogy is Family History (to learn more, click here). I absolutely love doing Family History. I think what fascinates and intrigues me is learning about the people that my family finds and adds to our family tree and discovering what kind of people they were. Behind every single name there is story. I love learning about the times those people lived in, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the places they lived, the books they read, the traditions they had. Most of all, I love the stories that make up their lives. And most of all, their life stories. My sister is ten years older than I am, and her childhood was completely different than mine, let alone my mother’s or grandmother’s childhood.
When people begin doing their Family History, they often ask, Where do I start? The answer is: Start with yourself! However, today I’d like to offer 5 reasons why you might want to consider starting with your living ancestors. I’m talking about our oldest living relatives – grandparents and great-grandparents.
- I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but we do have limited time with our living ancestors.
While visiting my family here in Russia for a short period of time, I have realized that the only grandmother I have left lives here and once I am gone I won’t get to talk to her very much at all. She is getting old, and every time I visit Russia, I fear it might be the last time I see her. Someday she’ll pass on, and with her will go all her memories and all her stories.
- Living ancestors have photographs (and they know who is in them).
Last time I visited Russia, I gathered all the photos from as many of my family members as possible. Some photos I scanned and I also got to keep several of the originals. Some people don’t value old photos as much as they should, and who knows what will happen to the originals, but at least I’ve got all the copies!
I also received some photos of people we knew were related to us, but can only guess who they are. Had we asked my mom’s mother or grandmother before they passed away, they would have known.
- Living ancestors remember where things took place (at least of births or deaths).
The other day my grandmother from my dad’s side was telling me about her father and his two brothers. They were farmers who were wage laborers. After the October revolution in 1917, people like them were persecuted, so they had to run. She told me about all the places they went before they finally reached Siberia. She had a pretty good memory of all the events. When I mentioned the conversation with my grandmother to my parents,they said they didn’t know anything about it.
- Living ancestors know stories.
It is so fascinating to hear stories about my ancestors’ lives from their own mouths and from their own perspectives. My grandmother told my mom of an experience she and her family had during World War II when they were in the middle of a bombing. Maybe sometime I’ll share that story in one of my posts, but the point is, there is nothing like hearing that story from her own mouth, the person who experienced it first hand.
- Last but definitely not least. You get a chance to reconnect with your living ancestors.
What a better way to connect with your family than talking about your family! During the Soviet Union it wasn’t common to talk to anyone about one’s family origin. Lots of people were afraid to do so. It is very interesting to listen to my family talk about things and answer questions that perhaps were never discussed before. I certainly have gotten to know and appreciate some of my grandparents more and understand who they were and what they did in a very personal way, all thanks to starting conversations about our family with my living ancestors.
Family History is so fun. And one of the most interesting parts about it is learning not just about names, but also coming to understand the stories behind those names. Let us take the chance to connect with our family members that are still living, and learn as much about them as we can.