My Scottish and German ancestors first arrived in Southern Illinois in the early 19th-century. I know this because I have been researching my family history since I was 15 years old. My dad presented me with his family Bible so I could build a family tree for an assignment. I was hooked and I’ve been filling my genealogy bucket list ever since.
I often think about what life was like in 1815 when my 4th great-grandfather, Caleb Lindsey, arrived in Southern Illinois with his family. I also think about the trip that Jacob Mueller — another 4th great-grandfather — made from his arrival in New Orleans to St. Louis in 1828. I am on a never-ending adventure in search of my roots. A genealogist’s work never ends. For every question that is answered, several more questions appear. We are always in a state of curiosity.
Genealogy continues to gain in popularity. It is currently the second most popular hobby in the United States behind gardening, according to TIME Magazine. Technology has made it easier to research family history. Family tree websites were introduced as early as 1996 and finding our ancestors became as simple as logging on and typing in a name. Since then, the popularity of this seemingly new hobby has launched a multitude of websites, family tree software, academic programs, TV shows, fiction and nonfiction books, cookbooks and even blogs. There is a wealth of information available on topics including how to get started, how to preserve family recipes, and how to plan the perfect vacation to trace your roots. As more people begin to research their own roots, the demand for related archives to be digitized and available online also grows.
Every family historian has a bucket list; things we want to accomplish in the process of researching ancestors or things we want to do as a result of what we find. For many, genealogy is simply about answering the question, “Where did I come from?” Others have more concrete goals. Your bucket list might include finding the first American immigrants in your family, discovering what daily life was like for a specific ancestor, or mastering great grandma’s apple strudel recipe. All of these are on my bucket list.
Many family historians research their ancestry not only for themselves but for information to pass down to children and grandchildren. Amateurs and professionals alike publish their genealogy or create books solely for their family. Still others may decide to publish a cookbook related to family recipes and their food heritage.
I started my journey in genealogy because I had to. I have spent the last 27 years listening intently to family stories and burying my head in historic documents always searching for that new clue. In the beginning, I did this for myself to satisfy my own curiosity. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate the importance of telling the story of my ancestors and sharing those stories with my family. While my genealogy bucket list has many things on it, my ultimate desire is to visit my ancestral homelands and retrace the lives of early ancestors with my family.
I have also discovered benefits to genealogy beyond discovering my ancestors. Genealogy makes history more relevant and can be a great way to get kids to learn about history. When we connect history to our own roots, historic accounts suddenly have more meaning. In my research, I have discovered heroes and heroines, criminals and vagabonds all among royalty and impoverished. All of them played a part in creating my story.
What’s your story?