Discovering Your Own Personal History

Is there an odd mannerism you picked up from a parent, and you find yourself wondering how far back it might go? Do you ever wonder which ancestor gave you your eye color or maybe that cleft chin? The face staring back at you from the mirror tells a whole story.Your personal history connects you not just to relatives that you may know but also those that you may never have had the chance to meet. Tracing your lineage will help you discover not just where you came from but what occupations they were and potentially other characteristics that make you who you are.

For one thing, family history can be important for medical reasons. Certain cancers, disorders, and birth defects can have a genetic component. Sometimes these can skip generations or were undetected in immediate family members. But knowing where you came from and what your family members experienced can give you a more complete picture of your potential health.

Another reason to look into your family history is that it is just plain fun. It can be very exciting to find out that your ancestor fought in a historic battle or played a part in some other interesting event. It is very satisfying to see the name of a distant relative on a ship manifest or in the records at Ellis Island penned so long ago.

Most people in the United States aren’t really “from” here. Our relatives come from all over the map. Some within the last few generations and others, like mine, have been in the same place going back hundreds of years. Either way, it is exciting to see family names on census lists, reading their occupations and who else was in the same household.

Your personal family history tells a story, starting generations ago, of how you became the person that you are today. There are so many ways to go about discovering that history for yourself. The first thing I recommend is talking to your older relatives. First of all, we like talking about our past. Secondly, you’ll wish you had asked us about it when you don’t have the opportunity anymore—so take advantage of it while you can.

It used to be that you looked through old family bibles to obtain facts about your family tree. Nowadays you can find more information by doing a simple internet search on an ancestry site. If you’re lucky, someone you are related to (even distantly) may have done some—or all—of the work already for you. Some sites require membership payments, others are free to search but you have to pay to see documents, and there are even a few that are generally free.

Take some time to do a little digging. There is a lot that you can learn both about your past and yourself.