My first official effort at genealogy as an eleven-year-old is still fresh in my memory: interviewing my grandparents so that I could fill out a large pedigree chart with my pencil.
I had a friend with a similar interest in genealogy. His parents drove us to a genealogical library one day. I remember the dusty smell of the many old books stacked side by side on the shelves. The sunshine streamed in the window as I determined Soundex codes for each of the family surnames that I knew. Books with large indexes turned up a few possible matches, but there were no real discoveries that day for me. Still, my love for family history grew in that old library.
Perhaps the day in my younger years that I learned the most was the day we mourned the loss of my grandfather. As one of his teen granddaughters, I had been chosen to read one of the Scripture readings at his funeral. I had loved my grandfather very much. It was an honor to do this. Following the funeral, at a nearby funeral home, I learned who had joined us that day. His sisters were there, several brothers of his (whom I'd never heard of), and cousins! I met them all (and their wives and children) and heard stories of their childhoods: where they and my grandfather had lived, their father's occupation, their places of birth, where their parents had come from...
I left that day with a new understanding of my grandfather's life and his role in a family that I had hardly known about, not to mention several pages of notes. Names, dates, places... Once home I carefully entered all the info via pencil into my paper pedigree chart, and marveled at how I could have known so little about my beloved grandfather's life.
My search for family history has continued over the years. Every new bit of information is a spark that lights the fire that makes me want to learn more. And every bit of family history is a gift that gives me an appreciation for the past and an understanding of who I am today. I especially love sharing new family history discoveries with my children and with other members of the youngest generation of the family. In a world that is changing so quickly every day, the knowledge of our heritage and of the people who came before us gives us a solid foundation and appreciation for our lives and the lives and cultures of others.
I enjoyed reading What is Gained by Researching Your Family Tree? by Kimberly Powell. She says, "I research my family history because it provides me with a personal look back into a history that I might not have otherwise ever discovered. The research process challenges me. The learning process enlightens me. The discoveries provide a sense of accomplishment."
I wholeheartedly agree. A little time spent here and there searching for family history throughout the years has provided me with many rewards. Perhaps the best reward is the understanding and appreciation of the world and its cultures that I've gained through the process of discovering my own heritage.
As long as I live I hope to keep busy on my branch of the family tree: looking to the past, sharing stories with other family members and helping to provide the gift of our heritage to future generations.
The image of the Oak tree in winter is circa 1840's. You can view similar historic images from the Fox Talbot Museum at http://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/resources/photo.html
This article originally appeared here at 100 Years in America on November 25, 2007. I have republished it here in honor of the new year and my renewed intent to "give life" to those that have come before me by "fanning the flame of their memories" once more.