Irrespective of the fact that I work surrounded by shelves of books full of wonderful stories, I think that the best loved stories are not from books, but those from our own families: the stories one heard from grandmothers and grandfathers, older aunts, uncles and cousins – the stories of visits to the “old place”, the stories of things and events “before” or “way-back then,” the stories of people long gone but still remembered. This oral tradition is, after all, how literature began – with stories told and retold until they could be fixed in written form. Families are the repositories of our individual history, those particular stories that help us understand our heritage, appreciate who we are and where we have come from.
Many of the stories passed down from generation to generation become altered with the telling. Parts get exaggerated or embellished for effect, or shaded to suit the storyteller. Names, dates and connections get lost or confused. Stories you once accepted as fact turnout to be fiction. For example, I had always believed that part of my family tree were Sudetenland Deutsch; I recently discovered that they, in fact, were Swiss. This astounding fact I discovered in Ancestry Library Edition, a new electronic resource at the library.
Ancestry Library Edition is a powerful tool that searches through census records, birth and death records, immigration records, family histories, military records, court and legal documents, cemetery records, directories, photos, maps and more. The library staff has spent time getting familiar with this new service, and as they searched through Ancestry Library Edition each of them uncovered amazing details, previously unknown, about their own family histories.
Most of us are curious about our family history; some of us actually take on the task of tracing the family tree, and a few of us become obsessed with it. There are several reasons to choose to research our past. On the practical side, it allows us to validate (or not) those family stories handed down from generation to generation. Genealogical research also offers a way to trace medical conditions in order to evaluate the risk of getting or passing on certain medical conditions. It can be used to trace land ownership, and resolve disputes over the origin of family heirlooms or other legacies. It’s a way of learning more about a parent, grandparent or connecting with living relatives. And finally, genealogical research is a way to fulfill the desire to pass on our heritage to future generations.
But at its heart, knowing our family history is about satisfying basic human curiosity. It’s about finding answers to the questions that confound us throughout life: Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is going to happen to me? Genealogy offers insight into the lives of our ancestors, and satisfies the need to understand how we fit into the broader world around us. It helps us to connect to a family thread passing through time. If you’d like to get started on knowing more about your family history, the library offers Ancestry Library Edition on all of its public computer workstations. Need help in getting started? Just ask.