Family History Modernized: How I got started

History has never been my strong suit. I love reading historical fiction, but ask me to name important dates and places and I’ll definitely fall short. It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I have a hard time identifying with names and places without any emotional attachment. Weave a story around a character using those same facts and I’ll read it no problem! I always thought that family history was just that: history, and wasn’t really interested in researching the surnames and their origins of my family. 
However, all that changed when my grandpa died.

My grandpa was a Wallace and held closely to his Scottish roots. He wore his Wallace tartan to his dying day. He died from a degenerative lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It was a slow death that we knew was coming but still hit us hard. He turned to family history research when he lost mobility.

With this love of his history, he searched out his direct line of ancestors and found that he descended from the very first Puritans to make New Hampshire their home, immigrating from England in the 1600s. I always depended on him to tell me the stories of our history and thought that all the research and work was done for that side of the family. Towards the end of his life, I overheard him discussing his research with my mom. They were talking about finding information on a child once my grandpa passed on to the other side.

I immediately felt chills all over and realized that he would actually be with our ancestors once he died. I mean, I knew this, but didn’t really put it in context. We weren’t really doing “history” as I had always thought as much as we were matching up names and dates to real people who had interesting lives and stories of their own. I couldn’t NOT find out more. I started by asking all of my family members who were doing family history work and getting all their information. Turns out, the family experts only focused their efforts on ONE family line. I have hundreds! I never realized there was so much work left to do! I also found out that most of those experts were older than me. {by a lot} This means that technology isn’t as intuitive and the process of finding information is slow and frustrating as they struggle to navigate both old records and the internet. I knew that I could access and process digital information much quicker than they so I got to work getting everything digitized. I started using Family Search to record our family’s stories, pictures, and documents so that all of my family could access the information. Once I got poking around I quickly found where holes were in the data and got researching. 

I got hooked. I have now found information on hundreds of ancestors and gave them a place in my family tree. I now spend my spare time searching out faces for the names of my cousins. Being able to give my great uncle’s second wife a mom and dad is so satisfying. Knowing my grandpa is helping me along the way makes it a sweet spiritual experience.  

So what does this have to do with you? What do you know of your history? Can you tell me where your earliest ancestors immigrated from? Why is this even important?

“According to the Old Testament, Elijah was to come back and prepare the way of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is the spirit of love that may eventually overcome all human family estrangements as it builds bridges between the generations. It binds beloved grandparents, now deceased, with the grandchildren who never knew them by preserving and sharing their histories and keepsakes. A life not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. And yet, knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills us with values that give direction and meaning to our lives.”

My faith encourages us to seek out our dead because we believe “Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness enables family relationships to continue throughout eternity. Through family history work, we can learn more about our ancestors, identify and prepare the names of those who need gospel ordinances, and perform ordinance work for them in holy temples. The Church provides many resources to help us learn about our family history and participate in temple work for the dead.”

My friend, Jessie, shares an easy tutorial for getting started in getting started


That’s right! I challenge you! I challenge you to do what I did and get started. Even if you only spend 20 minutes, find out who is doing your family history. How much has been done? Those family books your mom has on her bookshelf? Is that information digitized?

I can’t wait to hear your stories!

1 Comment

  • DAF says:

    Thank you for your post. I am with you that just finding names and dates–genealogy–bores me. I have to have the life stories and the photos. So I focus on the family history aspect. I’ve taken my father’s photos of his grandparents, parents, siblings and organized those digitally and put together photo books along with family trees. I also recorded my parents and my parents-in-law discussing various topics over the course of 5 years and organized CDs of these recordings for each Christmas. Now I have to go back and type up these recordings (print is more stable a medium) and put them with their histories. I used the book _Legacy_ by Linda Spence to feed them questions (it is a huge list of questions for collecting personal histories). I find it funny because most LDS confuse genealogy with history. They are not the same. If one isn’t your cup of tea–uh, hot chocolate–then work on the other. And like you say, we younger folk can do amazing things with our computer knowledge. My photo books are digital and make all these photos accessible to everyone instead of the person who has the physical photos. Again, thanks for the inspiration.

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